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Rockets’ Offensive Woes Continue as Houston Drops Third Straight Game To Pacers

By Dennis L. Silva, II.
11.20.05


The effort was the same. The intensity was the same. Unfortunately, the result was the same as well. Sunday afternoon’s contest against the Indiana Pacers yielded the same intangibles as the Rockets’ previous game against Detroit. However, just as in the game against the Pistons, Houston’s scrappiness and hard work went without reward. The Rockets suffered another heartbreaking 74-85 loss to the Pacers before 16,024 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Rockets’ offense started off in fine fashion, which is ironic since it would be their offense that would be the cause of their downfall. Houston ran out to a 13-7 lead with 5:40 remaining in the first quarter due to a balanced scoring effort that had not been in effect during previous games. David Wesley (who would close the half with 10 points on 4-5 shooting), manning the point guard spot once more due to Rafer Alston’s right leg injury, scored 8 points early, including a pair of three-pointers. Luther Head, starting in place of Tracy McGrady (who sat out the game due stiffness in his back), played smart and was a great help in getting Yao Ming the ball. Speaking of Yao, he had a solid 6 points early, although was never able to establish any sort of rhythm, while Juwan Howard provided 5 points. The diversity on offense enabled Houston to grasp a 19-15 lead heading into the second period.

The Rockets’ defense was stifling and a major distraction for Indiana’s motion offense. Houston forced two early turnovers within the quarter’s first minute (after forcing four giveaways in the first period) as Indiana started by missing fifteen of their first 21 shots in the first half. Houston’s offense maintained a solid pace as Derek Anderson came off the bench to score 9 points on 4-7 from the floor. In turn, Houston’s defense took an apparent break midway through the quarter as Indiana went on a 9-2 run late in the period to take a 36-33 lead with 1:07 left. But Yao (who finished the half with 10 points and five rebounds) scored four points within the half’s final minute as Houston closed to within 37-38 heading into halftime. Houston’s bench outscored Indiana’s bench 12-5, but the tandem of Pacer forwards Ron Artest (8 points, 3 rebounds) and Jermaine O’Neal (13 points, 5 rebounds) allowed the Pacers to stay close.

The third quarter started with five consecutive points scored by Indiana’s Stephen Jackson as the Pacers took an early 43-37 lead. Houston’s offense began to break down and play sloppy as the team tried desperately to establish Yao in the low post, but was unsuccessful. The Pacers’ post defense that consisted of Scot Pollard and second-year player David Harrison managed to block out Yao on the boards and to force Yao to take difficult, rushed shots. And since Houston had no other go-to offensive threat, they kept insisting on throwing the ball down to Yao, no matter how ineffective that strategy was. Fortunately for Houston, the Pacers missed eight free throws in the quarter that allowed the Rockets to stay in reasonable distance of Indiana. For all of the Rockets’ shortcomings, Indiana only held six-point advantage heading into the fourth and final stanza.

Those noted shortcomings were exposed like a downtown prostitute as Indiana went on a 14-4 scoring spree to gain a 72-56 lead with 8:09 remaining. The lead would reach its max of 19 midway through the period as the Rockets’ defense, with no help or support coming from the offensive end, became tired and worn down. The Pacers capitalized on the fatigue by having Ron Artest bully Rockets defenders in the paint, accompanied by the outside shooting of Jackson and rookie Sarunas Jasikevicius. Houston made a late run in the fourth quarter due to baskets by Juwan Howard and Yao, but those scores were otherwise meaningless in a game that had become one-sided in a matter of minutes.

It was a commendable exhibition of desire and effort on the part of the Rockets. Without the assistance of McGrady or Alston, Houston played smart for the most part on both ends of the floor, particularly on the defensive side. The Rockets’ were able to get solid contributions from Wesley (12 points on 5-9 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) and Anderson (13 points on 61-4 shooting off the bench). Yao finished the game with nice numbers of 24 points and 13 rebounds, but that was by no means indicative of how he played. He was forced out of position time and time again by the Pacers’ smaller and less experienced defenders, and was not able to take advantage of his height and positioning in the low post, hitting only 8-21 from the field. Houston again did not box out effectively defensively, allowing 12 offensive rebounds, while also showing no creativity or ball movement, as evidenced by their 11 assists.

McGrady’s back injury is listed as day-to-day, and Alston’s timetable of return is also unknown. Therefore, the Rockets will have to rely on stingy defense and smart, mistake-free offensive basketball in order to have just a chance at a victory. Houston will play at Dallas on Tuesday, which will be another game that will test their transition defense and attention to rebounding.


ROCKETS RECAP

· In the first start of his NBA career, Luther Head tallied 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in his 33 minutes on the floor.
· The Pacers outscored Houston 34-24 in the paint.
· Indiana exposed Houston’s lack of height, youth, and athleticism along the frontline as the Pacers’ forward combo of Artest and O’Neal combined for 39 points and 16 rebounds.
· Stromile Swift finished with 0 rebounds during his 15 minutes on the floor, and contributed only 5 points.
· Indiana out-shot the Rockets at the free-throw stripe. Indiana claimed 32 free throw attempts, while Houston only had 13 attempts at the charity stripe.


http://www.nba.com/games/20051120/HOUIND/boxscore.html
 
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