If last night had been a movie the title would have been “Rockets Battle Hawks and Zebras” alas it wasn’t a horror movie but a game that ended with a loss and for the first time this season marked back to back losses at home. Let’s break down why:
Three Keys To the Loss:
1. James Harden left the game in the second quarter to check on tightness in his hamstring. Just as the Rockets’ brass tweeted out he wouldn’t return he returned to the bench and subsequently to the game. However, his hamstring was obviously an issue as he shook off play sets frequently and wasn’t able to put the team on his back like he has so often this season. He did however garner a career high 14-assists.
2. My keys to the game heading into last night were the front court where the shear size of Dwight Howard and Donatas Motiejunas should have dominated Al Horford and Paul Millsap, but the Hawks ended up winning the points in the paint battle 40-36.
3. I’ve watched a ton of games this season and believe me when I say I’ve seen some horribly officiated games. Living in Toronto, the Raptors have often got whistled on their home court like they’re the visiting team, so when I say what occurred last night at the Toyota Center was beyond acceptable I know what I’m talking about:
- Brothers seemed to have it out for the bearded one the entire evening; following a steal by Kyle Korver he threw a leak out pass to DeMarre Carroll down court and Harden intercepted it. Carroll had over run the pass, so from my perspective both players had a right to go for the ball and if anything Carroll backing up into Harden was more of a foul as he impeded Harden who still got his hands on the ball, but Brothers called a clear path foul on Harden. 3Q – 6:46
- Harden then got called under the basket on a play where he and Pero Antic were fighting for a rebound. Antic had Harden handcuffed and was pushing Harden’s head back, but when the ref looked over he took his (I’m guessing) close to 280 lb frame and flopped leading to a Harden loose ball foul thus taking away the possession as Howard had captured the rebound. 3Q – 3:46
- Once again Harden got switched onto Antic and while Pero bodied James there was no call, however the minute he turned around to face the basket and Harden provided a diminished version of what he’d just been experiencing he was whistled for another foul (this call was made by a different ref) 3Q – 3:06/Rockets had cut lead to 6-points
- With the game cut to within 5-points another weird call was assessed. Brothers who was standing under the Rockets basket watched as Shelvin Mack scored, but he called a technical foul on James Harden for pushing Antic in the back. Once again the behemoth size of Pero Antic aside, this was a laughable foul especially because it had no interference in the play and the Hawks had just scored. The ref standing under the Hawks basket who witnessed it first hand had made no call, so it was odd Brothers deemed to call a technical from the opposite end of the court. 3Q – 2:58. At this point I was wondering what the heck Pero Antic bought Tony Brothers for Christmas and James Harden had done to upset the official as he’d given Harden 3-fouls and a tech in less than 4-minutes.
- At 3:51 of the final quarter another truly bad call occurred: with the Rockets looking to tie the score, Jason Terry drove the lane and put up a shot but the bucket was waived off and a foul called by a demonstrative Brothers. The commentators were so confused they weren’t sure if Howard had been called or Terry as neither had fouled anyone, in fact Horford had fouled Terry. It turned out Brothers had called Howard saying he pushed Horford into Terry. On the subsequent offensive set for Atlanta another ticky tack foul was called on Beverley.
- Arguably the worst whistle came at 2:11 of the fourth with the game tied when Jason Terry was called for a travel. Repeat viewing showed he never picked up his plant foot. On the subsequent Hawk possession Paul Millsap visibly travels in the lane in front of two officials, but isn’t called and the score is counted giving the Hawks the lead.
Ultimately these calls all led to the Rockets pressing to tie the score and Terry committing the ultimate no-no by leaving Korver open for a 3-pointer which gave the Hawks the win. The entire series is of fouls is worthwhile viewing especially the Howard foul in the lane because you can hear a fan loudly in the background screaming at Brothers “you’re killing us, you’re killing us!” It’s worth a view and listen.
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Though I gave him a mediocre rank in my grades last evening I can see Kostas Papanikolaou being a big factor moving forward. His ability to initiate the fast break and passing prowess will make the Rockets offense more fluid and also give Harden a break from having to carry all the offensive play sets. Given Harden’s potential wonky hamstring and the heavy minutes he’s been carrying this is crucial for long-term success.
Play of the night:
While just a rookie Nick Johnson was impressive in his short time on the court. His 8:32 minutes translated into a critical 3-point shot, 2-3 field goal makes, 2-2 from the free throw line for 7-points plus he grabbed 3-rebounds (two that were offensive) and had a team high +5.
With Corey Brewer set to join the team in Monday’s inter-conference showdown he might see fewer minutes now, but I continue to be very impressed by his calm on the court, basic fundamental adeptness and high basketball I.Q.
As always, make Space City Scoop your daily stop for all things Houston Rockets and tell us what you think.