The Rockets surprised a lot of their fans Sunday night, holding on by a fingernail to beat Oklahoma City, one of the most explosive teams in the NBA with an 11-5 record and 6-1 road record.
Kevin Durant missed a fallaway jumper at the buzzer that he normally makes in his sleep. Everyone in the building, including the Rockets, thought it was going to go in. Shane Battier did about as good of a job you can do defensively, getting a hand in Durant’s eyesight. But with Durant’s length and skill, it probably didn’t make a big difference. He just missed it by coming up an inch short, the ball bouncing off the front of the rim for the Rockets 99-98 victory.
Yao Ming helps cheer his team to a victory Sunday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Click here for more photos from the game.
This was after Houston blew another lead — 9 points with 4 1/2 minutes remaining, and blowing a couple of double-digit leads earlier in the game that Oklahoma City chewed up like a tornado in a mobile home park.
All of this drama could have been avoided, though, if the Rockets’ offense didn’t turn into the Houston offenses of the past we had all grown to hate: have one guy (Kyle Lowry) dribble the shot clock down to about 7 seconds, then have him try to figure something out under duress, or jacking up a low-percentage shot.
Similarly, with 1:06 remaining, Battier had the ball in the corner with the shot clock winding down, and luckily made a difficult runner along the baseline to make it 99-93. Even Battier said after the game, “I think it was the first floater that I hit all year.” THAT is what this offense has come down to in crunch time?
After OKC’s Jeff Green hit a 3-pointer to make it 99-96 with 1 minute remaining, the best play the Rockets could come up with was for lightning to strike in the same place again: another floater from Battier that missed.
Russell Westbrook hit a jumper with 29 seconds remaining to make it 99-98. That’s when many Rocket fans just about blew a gasket as they watched Lowry just stand in one spot and dribble the ball until about 7 seconds remained on the clock, then put up a tough fallaway jumper in the lane that missed.
It amazes me that an offense and a system that depends so much on ball movement and finding an open man reverts to plays from the Charles Barkley or Steve Francis era that relies on just one guy to make something happen. And they’re doing it with Kyle Lowry, who is only shooting 36.8% from the field!
We all know the Rockets don’t have a go-to guy with Yao and Aaron Brooks out, so why depend on a play where you’re going to have a contested shot by a player who doesn’t shoot that well. The Rockets are one of the league leaders in assists (5th overall), but when they badly need a bucket, they try to be something they aren’t — running isolations and trying to score off the dribble.
On the other hand, the Thunder have so many weapons (Durant, Russell Westbrook, Green, Serge Ibaka) that strike fear in your heart, it makes you think there is no way you can win even before you step out on the court. Especially after OKC had won their last 5 games, are 8-0 in games decided by 7 points or less, and 3-0 in games decided by one point. So you have to give the Rockets credit for what they did Sunday night, especially holding Durant to 10 points below his average of 28 ppg.
I don’t think the Rockets are a bad team. They have had a chance to win in almost all of their games. They just haven’t had enough to prevent big scoring runs by their opponents, or to make plays down the stretch.
Statistically, the main advantage for the Rockets against the Thunder was rebounding (44-36), assists (26-19), and 3-point shooting (10-of-17 compared to OKC’s 5-of-12). Battier led the way from behind the arc by hitting 4-of-6 treys. I have said it for a couple of seasons now and it still rings true: when Battier scores, the Rockets win most of the time.
One of the silver linings of the Rockets’ struggles this season with Yao Ming out is that Rick Adelman has made a commitment to see what his young guys can do to step up, and so far it’s working well with Jordan Hill, who had another solid game with 12 points and 5-of-10 shooting. He also had 7 boards, bringing energy and hustle to the front line that Adelman said after the game is the only guy who aggressively goes after the ball and gets it.
It has been interesting to see Luis Scola get relegated to the bench in the 4th quarter the past two games. Hill played 9 minutes in the fourth, and it probably would have been more if he hadn’t sprained his ankle landing wrong after goaltending a shot.
Scola has been struggling lately, making only 5-of-14 shots Sunday night, and only averaging 12 ppg and making 9-of-25 shots in his last two games, and only hitting 14-of-28 (50%) of his free throws the past 5 games. But we all know Scola will bounce back. He’s just too good. Meanwhile, Hill continues to thrive, whereas his former Arizona teammate Chase Budinger continues to struggle, hitting only 1-of-4 shots (a 3-pointer) in 12 minutes. Earlier this year, everyone was thinking it would be the opposite: Budinger becoming the star and Hill trying to find playing time. If Budinger continues to struggle, we might even see Jermaine Taylor get some playing time. Imagine that!
The Rockets play the Mavericks in Dallas Monday night on a back-to-back. The Mavericks are one of the hottest teams in the league (12-4), and Houston is only 2-7 on the road this season. Without a friendly home crowd to help them get over the hump, I will be surprised if the Rockets make a game of it given how much energy they had to expend defending the Thunder and slowing down Durant.