Tuesday, September 26

When a blown lead is more ‘disappointing’ than a blowout: Takeaways from Rockets’ loss to Pacers

A win, even a home win against some of the sinking Pacers, would not have changed anything other than the Rockets’ mood. But the Rockets could use something to feel good about other than a few flying slams from Jalen Green or K.J. Martin.

The Rockets don’t win often. They don’t have wins in their grasp regularly. But on Friday, they had a game a few possessions, a couple more buckets, one or two more stops, from theirs.

They let it get away, and in a season in which they had to accept the reality of consistently losing, a blown lead stung far more than a blowout.

“That one hurt,” Green said. “That one hurt just because we had the lead and then lost it and had to come back. Yeah, that hurt.”

The Rockets led by 12 heading into the fourth quarter. They led by nine midway through the fourth after consecutive slams, by five with 2 ½ minutes left and by four with 1:53 remaining. Nothing was certain but when they did not grab the win, it slipped away.

There were some fluky bad breaks. Tyrese Haliburton had taken five 3s and missed them all when he drained a 3-pointer with 2:22 remaining. Malcolm Brogdon missed everything when Christian Wood blocked his 3-pointer with 20.9 seconds left only to have Goga Bitadze put in the rebound. Bitadze had made 25 percent of his 3s this season. He made all three he put up on Friday.

But the Rockets’ late-game collapse was still about what they did not do to secure the win.

As much as the season is about development first, those playing and coaching want and even need at least some wins. At 17-53, no team has fewer.

The Rockets, as with the Pacers team that beat them on Friday, were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for the second consecutive season on Friday. But the way the Rockets lost made it worse.

“It’s a disappointing loss, it really, really is,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “It’s disappointing.”

He also called the fourth-quarter defense “disappointing.” And when the subject came back around to having a win slip away, he felt even worse.

“I’m disappointed for our guys,” Silas said. “I’m disappointed because I thought we really played well enough to win, just didn’t work out for us. Yeah, I’m disappointed. I haven’t been like this all season. So, I’m allowed every once in a while to be super down. But yeah, they deserved this one.”

1. A lead and game lost amid a fourth-quarter defensive collapse

The Pacers did finally put in a few 3s to start their comeback, but with the game on the line, the game returned to where it began.

Also Read  Detroit Tigers at Los Angeles Dodgers predictions: Clayton Kershaw may be too tough for Tigers on Saturday night

The Rockets had to stay in front of the guy with the ball and when the Pacers missed, the Rockets had to get a rebound. They could not.

The Pacers had spent much of the night missing from the outside by driving the ball into the heart of the Rockets’ defense. The Pacers score well inside, averaging the fifth-most points in the paint in the NBA. But the 62 they scored on Friday were 12.4 more than they average. They were more than any team averages, 11.5 more than any team gives up.

In the final five minutes, the Pacers made six of 11 shots. Five of those baskets were layups or dunks.

“We couldn’t come up with the stop we needed in the fourth,” Silas said. “To give up 38 in the fourth is disappointing. And I thought we didn’t start the fourth quarter right and I had to call an early timeout. Just keep learning. Just keep learning with this group.

“It was the stops. It was the second chances. It was the drives to the rim. It was the multiple offensive rebounds in a possession. We just couldn’t come up with one stop when we needed one. If we could have just come up with one of those stops on those drives to the rim.”

Worse, when the Rockets did seem to get stops down the stretch, they gave the Pacers second and third shots until they scored. This was also typical. The Pacers are third in offensive rebounding percentage, while the Rockets are 24th in defensive rebounding this season. But the Rockets have gotten worse in the four losses since the win against the Lakers, allowing 18.4 second-chance points per game, 4.3 more than they had been giving up.

In the fourth quarter on Friday, the Pacers missed 10 shots. They got the rebound on five of them.

“We had a lot of defensive lapses in the fourth quarter,” Wood said. “I think the biggest thing tonight was our rebounding. They did a good job on the glass. We were in a switch defense and it kind of brings me out of the paint to contest these guards’ shots. They’re shooting the ball and the big guy was getting the rebounds down low.

“It’s something we work on in practice, just hitting the guy and going for the rebound. Those guys, everybody on our team, is athletic to go and get that. Possessions, especially in the fourth quarter, late situations, we need those.”

Bitadze only had two offensive rebounds, though one of them was with 20 seconds left, with his putback putting the Pacers in front to stay. But teams will get offensive boards when they are getting to the rim, and the Pacers were from start to finish. And if scoring second-chance points and at the rim is a relative Pacers strength, the Rockets’ next opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, lead the league in both.

Also Read  Philadelphia to restore indoor mask mandate amid case surge

“I’d say the missing piece is just defense,” Wood said. “If we can establish ourselves as a top defensive team, we’re going to be a tough team to beat. But that’s what I think we need to pride ourselves on. It has to start with defense, and it has to start with me, Jalen (Green) and Scoot (Kevin Porter Jr.) We’re the lead guys.”

2. A different sort of Green bright spot

In the search for good news, Green has offered reasons for hope. But on Friday, rather than bringing something good amid the bad by shooting well, he did it on a night he shot poorly.

Green made just one of his first five shots. He made one of six 3-pointers in the game. But he still found a way to finish with 20 points, reaching 20 for the ninth time in 13 games after scoring 20 points in nine of his first 42 games.

“I was just looking to play-make, get out in transition early, get to the rim,” Green said. “They didn’t have shot-blockers in so take advantage of that. I wasn’t hitting at all today so had to find ways to get the ball and score or pass, get my guys open.”

Green has averaged 21.1 points on 51.6 percent shooting and 38.1 percent 3-point shooting, along with 4.1 assists in March. His 18 games scoring at least 20 points are the most since Steve Francis, another player taken with the draft’s second pick, in 1999-2000.

Yet, his play on Friday, with six assists and five rebounds for his second 20-5-5 game of the season, was impressive because he produced on a night he did not shoot well.

“It’s great. It’s great,” Silas said. “He started 1 for 5 but he got to the free-throw line a bunch of times. He had six free throws at halftime. He kept going and found ways to get to the rim or get to his 3. He made one tonight but stayed with his game and played a pretty efficient game overall, especially the way he started.”

3. Down to a last possession

The Rockets believed, and with good reason, that they should not have needed a bucket in the closing seconds, but that was the predicament they faced when they called a timeout with 19.2 seconds remaining, down 117-115.

Also Read  ‘The Bachelor’ Leaves Two Women — and Viewers! — Guessing With Dramatic Finale Cliffhanger (SPOILERS)

Wood had enjoyed among his best offensive games of the season, scoring 32 points on 11 of 14 shooting with a career-high seven assists. Green had scored 20 points, six in the final six minutes. The Rockets, however, put the ball in Porter’s hands to make a play.

This was not surprising given Porter’s late-game success. He had a solid offensive game, scoring 19 points with four assists and just one turnover. The Rockets ran the action they had in Washington when he nailed the game-winning 3, with Green coming across to set a screen and force a switch, though unlike with the win against the Wizards, there was no favorable matchup to force.

This time, Green came across but did not get a screen. Porter headed to the rim and the Pacers’ defense headed with him. The play went nowhere. Porter did not free himself from Brogdon. Oshae Brissett came over and got a piece of Porter’s off-balance shot.

“We wanted Scoot going to his left hand,” Silas said. “We wanted Jalen to create a way for him to drive. If we could hit Jalen, for him to drive. If not, Scoot could go downhill. I thought he got a good look at the rim.”

Green was left open with Tyrese Haliburton coming toward the lane late, though it would have taken a sensational pass for Porter to get the ball back out to Green. Brissett left Josh Christopher in the corner, but Porter did not have a passing lane to drive-and-kick to him and Christopher instead took off to crash the glass, nearly tipping in the rebound.

Porter probably should have used the time remaining on the clock to move the ball, before instead taking his shot with 9.3 seconds still left. That did give the Rockets time to foul in the hopes that a missed free throw would have given them another last chance.

When Buddy Hield iced the win at the line, the final play looked awful. But similar plays have worked before. Overall, the Rockets have won their share of games in those situations, going 13-14 in games with a five-point margin in the final five minutes, which is not bad for a team that is 4-39 in the other games.

But as Porter’s shot, Christopher’s tip and the Rockets fell short, they likely would have liked to have that possession to do over.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *