rockets review: game 8 vs. pacers

They hustled. They flowed. They played amazing offense interspersed with very questionable possessions. Their defense ranged from marshmallow soft to extremely physical. The Houston Rockets played the whole range of styles through this tight game against the Indiana Pacers and managed to come up on top thank to some unexpectedly good defense in the fourth quarter and some questionable refereeing.

And, of course, some very valuable minutes coming from the most unexpected of players.

Houston picked up their second win of the season, this one against the Pacers against an Indiana team that put up 54 points on the Jazz in the 3rd quarter a few nights ago. In doing so, they broke a four-game losing streak against Indiana and went a long way on putting their season back on the right track.

I took notes again, so here is the breakdown.

1st Quarter

The first quarter was well contested, with Houston ending up with a slender three-point lead. Scola started off hot and we worked the ball to him early. It was particularly good to see that we didn’t settle for low-percentage jump shots but tried to get into the paint early. Scola worked well to get, I think, 7 points in the first half as the Rockets played good offense and defense for the most part, at least to begin with.

Brad Miller was active early, knocking down a jump shot and his trademark running-through-honey drive into the paint. This was, I believe, his first start in a Rockets uniform in the regular season as he got the start over Jordan Hill following Yao’s injury.

While we started off well, it wasn’t without the same mistakes as before. Scola, in my opinion, has a major weakness on pick-and-roll defense that opposition after opposition will exploit this season. The defender that he is helping and he don’t communicate effectively enough how to handle the offense and someone ends up with a wide open shot with no close out.

Kyle Lowry checked in with four minutes left in the first quarter and Rockets fans worldwide breathed a collective sigh of relief as he took it into the paint and finished for a couple of easy layups. It looks like he’s finally getting healthy. That, or someone talked to him about his contract and how valuable it actually is.

Houston did screw up the last minute or so of the first quarter, letting the Pacers get back in with a few consecutive turnovers off their last few possessions. They ended with four turnovers in the quarter—definitely on the higher end of the spectrum.

2nd Quarter

Instead of consolidating our slim first quarter advantage, we began the second quarter in much the same fashion that we ended the first—with sloppy turnovers. Jarrett Jeffries did stem the tide a bit, taking a nice charge and Brad Miller continued to impress with a beautiful spin move to the hoop—looks like the Indiana native was excited to be playing at home.

Danny Granger, mostly quiet up to that point, began heating up as he hit consecutive jumpshots over Budinger and Jeffries and followed that up with a three pointer very early in the clock. Granger was looking to took over the game at that stage but the Rockets threw a lot of different looks at him and kept it from becoming unmanageable.

Brad Miller, meanwhile, impressed on defense as well, giving Hibbert some trouble with his height. That said, Miller also had his share of poor possessions on defense, letting Hibbert go around him for easy layups after Miller committed for a steal or was just too slow and unathletic.

Kyle Lowry continued the good work in the first quarter—driving into the lane at will and either finishing at the hoop, drawing a foul or kicking out to an open guy on the perimeter. In one particular play, he drove down the right side of the baseline and found a wide open Budinger in the left-wing, who knocked down the first of his two three-pointers for the game.

The Rockets still couldn’t wrest control and a wide open Posey three pointer near the end of the half was a bit of hindsight of what was to come in the third quarter.

3rd Quarter

The third quarter started out in impressive fashion for the Rockets, with Miller finding a slicing Kevin Martin for an easy dunk in our opening play of the half. He hit a few other players during the half and even had a few more lumbering drives into the lane and managed to finish or get to the line.

Kyle Lowry’s defense was class today, with his hands extremely active and causing the likes of Collison and Ford a lot of trouble. Kevin Martin used his quick first step to open up some room and drive to the basket a few times as the Rockets opened up a smallish lead to begin the third.

Indiana did not waste too much time to fight back, with Dunleavy catching fire from the field, curling off screens to hit a few shots from downtown and mid-range. James Posey, though, was the story of this quarter as he hit three of the Pacers’ six three-pointers in this quarter, as Scola blew the coverage over and over again.

The Rockets, who had opened up a double-digit lead at one point in the third, ended up going into the last quarter tied up with the Pacers at 78 apiece.

4th Quarter

We started off the fourth quarter much in the same way as we did the second—making poor decisions on offense and not moving our feet on defense. The Pacers took a quick lead on the back of a turnover and two contested jump shots from Lowry and Lee. Even when our defense did well, getting a block, the loose ball seemed to inevitably land up in the hands of a Pacers player for an open shot.

The lead fluctuated back and forth as the Rockets took the ball in while the Pacers kept connecting on difficult jump shots, many of which were contested. James Posey hit another three before he was inexplicably benched—probably to save him for the end of the game, but in effect surrendering the momentum that he had manufactured.

Something had to give, and that something was the Pacers’ defense of the Lowry-Miller pick and pop. Yes, Lowry and Miller. Yes, Lowry was the guard and Miller was the guy popping. Brad Miller had two three pointers in consecutive possessions off of identical pick-and-pop plays executed by Lowry, followed by another pick-and-pop where Miller faked the three and found Lowry in the paint for what ended up being a foul on the floor.

With Miller’s two back-to-back threes, the Rockets tied the game up at 93 apiece, and Miller gave the Rockets the lead for good after hitting 1-of-2 free throws late in the fourth. The Pacers stopped running their offense, instead settling for pick-and-rolls and difficult shots—the same shots that had been following earlier but stopped falling when it mattered.

When Kevin Martin hit his only three off the game in the next score of the game, the Rockets went up 97-93 with three minutes to go, and for the first time it seemed like we might actually hold on. A few possessions and a McRoberts technical foul later, the Rockets were up by five points—100-95.

Then the game of basketball took a backseat as the Rockets-Pacers seemed to get into a wrestling game as Granger was absolutely hacked under the basket and didn’t get a foul called. Keep in mind, the Pacers probably also had a loose ball foul as Miller tried to control the board, but the referees kept their whistles firmly in their pockets. The entire play ended with McRoberts being called for a foul and the Rockets getting the ball back. The refs called a very loose game today, something that was good to watch, but there probably should have been a call there in the Pacers’ favor.

Houston managed to hold on to a three-point lead despite a near turnover and a Lowry air-ball from three-point land with 15 seconds left on the game clock. Dunleavy screwed up for the Pacers as he advanced the ball before a timeout, before the Pacers strangely ran the clock down before attempting a three-pointer after solid perimeter defense from Shane Battier and Kyle Lowry. The ball didn’t hit iron and Martin ended up controlling the board and giving the Rockets only their second victory of the year.

Positives

There were a lot of positives today for the Rockets, which should be expected on a day when we win. Brad Miller was unquestionably the player of the game for the Rockets with Kyle Lowry putting in some high-value minutes in easily his best performance of this season. If today was anything to go by, it looks like Lowry has finally recovered from his spasms and may be looking at the starter spot this Sunday against New York.

Brad Miller—the other gentle giant was 9-for-16 from the field today for 23 points, including 3-for-3 from three-point range. He also grabbed his share of boards and more impressively was a very good teammate, dishing out five assists, many of which have been recalled in this recap.

Kyle Lowry—after his poor performance on Wednesday against the Wizards, where he tried to shoot his way out of trouble, Lowry went back to what made him a valuable player for us last season. When he drove into the paint, more often than not he had an uncontested layup or set someone up for an easy shot. Lowry had 13 points today on 5-of-10 shooting and although he had four turnovers, he also had seven assists and ran the offense very well. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets the start on Sunday.

Shane Battier—Battier tied the highest plus/minus today for the Rockets team and deservedly so given his great defense today against the likes of Granger and Dunleavy. Although these guys got their points, Battier did an impressive job of keeping Granger to 7-for-18 shooting, including just 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Courtney Lee, Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger also deserve honorable mentions here. Lee was nearly unstoppable when he managed to get the first step on his defender, freeing up for an easy jumper. Jordan Hill had a couple of exciting dunks, including an athletic put-back off an Ish Smith floater that missed the hoop as usual. Budinger hit two threes today and looked to be shooting better, although still very hesitantly.

Negatives

The negatives weren’t too bad today, but I feel it worth calling out a couple of guys who didn’t play up to their highest level. It’s hard to single out two guys who combined for 36 points on 13-for-27 shooting but I’ll do so any way just to keep this column balanced.

Kevin Martin—Kevin struggled today as he didn’t get the calls that he relies on to get into shooting rhythm. He did end up bagging 20 points but his shooting was just a little off today. He went 1-for-6 from three-point range, although the one that did go in was arguably at the best time—down the stretch to give us a 97-93 lead.

Luis Scola—the Argentinian missed a lot of shots in the paint today, but that’s okay since many of his shots would probably have got him to the line with a different officiating crew. Anyhow, Scola is being singled out once again because of his defense. Posey scored most of his three pointers when Scola was guarding—or rather—supposed to be guarding him. As I identified earlier in this piece, Scola has a lot of work to do when it comes to pick-and-roll defense. I haven’t seen the Knicks extensively this year, but I do know that Stoudemire flourished as a pick-and-roll player in Phoenix.

Turnovers were again bad today—at 15, about 50 percent higher than we should be hoping for. This included six turnovers in the second quarter, but we tightened it up when it mattered by throwing the ball away only once in the fourth quarter. Offensive rebounding was once again a concern, but a lot smaller than it has been in the past. The Pacers grabbed 11 off the offensive glass today which is just a few more than we should hope to be evening out at.

Summary

This was a badly needed win for a wounded Houston Rockets franchise. Our record is now 2-6 and it looked like we were playing with some passion today, especially veteran Brad Miller who put in probably one of his best performances in his last few seasons. One can only hope that the Rockets don’t let this momentum fall away and use it as we finish off our East Coast road trips with games coming up at New York and Chicago.

Also, a special shout out to the announcers at Indiana Pacers. You guys weren’t nearly as bad as the Warriors crew but were still painful to listen to. One of you guys actually claimed that the “54 points against the Jazz didn’t just happen” and that was a result of practicing “rhythm” and “momentum” in the gym. That’s so absurd that I’m not sure you were being serious. I guess most other NBA players just go to practices with the goal of pleasing their coach, not building momentum and practicing with their teammates. If you could practice a lot and get 54 points a quarter, I guarantee you every single coach in the NBA would be mandating it.

This is a nice way to go into the weekend for the Red Nation. Lowry looks great and Brad Miller looks like a good emotional leader for this team. We finally played good defense in the fourth quarter and forced turnovers. If we can play great defense in the first quarter and fourth quarter and limit turnovers throughout the game, our offense is good enough to win a few games.

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