Yes, it was just one game out of 82, but the Houston Rockets 99-98 loss Thursday night on a national stage proved that they still have a ways to go before legitimately becoming Western Conference contenders.
Granted, the Los Angeles Lakers came out red-hot, making 6 of their first 9 3-point shots, while the Rockets struggled offensively with their twin tower experiment of starting Dwight Howard and Omer Asik together. But it was the during the key stretches of the game where the Rockets failed to execute that could lead to their ultimate downfall as the season continues.
From the 3:52 mark of the 4th quarter, the Rockets had 10 possessions to close out the game, and didn’t record a field goal. On 6 of those possessions, the Lakers went to the Hack-A-Howard, who made just 5 of 12 from the free throw line, and on the other 4, the Rockets missed all 5 shots, including Patrick Beverley’s last second heave that fell short. The Rockets struggled with free throws all game, as they got to the line 52 times as a team, but shot a horrendous 63 percent.
The Rockets did turn it up defensively in the 4th quarter, so credit needs to be given for that, but was non-existent in the first half. The numbers are staggering in the end: the Lakers’ bench scored 54 points, lead by Jodie Meeks’ 18 points, and Wesley Johnson with 16, while gaining the edge on the boards as well. Chris Kaman, who made his first start of the season, made a low post presence, helping L.A. grab 13 offensive rebounds that lead to 13 huge second-chance points.
Defending the 3-point line continues to be a problem. L.A. shot a remarkable 78 percent(11-14) from three in the first half, and finished the game with 16 threes made, while the Rockets made just 7 of 27(26 percent). This shot chart shows that the Lakers hot-spots from the 3-point line were from the left side of the floor, to the center:
which leads me to the Steve Blake shot.
There was no question the Lakers were going for the 3 and the win, as soon as Mike D’Antoni immediately called for a time-out when James Harden missed an 18-foot jumper with seconds remaining. The inbounds pass came from the left side, the Lakers struggled all game shooting from the right wing and corner, how did they not know what was coming?
A blown switch between Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin helped propel Blake to be wide open, and swished the three from the left wing over the outstretched arms of Howard. Here’s the shot in super-slow motion:
May I also bring up the fact that Blake did this to the Rockets before as well? Opening night of the 2010-2011 season, with the Rockets leading 110-109 with 24 seconds remaining: