Nov 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) brings the ball up the court during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Rockets top 4 offense tipped off against the Raptors top 3 offense, but only Toronto brought their defense to the court. SCS post game player grades reflect just how much defensive work is left to do.
On a nice roll of late the Houston Rockets appeared to be moving in the right direction. National pundits were paying them respect and many thought this was the beginning of Houston’s climb back into the West’s upper echelon. Well, as my game day pointed out although the Rockets have played a ton of road games they’ve yet to be truly tested.
Conversely, the Toronto Raptors arrived in town having played 3 of the other top 5 offenses (Raptors 3rd, Rockets 4th). They even had the unbearable back to back of Cleveland – Golden State followed by a game in Denver’s altitude one day later. Then the ridiculous call occurred in Sacramento robbing them of the chance to play overtime. And just to add insult to injury their reward was getting to play the rested Clippers on the next night. Now that, is adversity.
One would assume a team having traveled through 4 time zones and playing their sixth game in 9 days would be fatigued and ripe for the picking. Both teams spoke of their need to improve defensively, but it was the road weary Raptors squad whose actions matched their words.
The Raptors thoroughly and completely outmatched the Rockets in almost every regard. By night’s end the Rockets had committed 26 turnovers of which James Harden was responsible for 12 (yes, you read that correctly).
The simple lesson we learned is the 3 point shot can help you get back into a game. That said, relying on hail Mary three’s once a team has thoroughly and completely spanked you isn’t an ideal strategy. Further, imagine what the top teams who have solid offense and defenses can do to this Rockets squad? Let alone a well rested squad!
As I mentioned in the game day, there aren’t too many teams out there who could weather the past 9 days and look as sharp as Toronto did. To reiterate, in 15 games the Raptors have played 5 of the 7 top defenses (losing only to the Clippers) and all the top offenses they share a top 5 berth with. Prior to this nasty stretch the Raptors were among the top 10 defenses and tonight provided full examples of why they’ll likely return to that position once their schedule balances out.
As for the home team it appeared the only strategy was to shoot from the perimeter as they hoisted 42 three point shots (connecting on 14). This isn’t the answer to winning consistently. Toronto repeatedly exposed the holes in the Rockets game and if the coaches and players were paying attention also provided plenty of fodder for areas the team needs to work on.
In the end, Trevor Ariza provided the shot that would push the Rockets score above 100, but make no mistake this was a beat down.
With that here are the player grades and game summary.
Next: Unsavory triple-double
Nov 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) defends during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Next: Pest or Punk?
Nov 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) talks with an official during the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Next: The man trying to pick up the slack
Next: Where is Steve Austin when you need him?
Nov 21, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson (3) adjusts his shorts during the second quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Next: Big Battle
Nov 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) defends during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Next: Recap and Raptors Performance
Nov 23, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) steals the ball from Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Generally the player grades reserve this area for the best Rockets reserve player and the best opponent. But, the manner in which the Rockets lost this evening warranted no reserve award.
And, based on how thoroughly and completely the Raptors dominated the game deserved credit being issued to the entire Raptors team.
Perimeter Shooting: The Rockets tossed up 42 three point shot attempts. In the first half they connected on 3 of their 20 attempts. Yet, that did nothing to dissuade them as the team literally lives and dies by the three. Therefore they threw up 22 more in the second half when they were far more successful hitting 11 of 21 for a total of 14 makes.
Ironically the Raptors hit two less threes (12) but took just 23 attempts for a 52.2% success rate.
Turnovers: I warned in the game day the Raptors protect the ball better than 28 other squads and are also among the league leaders at turning opposing turnovers into easy baskets.
In the end the Raptors game plan was simply better than the Rockets and their commitment on the defensive end far outweighed the lack of effort and energy of Houston.
Energy Stats: Several stats showcased the Raptors energy level. Entering the night the Rockets were a better rebounding team and though they won (by one) the overall rebounding stat it was the Raptors who won the battle of the offensive boards. The Raptors also created turnovers and had far more steals.
- Offensive Rebounds: Raptors – 15-11
- Steals: Raptors 14 -6
- Total Turnovers: Raptors had 12 fewer (16 – 28)
- Points off turnovers: Raptors 33, Rockets 12
- Points in the Paint: Raptors 50, Rockets 42
Three Point Stats:
- Raptors hit 12 on 23 shots for 52.2%
- Rockets hit 14 on 42 shots for 33.3%
Over the course of the past week I’ve been reading copious articles on how great the Rockets are playing, their amazing depth and how their defense is so much better.
Conversely, I watched as the Raptors traveled through 4 time zones playing two back to back sets featuring 3 of the top 5 teams playing 6 games in 9 nights and getting shafted by an unfair decision.
The entire time I kept wandering back to the fundamentals of what I know about these squads. In spite of a tough road trip the Raptors never gave up once in any of their contests coming back from double digit deficits on several occasions, getting the bad end of the whistle in virtually all but tonight’s game and watched their overall defensive rank plummet southward.
In spite of all that I knew the basic identity of these Raptors involved grit and no quit efforts. And, the reason I know that is their leaders, Lowry and DeRozan have established a team environment and chemistry that should be the envy of 29 teams.
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Holding a double digit lead DeRozan could easily have attempted extra shots to pad his 30 point night efforts from this season. Instead, he chose to continue dishing assists as did Lowry since the squad deserved to share in this complete game victory. Time and again, we saw Lowry dive for lose balls and compete as if the team were in a one point game. Lowry and DeRozan’s talent carries the load on most evenings, but what Houston fans experienced first hand tonight is how leadership functions at it’s very finest.
Harden tried valiantly to get his team back into the game, cutting the lead to 7 at one stage in the fourth quarter. The problem is their strategy was just to keep firing three’s. And they neglected to defend so Toronto just pulled ahead again.
While I don’t think the situation is dire I do feel the Rockets need to decide defense has to be a part of the game plan.
The danger with a team loaded with shooters is they forget (or choose not to) do anything else.
Let’s hope as the leader Harden takes a page out of DeRozan and Lowry’s book. For him to take that next step as a leader he needs to be the guy getting the team to commit on both ends. If he does, these Rockets could be special. If not, I’m afraid they’ll be a lot more games this season like this loss to the Raptors.
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