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[SI] Rob Mahoney's Review of Christmas Game

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by durvasa, Dec 26, 2013.

  1. durvasa

    durvasa Contributing Member

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    http://nba.si.com/2013/12/26/rockets-spurs-tony-parker-dwight-howard-christmas-day/

    Nice writeup by Rob Mahoney on his Point Forward blog.

    [rquoter]
    Games like this inspire faith in Houston’s defense. Much attention will — and should — be paid to the Rockets’ burst scoring in the first and fourth quarters, but this was a two-way victory enabled by staunch defense. Such efforts began with a direct address of Tony Parker (six points, four assists, 3-11 FG), who had his worst game of the season against a Rockets defense trained to his position at all times. That Houston’s top perimeter defender (Patrick Beverley) missed the game due to injury was almost irrelevant; Jeremy Lin did a terrific job of bothering Parker in Beverley’s stead, while the Rocket bigs stepped up and over to crowd potential driving lanes and contest Parker’s attempts.


    That combination allowed Houston’s starting lineup to play wildly successful defense in 27 minutes of action, effectively setting the tone for the evening from opening tip. It took Gregg Popovich all of one minute and 18 seconds to call his first timeout, and just two minutes to make his first substitution. His and the Spurs’ frustration was palpable, and unfortunately didn’t end there. Nothing went quite as it should for a team as steady as San Antonio. The rotations of a typically elite defense were a bit out of sync, to the point that simple drive-and-kick sequences netted open threes for the Rockets. Parker wasn’t able to find room to work through Houston’s defense, leaving the Spurs in a tough spot. Even when San Antonio was able to create offensive leverage and make an effort to move the ball, they committed odd, unforced turnovers and whiffed on their share of makeable shots. In total, that combination yielded a double-digit deficit in a matter of minutes, which the Spurs would trim but never fully erase.

    That early lead was somewhat understandable, as no team this season has been as dominant in the first quarter as the Rockets. On average, Houston outscores its opponent by nearly 15 points per 100 possessions in the first — a mark made all the more impressive by their early struggles in initially trying to balance Dwight Howard and Omer Asik as starting bigs. Things only opened up for the Rockets once Asik was swapped out of the starting five for Terrence Jones (21 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks), and since that point Houston’s opening lineup has ranked among the league’s very best five-man units. They lived up to that billing on Wednesday, not only in that opening stretch but in their consistent and committed defense throughout. While Houston’s starters were on the floor, they held one of the best offenses in the league to 31 percent shooting from the field without committing many fouls at all. If they can maintain that kind of defensive efficacy against other top teams, the Rockets’ ceiling this season could open up to accommodate loftier possibilities.

    San Antonio’s depth complements but can’t always compensate. The Spurs more or less stand alone in terms of their roster’s functional depth. Popovich’s rotation runs 10-deep, or even 11-deep in select situations. The players on the back end of that rotation generally bring shooting, playmaking, and defense in just the right doses, though on Wednesday we were reminded that even that impressive depth can only take San Antonio so far. With Parker and Duncan gasping for offense, Manu Ginobili (22 points, three rebounds, 8-17 FG) went to work as much as the Rockets defense would allow. He was terrific — as has been the case so often this season — but it wasn’t nearly enough. There was balance in the scoring column for San Antonio (eight Spurs scored six points or more), but that diversification came more from desperation than natural process.

    When that’s the case — when Parker is locked down and when Duncan is ineffective — the Spurs will struggle, just as they famously did in the 2012 playoffs. Their deep ranks of contributing players makes for a unique asset, but their bench is built to complement what the stars do well more than make up for their potential struggles. That isn’t to say that San Antonio can’t win when Parker and Duncan aren’t at their best, as the Spurs’ defense is typically stingy enough to enable wins of all kinds. But it will be incredibly challenging (if not impossible) to get the better of quality opponents when both of those central stars play this poorly, no matter how admirably Ginobili fills in the gaps.

    Dwight Howard’s post game, while solid, remains best used in moderation. It’s a popular talking point that fills halftime studio breaks and drive-time radio segments, but Howard’s back-to-the-basket work is generally misrepresented and largely underrated. At worst, Howard is competent down in the low post — not as dominant as one would expect given his physical advantages, but a genuine asset to the offense. The problem is that he’s far more effective when put on the move, as exceedingly few bigs have the speed and size to keep up with Howard in pick-and-roll situations.

    Still, Howard is solid enough down low to deserve investment with touches and scoring opportunities, as the Rockets clearly realize. Houston goes through stretches where feeding Dwight is an obvious priority; there are a handful of sets in Kevin McHale’s playbook geared toward posting up Howard in a variety of ways, and for minutes at a time the Rockets will run through those sequences as a means of establishing that particular half-court option. The results are often mixed, as they were on this particular occasion. Howard faced a tough task in trying to work over Duncan and Tiago Splitter from the block on Wednesday, both of whom rank among the 10 or so best low-post defenders in the league. Howard nonetheless managed to score eight points on nine used post-up possessions for the evening, making for a solid enough conversion rate under the circumstances.

    Where Howard runs into problems, though, is in the predictability of his low-post arsenal. This is one of the rare areas in which criticism of Howard rings true; it’s not hard to predict where and when Howard wants to go once he begins the process of backing down his opponent, and Splitter took particular advantage of that fact by timing his swipes at Howard’s dribble and cutting off the right angles along the way. As a result, three of Howard’s non-scoring post-up chances were turnovers — created because Howard adjusted his feet after his initial move to score was denied. It was hardly the smoothest work, and part of the reason why many consider Howard’s post game to be an easy target.

    Another, related element that isn’t discussed enough: That Howard working from the post makes it easier for opponents to intentionally foul him. Because the timing of Howard’s post-ups is so easy to peg, opponents are all the more effective in preemptively fouling when necessary. That’s not always an option when Howard is streaking down the lane as a pick-and-roll finisher, finishing off a drop pass from a teammate, or even capitalizing on an offensive rebound. The post, though, attacks opponents in close proximity by its very nature. Such placement makes it tougher to avoid shooting fouls, which in Howard’s case is sadly a very real consideration.
    [/rquoter]
     
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  2. Easy

    Easy Boban Only Fan
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    Good read.

    The article kind of confirms what I have believed. Defensive talent is necessary. But defensive SYSTEM and game planning is more important for defensive success. You just need to put players who are committed to the system.

    I thought Harden was playing pretty good defense yesterday.
     
  3. tmacfor35

    tmacfor35 Contributing Member

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    As Harden loosened up toward the end, his defense started to shine.
     
  4. tmoney1101

    tmoney1101 Contributing Member

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    Jeremy played his best defensive game as a rocket. Harden was good in the second half, Manu was lighting him up early.
     
  5. flamingdts

    flamingdts Member

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    That was a bit of both Parsons and Harden, since they switched.

    I feel like the biggest issue for this team are switches and screens. We do not manage well against teams who heavily utilize screens.
     
  6. Old Man Rock

    Old Man Rock Contributing Member

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    On Parkers behalf, he looked a bit slow last night. Possibly the traveling effects him more at his age. As for Mr. Lin I think it is fair to say that the gap on defense between Bev and Lin is very small. Beverly is an in your face kind of defender that gets steals straight from his guy but Lin is a more cerebral player and better at anticipating passing lanes. Bev is a better rebounder but Lin is much better distributor. And what really separates Lin from Bev is his ability to attack the basket.

    IMO when Lin is healthy he is the better option to start. It doesn't matter in most games. We can win with Bev starting but if Lin and Harden can play together the way they did last night Bev would be better served coming off the bench.
     
  7. roxxy

    roxxy Member

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    Precisely. Defense is a team concept and an opposing PG having an off night cannot be solely attributed to our starting PG/guard whoever that may be.
     
  8. roxxy

    roxxy Member

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    Are we still saying if though? Lin/Harden were playing fantastic last year post ASB
     
  9. pwnyxpress

    pwnyxpress Contributing Member

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    I agree with your assessment but still would rather see Bev start. Most of this is due to Lin's playmaking abilities. Our starting 5 is great and switching Lin for Bev will not really change it up too much one way or another imo. But where Lin can really help is our bench. Our bench is too inconsistent and generally week. AB can light it up, but Casspi is hit or miss and Garcia has generally been miss all season. We're low on depth in bigs now (HA! never thought I would say that as a Rockets fan) with Asik "injured" or unwilling to play, whatever. I think Lin is a better spark and distributor off the bench and can really shore that end up for us. I'm growing more and more content with our starting 5 (w/ Lin or Bev) to the point where I feel like we are good to go for a shot at the ring if Asik had bought in and everyone were healthy. Since that is not the case, we need some big(s) and better/consistent bench play. Did you see how badly Spurs' bench outscored ours last night? Ouch...
     
  10. Man

    Man Contributing Member

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    Pretty sure Howard got hacked on at least 4 of the said 9 possessions. No calls for the Rockets during that stretch; obviously the hope is that Dwight can continue his solid offensive production
     
  11. jtr

    jtr Contributing Member

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    That article was a great read. Serious thought went into that analysis.

    Team defense needs time to develop. As the season wears on the Rockets will develop the anticipation and communication needed to employ a NBA level of defense. If you bring together a bunch of all-star NBA veterans you can have immediate defensive relevance, like Boston did with Allen, Pierce and KD. It just does not happen overnight with young players.

    Houston has been crippled by injuries, and with Asik, Bev and Smith still out they are not as deep as we would like. However I liked what I saw last night.
     
  12. raskol

    raskol Contributing Member

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    Good post. Love when we get real attention coming our way instead of articles written by pundits who doesn't even watch Rockets basketball.
     
  13. YaoMing#1

    YaoMing#1 Member

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    I think Lin should start also and I admit I didn't think that 5 games ago. It really is apparent that our best player James Harden plays like a top 5 player when he's on the court. I love Howard I love parsons I love bev and Lin and the whole team but were going to have to ride Harden to win the title. I think yesterday proved this, if we have the Harden of last yr and last game the rockets are serious threats for the championship this season once Asik comes back.
     
  14. dianelo

    dianelo Member

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    Yea. Harden was completely lost and nowhere near Manu when he put up 2 threes in the first quarter. I am happy that he took over the game in the 4th though.
     
  15. timyeung

    timyeung Member

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    Agree with Old Man Rock.

    Stats so far this season support the notion that Lin's offense is much stronger than Bev's offense, and that Bev's defensive ability has been overrated while Lin's defensive ability has been underrated:

    Games so far this season where Bev played and Lin did not:

    Bev - 5 pts. (24min) vs. (Nets: Livingston (10min.) 0 pts., Tyshawan Taylor 16 pts.)
    Bev - 11 pts. (37 min) vs. (Spurs: Parker - 27 pts.)
    Bev - 8 pts. (38 min) vs. (Jazz: Burke - 21 pts.)
    Bev - 12 pts. (42 min) vs. (Suns: Dragic - 19 pts.)
    Bev - 6 pts. (33 min) vs. (Warriors: Curry - 22 pts.)
    Bev - 9 pts. (39 min) vs. (Magic: Afflalo - 16 pts.)
    Bev - 6 pts. (31 min) vs. (Kings: Thomas - 19 pts.)
    Bev - 15 pts. (34 min) vs. (Bulls: Augustin - 8 pts.)
    Bev - 8 pts. (30 min) vs. (Pacers: Hill - 12 pts.)

    Games so far this season where Lin played and Bev did not:

    Lin- 14 points (30 min) vs (Mavericks: Calderon-0 pt).
    Lin--20 point s(36 min vs (Jazz: Tinsley-0 pt)
    Lin--14 points (30 min) vs (Clippers: Paul-23 pts)
    Lin -20 points (37 min) vs (Mavericks: Calderon: 15 pts)
    Lin--13 points (34 min) vs (Spurs: Parker--6 points).
     
  16. kuku

    kuku Contributing Member

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    It wouldn't surprise me if Mahoney has been reading CF! That's what good writers suppose to do when writing Rockets related articles.
    Nice write up!
     
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  17. sun12

    sun12 Member

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    You are wrong. If Phil Jackson is the coach, he would let Lin start just because Lin is taller and a better player. Phil always like taller PGs to defend opposing PGs. The bench situation can be solved using other methods, you don't leave your better players on the bench.

    It is OBVIOUS that Lin's situation has changed since Harden and Howard came. Rox switched from the mood of developing players to the mood of win now. With Lin's 8million tag, Rox is not interested in developing Lin as a player anymore. Rox just does not want to wait for Lin to develop the skillsets Rox wants now. (Spot up shooter, low TO, defender) Plus, the skillsets Rox wants are NOT worth 8mil.

    So no matter what people say, the business has changed. I fully expect Lin to be traded.
     
  18. 5KR4TCH

    5KR4TCH Contributing Member

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    Does anyone know where I may be able to watch this game?

    Sorry if this post is out of place.
     
  19. robrhodes

    robrhodes Member

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    I think we match up so well with the Spurs. I can tell Pop gets frustrated playing us. He blew up in the first game and just doesn't have an answer for dwight or james. James is a legitimate spurs killer. I hope we meet in the playoffs.
     

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