A Tale Of Two Halves

Analysis and observations from Houston's 104-93 win over Utah
by Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Writer/Reporter


SALT LAKE CITY - Instant analysis and observations from Houston’s 104-93 win over Utah Saturday night in Salt Lake City:

- Tonight represents the Rockets’ first back-to-back of the season, giving the team an opportunity to kick start the campaign by making a statement on one of head coach Kevin McHale’s major points of emphasis during the preseason. Houston went a woeful 6-15 last season on the second night of back-to-backs and McHale has made no secret about his desire to see his club perform at a much higher level in such situations this season. Playing in the Salt Lake City altitude is never an easy task even under the most ideal of circumstances, but given the fact the Jazz played last night as well – and arrived home only shortly before the Rockets landed in Utah – you better believe McHale will have a zero tolerance policy toward any excuses tonight.

jazz-photo-gallery-link.jpg- Some early season statistical trends to keep an eye on as the year progresses: The Rockets’ small-ball lineups are off to a torrid start, with several variations of them thumping the competition during their stints on the floor together. That of course should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched Houston play throughout the preseason and during the first two games of the 2013-14 campaign. The Rockets’ small-ball lineups ran roughshod over the Mavericks last night and will likely do the same to many an opponent this season. There simply is no reliable antidote to a team that can trot out Dwight Howard, James Harden and a squadron of sharpshooters.

- Speaking of Houston’s dynamic duo, During the 63 minutes Howard and Harden have played together so far this season (prior to tonight’s game), Houston's offensive efficiency rating (points per 100 possessions) is 112.0 while its defensive efficiency rating is 91.9. The Rockets are +18 during that time. Dominant.

- Even more amazing: During the 36 minutes Harden and Francisco Garcia have played together, the Rockets are +35 (!!!). In fact, right now a more appropriate title for the 31-year-old Dominican Republic native should probably be “Francisco Garcia, Destroyer of Worlds.” During Garcia’s 55 minutes of action so far this season, the Rockets have produced an OER of 117.3 and a DER of 83.3. Goodness gracious.

- One last note before putting the focus solely on tonight’s contest, Omri Casspi was a late scratch this evening due to the ankle injury he suffered late in last night’s win over Dallas. Casspi tested the ankle on-court prior to tonight’s game, but he cut the warm-up short when the ankle didn’t feel quite right. No need to push things at this early juncture; hopefully a day off today and tomorrow will get that ankle in good shape for Monday’s contest against the Clippers (UPDATE: Immediately following tonight's game, Casspi told Rockets.com that he felt certain he'd be able to play Monday night).

- Figures that after that glowing preamble, the Rockets would record their worst half of the year (preseason included). In fact, it’s hard to imagine Houston playing any worse than they did during the first two quarters Saturday night. Once again, the Rockets’ big lineup struggled to make its mark – a recurring theme since the regular season began (although, it should be noted, the Howard-Asik combo sure sparkled against San Antonio and Memphis the last two games of the preseason). The worst part, however: Despite all their size and rebounding prowess, Howard, Asik and the rest of their teammates appeared powerless to keep Enes Kanter off the offensive glass. Utah’s 21-year-old center absolutely had his way inside, grabbing five offensive boards in the first half alone; four of which came in the first quarter.

All told, Houston was outrebounded 27-12 in the first half. Bear in mind, the Rockets entered tonight’s game ranked No. 1 overall in rebounding rate, with Howard and Asik Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in individual rebound rate. The end result: Utah owned a 16-0 halftime edge in second-chance points which paired quite poorly (for Rockets fans, anyway) with the Jazz’s 13-5 edge in points off turnovers.

General Manager Daryl Morey summed things up quite succinctly with his halftime tweet that said simply, “Not shooting well, rebounding well, passing well, or defending well. May as well get it all out at once.”

- The Rockets missed a lot of things in that first half (execution, defense, rebounding, poise, Casspi, shots) but one has to believe that they really missed Beverley in a game like this. Utah simply outworked and outhustled Houston throughout the first half. And in such times, the Rockets really feel the absence of their bulldog point guard whose energy level never drops for even a moment.

- Amid all the yuck, however, there was Chandler Parsons’ scoring spree. The third-year forward had struggled to locate his offense at times during the first two games of the season, but he certainly had the touch in the first half, pacing the Rockets with 20 points – just 12 off his career-high.

- With rookie Trey Burke currently on the shelf with an injury, it’s no stretch to say that Utah’s point guard position is probably the worst in the NBA right now. Even with Beverley injured himself, Houston came into tonight’s contest boasting a big edge at that spot and though Jeremy Lin didn’t exploit that matchup advantage in the first half, he began the third quarter much more aggressively and the Rockets certainly benefitted as a result. Lin spent a good chunk of the period penetrating into the heart of the Jazz defense, getting himself to the free throw and making passes that led to easy buckets (including a monster dunk by Dwight Howard).

- First half woes aside, Houston’s defense has been dominant since Asik returned from injury and that stifling D finally revealed itself tonight during Houston’s remarkable run that resulted in a tie game less than seven minutes into the third period. Isn’t it amazing how much easier it is to play defense when you’re not giving your opponent multiple opportunities to score seemingly every other time down the floor? Asik, in particular, redeemed himself in a big way, locking down his fellow countryman after Kanter had gotten the better of him in the first half. He seemingly swallowed up every board, shut down the paint and made sure Houston’s transition attack finally found its bearings. The Rockets were a completely different team in the second half, and Asik’s towering presence was a huge reason why. And yes, let the record show that Houston's big lineup most definitely left an indelible mark upon this game in the second half.

- Happy to report that after it malfunctioned badly in the first half, Francisco Garcia’s magic talisman was restored to full functionality in the final 24 minutes. Naturally, he was the one to hit a 3 and give the Rockets their first lead since the early stages of the first quarter and he knocked down two more for good measure in the decisive fourth quarter.

- Final thoughts: One of the telltale signs of a great team is being able to transform a skunk of a performance into a rose. How many games have we seen Miami rescue the last two years after looking listless and disinterested in the first half? The Rockets still have a LONG way to go on the road to proving they’re a great team, but tonight was an important step in the process and most definitely a positive sign. Chandler Parsons (24 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists) was sensational throughout. Asik, Lin, Harden, Howard and Garcia joined the show in the second half. These are early days, but this was a heck of a character-building win. With its explosive, high-paced and beautifully spaced offense, this team should never consider itself out of any game. But when you combine that attack with what’s rapidly become a similarly impressive D? Now you’ve got something worth shouting about.

See you Monday from the city of angels for a date with the high-flying Clippers.

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