Sunday night's overtime loss to the Trailblazers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs cost the Rockets the very home court advantage they fought for until the penultimate game of the season. It was as frustrating a loss as fans will see with poor play down the stretch, sloppy play most of the game, a blown lead in the fourth quarter and a team of referees that appeared to believe they were opponents of both teams and the game of basketball itself.
The good news is that it was pretty damn ugly and the Rockets still managed to take it down to a final possession. Losing the home court certainly hurts, particularly when the Rockets spent so much time fighting to secure it, but there is most definitely a silver lining.
The Twin Tower experiment is over.
Coach Kevin McHale foolishly went back to playing Omer Asik on the floor with Dwight Howard, something he tried to start the season. Asik quickly found himself in foul trouble and remained glued to the bench much of the rest of the night. The theory, I assume, was that this would keep Howard out of foul trouble and keep him fresh for the offensive end. It backfired miserably and rendered the Rockets' big men ineffective for the better part of three quarters. Terrence Jones may struggle guarding LaMarcus Aldridge, but his athleticism and energy are necessary. My guess is you'll see more double teams on Aldridge going forward, forcing the Blazers to hit outside shots, something they don't always do.
Fouls likely won't be as significant a factor.
Sunday night, it was as if the referees assigned to the game made the decision early on that this matchup of the Rockets and Blazers was going to resemble a game between the Pistons and Knicks circa 1980. The first half was a lopsided affair with the Rockets not attempting a single free throw. That reversed itself in the second half, and multiple players including Aldridge and Howard fouled out before the end of overtime. Howard's final foul was actually ruled by the league on Monday as a foul on the defender, not Howard. Instead of fouling out, he should have gotten free throws. Everyone thought the officiating on both sides was terrible. No doubt the NBA will clean this up as best they can for the rest of the series.
These Rockets seem to need to be pushed.
For some reason, this Rockets team needs to be down before playing well. They have that in common with Rockets teams of years past. This is not a wise strategy, but it seems as if they play their best ball when their backs are against the wall, as the cliché goes. This certainly qualifies. If they are down 0-2 heading to Portland, things will get significantly more critical, but hopefully a game-one loss is enough to give them the nudge they need.
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LaMarcus Aldridge isn't super-human.
Aldridge is a terribly good player and one of the most underrated power forwards in the NBA, but he is not this good. KILT 610's morning show co-host Nick Wright pointed out Monday morning that if Aldridge were to go for 20 points and 24 rebounds in game two, it would move his averages in five games against the Rockets this year to 30 points and 20 rebounds. During the game on Sunday, Matt Bullard pointed out that only three people had ever scored 46 points and had 18 rebounds in a playoff game -- Aldridge, Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon. With all due respect to Aldridge, he is very, very good, but those numbers put him among the all-time greats, something he is not.
Patrick Beverley is okay.
Portland point guard Damian Lillard had a decent night Sunday, but when Beverley left the court with an injury (after fouling out), he went haywire, practically running Jeremy Lin off the floor. Had Beverley's injury been more serious -- MRIs found no new damage to the right knee he injured earlier in the season that caused him to miss eight games down the stretch -- it would have made it extremely difficult to contain Lillard, something the Rockets can barely do as it is.