Last night the Houston Rockets showed the requisite ability against the Minnesota Timberwolves to make the necessary in-game changes and, led by an armor-plated James Harden, rally to beat a team they are supposed to beat. Before last night, the Rockets were 1-1 vs. Minnesota this season, with the one victory being a slim 3-point one. For whatever the reason, all three games vs. the Wolves this season have followed a similar script: getting behind early and looking lethargic before making a late-game push. Last night’s game was decidedly the worst, however, being down by 20 in the third quarter.
In the second half the Rockets started playing defense, Harden went to work charging through the lane and getting to the charity stripe, and momentum started to shift. As soon as the Wolves keyed on Harden, Jeremy Lin followed suit and started penetrating the defense, collecting a few more eye-gouges along the way. Then Greg Smith appeared on the scene and started collecting passes and rebounds around the rim and stuffing them home. It is encouraging that the boys have the ability adjust and take command of a game, but it is doubtful that this would suffice against the elite teams they will face in the playoffs.
The abysmal second quarter featured 10 of their 18 turnovers for the game, as well as the only minutes for Thomas Robinson and Francisco Garcia. After the half, Kevin McHale clearly changed strategies, abandoned any efforts to integrate the newcomers into the rotation, and stuck with Greg Smith, Carlos Delfino, and Patrick Beverly exclusively off the bench. Additionally, he benched Omer Asik and Donatas Motiejunas for the entire fourth quarter to close out the win. In fact, McHale kept the same 5 players on the floor for the entire fourth quarter except when Beverly spelled Lin for almost 3 minutes.
McHale is largely responsible for pulling out a win last night by making the changes, but it also took the players on the floor to execute it. I hope that McHale is able to get Robinson involved in the rotation on a consistent basis before the playoffs. He shows real promise and will eventually be a threat on both sides of the ball when he stops throwing the ball away. I hope that Smith continues to get minutes consistently as well. A front-court of Smith, Asik, Robinson, and Motiejunas has plenty of upside.
It will be interesting to see how the rotation develops from now until the playoffs. The ability to put aside a horrid first half and will your team to a victory in the second half is vital for a team that is a contender, but hopefully the Rockets can develop enough between now and the end of the regular season to avoid being in those situations in the first place.