I only had a chance to watch the second half of last night’s game. Just wanted to point out a few concerns I have about last night’s loss. The big caveat I want to stress, before I talk about some of the concerns is that it is ONLY the third game of the season. So I think it’s way too premature to jump to any conclusions about how this team will play with each other going forward and whether or not the coaching staff is up to the task.
The third quarter has been an issue with the Rockets. However, it has only been three games, so no need to see this as a trend, yet. One thing I want to just mention is that I’ve always believed that how a team plays in the third quarter speaks to the merits of the coaching staff and how a team plays in the fourth quarter speaks to the hearts of the players. I know this is a complete generalization. But just something I think about, because good coaching staffs make adjustments at half-time. Since it’s only been three games, I think it’s way too early to draw any conclusions from this.
I know from reading some comments from Lin fans that there is concern about Lin’s role diminishing with the addition of Harden. I think it is way too early to start thinking this way, but I understand where they’re coming from. In one of my comments to a reader in my previous posts about the Linharden synergy, I stated the following: “What I’ll be watching to see is what role Lin will play during clutch time. That’s the real concern if you’re a Lin fan. I suspect they’ll give Harden the final shot, but how will Lin be involved. After all, Lin’s got some ice in his veins too, down the clutch. Are the Rockets just going to completely disregard that now that they have Harden? I think having two clutch threats would be the smart thing for the Rockets to do and this would mean valuing both players pretty equally during clutch time. This way, opponents will have to worry about not one, but two players. We’ll see if McHale feels the same way. Since McHale doesn’t see Lin as a star, I’m not optimistic about this.”
Last night, we saw a glimpse of how badly things can go when McHale depends too much on Harden. I think it was especially apparent in overtime when Lin just gave up the ball to Harden the moment he passed the half court line. I assume Lin did this, because this is what McHale wanted. I think last night, this was especially the wrong decision by McHale. Lin was well-rested in the fourth, because Douglas was doing a very good job defensively and Lin didn’t check back into the game until 5:30 left in the fourth quarter or so. Harden, on the other hand, played the entire fourth quarter and he tweaked his ankle. Harden looked dead tired, while Lin was looking very fresh. I mean, that And-1 floater to put the Rockets ahead with less than a minute left to play was the most explosive I’ve seen Lin since he’s been in Houston. Last night, McHale and the players should have recognized this and trusted Lin more down the stretch. Also, in the last couple of games, Harden has made some careless passes that caused turnovers (he had 5 TO last night, again) that were converted into points by the opponent. The one I remember is when Harden was on the left wing and made a very dangerous pass to Lin, who was at the top of the three point arch area. He made the pass through a congested lane. I think overall, Lin has been a much more consistent floor general than Harden from what I’ve seen so far. Floor general duties should be split something like 70-30 in favor of Lin in my opinion. Not to get too side-tracked or play the blame game, but Harden made a very bad defensive mistake when he doubled Aldridge and left his man open for the three that sent the game to overtime. That was a rookie mistake, because when you’re up by three with less than a minute left, you have to protect the three even if it may mean giving up a two. Lin also made a very bad mistake with his low percentage ally-oop attempt to Parsons. He knows he made a terrible mistake, from the post game interview. But listening to Harden, Harden didn’t seem to acknowledge his defensive mistake. Also, Harden felt the pace of the game and ball movement was good, while Lin and McHale felt the pace of the game was poor. I was a little concerned about that disparity. Hopefully, we’ll get everyone on the same page with these much-needed days of practice.
All this being said, I think concerned Lin fans need to have a little patience. This team is still so new to each other. They need more time to get used to how they play, where they like the ball, etc. I think Harden’s getting a lot of turnovers, because he’s still so new to the team (although a lot of his turnovers are more due to carelessness then him trying to make plays). I don’t think they’ve worked out what role Lin will play vis a vis Harden, yet. And this is very much expected. It’s still way too early to solidify roles when you have a player of Harden’s and Lin’s talents. There’s so much you can do with these players on the court together that it’ll take some time to figure out the most efficient way of using them.
I think the concerns about McHale’s trust in Lin is warranted, since McHale doesn’t see Lin as a star. At the same time, I feel very strongly that McHale respects and appreciates Lin’s game and I really think McHale understands Lin’s game very well. McHale’s post game interview last night made me even more optimistic that my instincts about McHale are right. He said something like we have to let Jeremy play off of a more broken floor. This tells me that McHale noticed that Jeremy wasn’t getting the ball as much as Jeremy should have–especially when, say, Harden breaks down the defense or something. I think he recognizes that we need to take advantage of Jeremy’s strengths to get in the lane and make plays more. He also said that we need to help Harden more, which is basically code for: Harden needs to give up the ball when he’s double-teamed and find open teammates. There were numerous times last night when Harden should have simply given the ball to Lin who was nearby to let Lin attack when all the defense is focused on Harden. I mean, I think this could be one of the most effective “plays” that the Rockets have. Since Lin is able to get past his man with ease, imagine how ridiculously easy it would be for Lin if Lin’s man is double-teaming Harden or something. Or if the lane is wide open, because one of the Bigs are double-teaming Harden. I hope the Rockets recognize this. I suspect this is what McHale means with his post-interview comments about “broken floor” that I referenced above. Just don’t know how often they’ll take advantage of this. To me, this is a big part of the Linharden syngergy.
There were a lot of these little things that I noticed throughout the game last night, regarding team chemistry. I’m sure the coaching staff recognized all of these things and 1000 more things. I have no illusion that I know more than them, since they have the experience and the luxury of looking at tape over and over again. So my message to concerned Lin fans is to be patient and don’t jump to conclusions. I have a lot of confidence in this coaching staff that they know what to do to make the team successful and fully utilize Lin’s strengths. I’m sure they’ll recognize that Lin should assume more of the floor general duties going forward. We’ll see how it plays out. But give it a couple of months. Unlike the Knicks organization, I think this Rockets organization is full of people who are very smart and have a deep understanding of the game of basketball and notice all the little things. They’ll make sure to do as much as they can to maximize Lin’s and Harden’s strengths. I, for one, can’t imagine a better place for Lin than with this Rockets team. He will be successful. At the end of the day, it is up to Lin. If Lin performs to his full potential, this Rockets organization will notice.