The Rockets’ slide to the lottery continued Friday night, losing to the 3-8 Raptors 106-96. Houston now has the 3rd worst record in the league, behind the Clippers’ 1-12 and just barely under Philadelphia at 3-10. Sure, the Rockets have had a brutal road schedule to start the season, but if there ever was going to be a game that’s winnable, this one was it.
Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani had an easy time getting to the hoop without Yao in the middle to guard the paint (and Luis Scola losing track of him to let him take it to the rack without any problem).
It didn’t help that earlier in the day, the Rockets were dealt a psychological blow when they learned that Yao Ming will be out an additional two weeks because of a bone bruise that was found in his left ankle. I will have a more in-depth blog post about that in the next day or two. In the meantime, I’ll focus on Friday’s game.
Statistically, the Rockets outplayed the Raptors in many areas. They hit four more 3-pointers and had a higher 3-point shooting percentage (40% vs. 36.4%). They hit 91% of their free throws (20-of-22) while Toronto only shot 66.7%. They had 4 more assists (26 vs. 22), and had three more blocks (6-3),
The main problem was rebounding (37 vs. 44), giving the Raptors 7 more field goals and points in the paint (36 to 44). And through a statistical rarity, the Raptors shot no free throws in the first half, but shot 30 in the second half! 30! Obviously some adjustments were made at halftime, either in the Toronto locker room to be more aggressive, in the referee’s dressing room after the refs reviewed some videotape, or a little bit of both. The Rockets only shot 16 free throws in the second half.
And most importantly, the Rockets didn’t have anyone who stepped up late to hit big shots down the stretch. Kevin Martin statistically was great: 31 points on 8-of-16 shots and 4-of-7 from 3-point land, and hitting 11-of-11 free throws. The problem is that he, nor anyone else, made the big play when it counted: late in the 4th quarter after drawing close to the Raptors after Toronto had gone on a 15-5 run starting with 10:48 remaining and the game tied at 76.
Andrea Bargnani showed how great of a player he is, scoring 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting. He’s almost Dirk-like, and his #1 draft pick designation a few years ago is looking like it’s paying off. He can shoot from the outside and drive to the hoop with ease (especially against the Rockets’ porous defense). I think when Bargnani took it strong to the hole like he did at least a couple of times, someone needed to step in and take a charge or foul him very hard to make him think twice about doing it again. That didn’t happen.
The Rockets’ starters were okay, scoring 85 points. But when none of them step up to make plays in a tight game late, and the bench doesn’t come through, either, you’re going to have problems. Toronto’s bench outscored Houston’s 46-11. That’s pretty bad, but if you look at the stats, Toronto only got 6 points out of two starters (Jarrett Jack and Reggie Evans), and their bench played about 1/3rd more minutes (96 vs. 60). But still, for as hyped as the Rockets’ bench was before the season, that’s not good enough.
We have to remember that Kyle Lowry and Brad Miller have been forced to become starters because of injuries to Yao and Aaron Brooks, so that’s a huge blow to the backup brigade. But clearly Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee and Jordan Hill haven’t lived up to expectations. And for some reason, Rick Adelman decided not to play Jermaine Taylor after a good performance against Oklahoma City (8 points). Go figure.
I think I have come to realize what could be another source of the Rockets’ problems (they have many) these days. I’ll tell you in a second after setting the table here.
After the game, I think Shane Battier said it best:
“We’re loose with execution. We’re taking tough shots under duress. We don’t have a lot of guys who can break somebody down and get a good quality shot with the shot clock running down. To score, we have to run good offense. We have to have our spacing and maintain our responsibilities. When we don’t, it shows.”
If this is the case, then I see the problem as being good COACHING to run “good offense.” This has been the rap with Adelman in the past: giving his players too much free reign, and letting them freelance too much in late-game situations. Not that I want a JVG-type coach who is calling plays on every possession (seemingly). But I also don’t want a coach who just rolls the balls out (Rudy T?)
Rick Adelman had this to say after the game:
“We put people in the game; they have to step up and play. Everybody is in the NBA now so we can’t go in there and not be ready. If we can’t score or defend, then we have to rebound the ball. You have to do something to help the team win and that’s what we all have to look at from the coaches to the players. What can you do to help this team win?”
I think this is a little too vague. Adelman says that no one is “stepping up.” I can understand if that means they aren’t making open jumpers. But if it means having a player, like Battier said, who can “break somebody down and get a good quality shot,” well, if they don’t have that, then they have to go to the alternative: “running good offense.” That’s on the coach. If players aren’t following his instructions, then he needs to give more time to players who will.
Up until this time, I thought the problem was the injuries to Yao and Brooks. That’s a big part of it. But if you don’t have your top guys, then at least run plays that don’t expose the Rockets’ weakness to break anyone down or puts them in a position to put shots up under ‘duress.’ Is Adelman being exposed here?
Honestly, I think the players may have tuned him out. You don’t ever hear them talk about how he’s a great coach and they believe in the ‘system.’ I think Adelman has relied too much in Houston on the players to make plays. In Sacramento, it seemed like he had this great offensive system that was unstoppable. But he also had great players: Webber, Peja, Bibby, Vlade, Miller, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson (am I missing anyone?).
I think the players could benefit getting motivated by a coach who can get them to play with more aggressiveness (offensively or defensively), and Adelman isn’t that kind of guy. I really like him as a person. Class guy. But I just don’t see the fire like you see from a Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City), or the constant strategic thinking during the game. I was really impressed with Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau when the Rockets played the Bulls last week. We all knew he would be a good head coach when he was in Houston, and it looks like that’s turning out to be the case.
I can understand that coaching alone can’t get you to the playoffs — you need guys who can win games based on their talent. But I would expect that good coaching can help you win 30-40% of your games if given a good roster of players like Houston supposedly has. Right now the Rockets have only won 25% of their games (3-9). So I think there has to be more scrutiny on the head coach because up until this time, there hasn’t been any. What do you think?
– Brooks should get a lot more respect from his haters when he comes back. The Rockets have obviously missed him. But they were losing close games with him in the lineup as well, so I’m not sure if he alone will fix their late-game execution problems.
– Maybe this year will be the Rockets’ “Tim Duncan year” like the Spurs had when they were a good team on paper, but had a terrible record mainly because their big man David Robinson was out most (or all) of the year because of injury. After drafting Duncan #1, they roared back and built a dynasty. At this rate, there’s a high probability the Rockets will get a great lottery pick. I sure hope the draft is strong next year. I’ll be paying more attention to college basketball this season because of the Rockets’ woes.