In one of the weirder games we’ve seen this season due to rain delays (inside a basketball arena!) and huge lead swings, the Houston Rockets beat the Washington Wizards. For Jeremy Lin, there were three quarters in which he was allowed to play like an actual point guard, which clearly made the team better. The ending was a bit more of a return to normal, with James Harden taking the reigns and ignoring everyone else, this time making it work.
The Rockets won 114-107 but managed to blow a 25-point lead in the third quarter, with the Wizards even getting to lead by 5 points midway through the fourth quarter. The Wizards scored 17 consecutive points to grab a 102-97 lead, but then began a James Harden show. He didn’t do everything well, and made plenty of mistakes which included bad shots and turnovers, but it was how he and McHale like it: Four guys standing around and watching Harden do his thing. This time it worked, but so many times it results in frustrated teammates and a loss.
Why did the Rockets stop playing like in the previous three quarters, when it actually looked like the team many thought they’d be before the season began? With Jeremy Lin, who played more than anyone (43 minutes), scoring 18 points and adding 8 assists, doing a decent job on John Wall, which made Dwight Howard have a very good game (23 points, 7 rebounds and also helped Terrence Jones put up nice numbers with 19 points and 17 rebounds.
Despite the obvious signs, the Rockets keep reverting to dumb and selfish basketball at some point. They were +18 during Lin’s minutes on the floor, and only +4 during Harden’s 38 minutes. That’s not always the perfect example of who did better for the team because there are four other guys to count on, but there’s no doubt the Rockets played their best basketball when they were running and moving the ball through everyone instead of keeping it stuck in the same, usual hands of James Harden. He led the team with 25 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
Another thing that continues to be a concern for Houston is their defense. Jeremy Lin isn’t going to hold John Wall bottled up on his won, so when Wall does blow by him like he did too many times in the fourth quarter, there has to be cover. Not just from Howard, but from this team. There wasn’t a problem of effort, but it just seems that too many times players don’t know what they are supposed to do when the first line of defense, the man on man defense on the perimeter, fails in doing its job. Some say that coaching is about these things, but there seems to be a different mindset in Houston, with the staff mostly concentrated on ignoring what they’ve learned in three quarters and this season, unable to resist the urge of letting James Harden to get his moment to play hero-ball.
Broken records tend to get wearisome at some point. The win over the Wizards was against a struggling Eastern team, but it was an example of how this season has been and can be for the Rockets. They did win, but made things complicated for themselves with another blend of bad defense and neglecting the offense that worked so well for around three quarters. If the good minutes weren’t enough to teach McHale all he needs to know about the importance of Lin in making others better, maybe nothing will.