Game Day: Rockets at Heat
Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 113-104 loss to the Miami Heat
From a Rockets’ perspective, today’s first half was all about survival (and Pat Beverley’s stunning poster dunk, but we’ll get to that later). For a prolonged period in the second quarter, fans would be forgiven if they were experiencing flashbacks to Houston’s miserable second half in Chicago. The Rockets scored just five points in the first seven minutes of the period, and a Miami team on a mission to snap out of its own slump looked like it might be loading up to deliver the kind of knockout blow that the Heat have become famous for over the course of the last few years. LeBron James was fully engaged and back in freight train mode, Dwyane Wade was moving with force and cunning, and Houston appeared to be drowning in an ocean of turnovers and poor defensive rebounding.
Then the Rockets starters returned and so too did the team’s scoring punch. Terrence Jones finished around the rim and drained a corner 3. James Harden just kept bulling his way into the paint and parading his way to the free throw line. Dwight Howard was unstoppable any time he touched the ball near the basket. And yes, Beverley delivered a dunk so perfectly crafted for posterization that one almost wonders if Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen will receive proceeds for their part in the picture’s creation. That slam served as an exclamation mark for the 21 points the Rockets scored in the final five minutes of the quarter, allowing Houston to turn a potential rout into a nip-and-tuck affair by halftime as the Heat led just 57-54.
- Not a lot went well for Houston while the club was scuffling during the its hard to watch second quarter stretch, but Dwight Howard’s rim protecting excellence never wavered. Howard hit the break with 12 points, 6 boards, two blocks and at least a half-dozen altered shots in the vicinity of the hoop. Protecting the rim is of paramount importance against the Heat’s relentless penetration, and Houston’s All-Star was nothing short of outstanding in that regard during the opening 24 minutes.
- The third quarter saw the tables turn on the turnover front and, as a result, the Rockets benefitted in a big way. With Houston no longer throwing away possessions and handing the Heat easy points in transition, the Rockets’ half-court defense was really able to lock-in and limit Miami’s typically explosive offense. Houston also shored up its early game issues on the defensive glass, giving the Heat nothing in the way of second chance scoring opportunities. Miami, meanwhile, went through their own bout with the turnover bug as Mario Chalmers went ‘Wario’ once again and even LeBron wasn’t immune, mishandling the ball on multiple occasions as the Rockets continued their climb back into the game and seized their first lead of any kind since Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.
Regarding James’ issues, Chandler Parsons played a huge role in that respect, racking up three steals in the period, even straight up picking the four-time MVP’s pocket on one occasion and taking it the other way for a fast break flush. Parsons’ shot hasn’t been falling frequently of late, but his play at the other end in the third quarter went a long way toward helping Houston claim an 81-79 lead heading to the final frame.
- One other James’ note: After LeBron got off to a strong start in today’s contest, he cooled off considerably, even missing multiple layups – something you almost never see from one of the game’s historically great finishers near the hoop. But don’t underestimate the presence of Omer Asik and Howard in that regard. Asik had one absolutely outstanding contest at the rim, standing straight up and using every inch of his 9-4 standing reach to ensure James would not convert over top of him. And as previously mentioned, Howard’s presence was positively monstrous in the paint. At one point in the fourth quarter, Houston owned a 52-34 edge in paint points and the difference basically came down to the fact that the Rockets had Howard and Asik protecting the rim and Miami didn't.
- What the Heat do have, however, and in spades at that: championship experience, and they served up a heaping helping of the stuff during the game’s final few minutes while transforming a 4-point deficit into a 113-104 victory. James, Wade and Ray Allen ran wild in the final 4:26, ripping off a remarkable 15-0 run while Houston could only muster two meaningless Pat Beverley free throws during that stretch. Miami’s execution was impeccable and the Rockets simply couldn’t match it. While the Heat methodically went about the business of creating quality looks, Houston too often was forced to settle for shots that were far less desirable. And on the other end of the floor, the Rockets experienced some game-changing mental breakdowns; none bigger than the wide-open corner 3 conceded to Allen when two Houston defenders latched onto the same man, leaving the league's all-time 3-point king with the kind of look he's feasted upon for decades. Against a battle-tested Miami team desperate to get back in the win column, those are the kind of late-game mistakes you just can't make.
- With the loss, the Rockets fall to 44-22 and now have their first 3-game losing streak of the season. They’ll have an opportunity to bring it to an end tomorrow night when they play host to the Utah Jazz.
(last four-plus minutes, were you OK with the shots your team was taking?)
No. We rushed a couple shots. We got a five-point lead and we didn’t cover Ray Allen on an out-of-bounds play. We subbed to go small and our guys were running around; I don’t know what we did. And from that point on we missed a few shots, we had a couple good shots and took some bad shots … We didn’t play very well down the stretch.
(what changed down the stretch?)
We just missed a couple shots. We missed a couple layups and open 3s, and they got a couple easy points and that kind of stopped us right there.
Tonight, it was a couple mental mistakes for us down the stretch and they had a couple calls go their way. A mixture of those things – it’s tough.
(what’s happened during this 3-game losing streak?)
We’re good. We’re in a good place. (We had) two tough games in Oklahoma City and here, and in Chicago we just had one of those games that a lot of teams have. So we go back home tomorrow for a good one.
(You’re ok with the kind of shots you got down the stretch and the execution)
Definitely. We were up by 5 with a couple minutes left in the game and we gave up a 3 and a couple defensive 3 seconds calls and a couple free throws, and that’s tough.
We stopped doing what we were doing during the first three quarters. At the end of the game we were stagnant with the ball, took tough shots and that was the game.
We just need to play the game, make plays for each other, move the ball. We were stagnant and that’s not good.
Every game is different. We had some struggles on this road trip but it happens. We need to get all that stuff out now so come playoff time we’re ready to go.
(does this stretch help you get ready?)
No doubt. We played against some tough teams that have been together for a while. This is our first year together so we’re still learning. We’re going to have parts of the season where we struggle but it’s still a learning lesson.
(what’s changed between last week when the team was rolling against top shelf competition and now?)
Because we’re playing better competition everything we’re doing is going to be a little harder with maybe not as many open looks, or playing against better defenses or teams that match up better than us.
I think we’re right there. Against OKC and Miami we were right there. Chicago was a different story; we just got beat from 0-to-48.
(did Miami’s championship experience and years of playing together decide the game down the stretch?)
I think that's part of it. You can tell they’re comfortable in those situations; they know exactly what they’re doing and their go-tos that they go back to over and over again. As for us, we’re still trying to figure exactly (what we want to do in those situations). Each game looks a little different – and I’m sure it does for them, too – but we just haven’t been through as many fires.