This article has also been posted, with edits, to BleacherReport.com.
The defensive struggles continued for the Houston Rockets tonight as they fell to a scorching hot Warriors backcourt. Monta Ellis was absolutely unstoppable, except from the free throw line, and pummeled the Rockets for 46 points, his career high. Stephen Curry added 25 as the Warriors starting backcourt outscored the Houston one 71-41. The Warriors ended up winning by just four points, 132-128, but the end score looked a lot closer than it actually was due to massive free throw disparity between the two teams.
Houston could never get going from the field with most of their first half points coming from flashes into the paint. Brooks (4-15) and Martin (5-14) had poor shooting nights and you know it’s not going to be a good night when Chuck Hayes had the second most baskets from the field for this Rockets team. The team ended up shooting a respectable 48 percent, but their defense failed as the Warriors ended the night at 55 percent from the field, including 8 three pointers on 40 percent shooting.
As with yesterday, let me break it down into the positives and negatives that I saw.
Luis Scola played his heart out and ended up with 36 points and 16 boards. He was nearly unstoppable in the paint but once again missed a few open layups at the hole. Impressively, Scola even had a dunk early in the game, something of a rarity for the big Argentinian.
Kevin Martin quickly realized that he was not having his best shooting night and instead concentrated on getting to the line. The man’s ability to create contact is impressive as Martin converted on every single one of his 17 free throws. As our primary offensive option this season, it is good to know that he can still score points on a bad shooting night. A better defensive team may consider giving him more open jumpers, but he is a good enough shooter to eventually find his range. Chuck Hayes was the other positive for us, playing well above average on the offensive end to record 16 points while also dishing out 6 assists. He played David Lee pretty well and pretty much kept Brad Miller out of the game for almost the entire game.
We also did well to cut down on our turnovers–this game would have been even uglier for a Rockets fan if we had given the Warriors more opportunities to run their break.
Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. The negatives today were numerous in number. First and foremost, our defensive rebounding was once again suspect. We allowed the Warriors to amass 14 offensive boards, with most of these resulting in second chance points. Once again, even though we did pick up 15 offensive boards of our own, many of ours were once again botched at the paint or came in garbage time through Scola follows.
Aaron Brooks was horrible today and a lot of the Warriors’ transition buckets were scored off bad shot attempts by him. Brooks did still manage to get 6 assists, but he had a very poor shooting night, and tried to shoot his way out of it during the game. I remember him doing this a few times last season–shooting over and over again even though he was not shooting well–and more often than not, we lost those games. Many of our first half points were scored by getting the ball in the post to Battier, Scola and the Chuckwagon whereas in the second half we were trying to create high pick-and-rolls and attempt jump shots. Budinger was once again okay without being spectacular, although it was obvious that we weren’t running too many plays for him.
Going back to Battier, his defense was again seemingly non-existent against a red-hot Monta Ellis. Of course, the Rockets can’t be blamed for coming up against an Ellis that was on so much fire, but we are banking on Battier to be our defensive stopper, and letting a defensive assignment go 18-24 on the night from the field probably requires some criticism. I don’t think Battier is one of the elite defenders in the NBA anymore. He’s definitely lost a step that allows superb offensive weapons such as Kobe and Ellis to create space and knock down their shots.
Finally, our rotation was questionable today. Although the Chuckwagon was playing well, it was interesting that we didn’t see Brad Miller until very late in the second half. He didn’t do too much in his two odd minutes but then he didn’t really have a lot of time to work. This was probably a result of us trying to keep pace with the Warriors game, although it is worth pointing out that Hayes isn’t exactly speedy, even compared to Miller.
This loss will hurt. Starting the season 0-2 is never good, but losing to one of the few teams that has worse defense than us is going to hurt. I posted earlier on a discussion board suggesting that my biggest problem with the Rockets last year is that even though we went 42-40, we dropped a lot of games against opponents we should have beat. A win in the second game is worth the same as a win in the second-last game of the season. There’s a lot let pressure to get the win now, though, than getting it in crunch time when the Western Conference playoff race inevitably becomes tight.
We can write this loss off to a superb offensive performance from Ellis, but by doing so we’d be ignoring the other holes in our system–including our poor defensive rotation as well as our inability to prevent offensive boards. Stephen Curry was able to create too much space on his isolation moves and Brooks continues to let players fake him out and take open jumpers. Lowry cannot come back quickly enough.
All this said, it is worth pointing out that the Warriors won the game by making a lot of hard shots. It’s hard to stop a team that shoots between 50 and 60 percent the entire game, with most of the shots coming from jump shots.
Special Shoutout to Warriors’ CSN Announcers
The Warriors announcers evidently don’t understand how basketball works. All night they were complaining about free throw disparity whereas they failed to realize that the Warriors were essentially shooting and draining jump shots all game whereas the Rockets were taking it into the paint (hence the 66-48 disparity in the points in the paint statistic). There’s no rule in the NBA that both teams should shoot a similar number of free throws–if you’re not taking it to the hole you’re not going to be getting free throws. Learn the game, guys!