Kyle Lowry and the Houston Rockets find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture looking up.
WHO: Celtics 97, Rockets 92 (OT).
WHAT: Remember the good ol’ days when the Rockets were six games over .500 and sitting tied with Dallas for fourth place in the West? Seems like nothing but a distant memory now. Since standing at 20-14 at the All-Star break, Houston is currently all alone in eighth place at 21-18, having lost four of their last five games. Tuesday’s game in Boston began a stretch where the Rockets play seven of their next eight on the road. Not a good start. They lost for the 12th time in 18 road games this season heading into tonight’s contest in Toronto. And, yes, just to confirm what you’re thinking: a loss tonight is a HUGE red flag.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Paul Pierce happened. “The Truth” scored seven of his 30 points in the extra session. Houston, finally, outrebounded an opponent, snapping an ugly 10-game skid that was the worst since the 1982-1983 season. The Rockets dominated Boston on the glass, 57-38, but it tells you everything you need to know in that they still lost the game. In what has become a common theme since the break, Houston again shot poorly (38 percent) and its lack of a go-to scorer in crunchtime is blatant at this point. They’re forced to go by committee, but it’s not enough, especially when your strongest scorers in Kyle Lowry (4-for-17 shooting) and Kevin Martin (4-for-10) combine to go 8 for 27 from the field, and the latter isn’t even on the floor when the game’s on the line. Nothing was more evident of that lack of a threat than the fact that the Rockets blew a 10-point lead with 5:33 left in regulation. In spite of encouraging performances from Luis Scola (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Samuel Dalembert (11 points, 17 rebounds), the Rockets’ defense gave up too many open looks (including a dodged bullet from Ray Allen that should have given Boston the win in regulation). It’s a mess at this point. The Rockets aren’t shooting straight and they’re not defending. Makes it tough to win ballgames. Even more disappointing is they’re reverting too often these days to complaining to refs and flopping.
EIGHT IS ENOUGH: Coach Kevin McHale went with an eight-man rotation in his first return to Boston as a member of the Rockets. Chase Budinger was a DNP-CD for the second straight game, and Terrence Williams — after playing surprisingly consistent minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Clippers — was disciplined for missing practice, further proof of his lack of judgment and apparent disrespect. And he wonders why so many fans are “negative” to him? Unfortunately, the Rockets do not have the amount of quality explosive talent to warrant a short bench. It’s a bit concerning that McHale has not settled on a rotation 39 games into the season. I understand it, because no one is really producing significantly on a consistent basis, but still troubling nonetheless.
MARTIN SITS: It didn’t get better for Kevin Martin Tuesday. How far has his stock fallen? He didn’t play in the fourth quarter or overtime. That’s 17 minutes, when it matters most, without the Rockets’ top perimeter offensive talent. I would be shocked if Martin was still a Rocket at 3 p.m. on March 15. The good news is McHale is going more and more with Courtney Lee, who played 27 minutes and is a threat on both ends of the floor, not just one. It’s gaining steam, but I’ll keep saying what I’ve said since early January: Start Lee. Sit Martin. Every minute Martin is on the floor, he’s a detriment to the team.
ROCKETS’ DIAPER DANDIES UPDATE: Neither Marcus Morris or Greg Smith played. Morris was active, but sat. Smith was inactive.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: As I said, it’s a mess. As constituted, there are no answers for the Rockets’ issues, which are many. The defense has taken a big step backward. There is no trust in their top scorer. The depth, once an asset, is seemingly nonexistent. Too much responsibility is being placed upon the shoulders of a point guard who would be a top reserve on a quality contender. THESE are the true Rockets, not the ones who rolled through January against cupcake competition and got everybody’s hopes up. They are good enough for the eighth seed, maybe the seventh tops. But is that OK? No. The Rockets need an immediate facelift, and the longer they wait, the worse their hopes for a big run this condensed season keep falling. Clock is ticking.