Houston Wins 5th Straight in Battle of the Back Court Vs. Lakers

Without Lakers’s three Bigs, I expected tonight’s game to be the battle of the back court. Kobe defied my expectations by not going for 50. Instead, Kobe decided to be a team player for most of the game until the 4th quarter. The Rockets won the battle of the back court with Linharden combining for 50 points (31 for Harden and 19 for Lin) and Kobe/Nash combining for 36 (an uncharacteristic 20 for Kobe and 16 for Nash). Linharden did get edged out in assists by three. I expected this match up to be pretty even, but in the first half, it looked like Nash was going to get the better of Lin.

I was very disappointed in Lin in the first half. He was so tentative the entire time. It was like he forgot how to play. He immediately dropped off the ball in the perimeter and didn’t drive or even try to make any plays, despite the lack of Howard on the floor, although Sacre did a solid job of blocking shots. Lin looked like he looked earlier in the season. I’m not sure what he was thinking. There were many situations where he looked very hesitant. All his actions were tentative and he gave up his dribble prematurely. It was like his mind and body weren’t in sync. He stopped dribbling almost in mid dribble at the perimeter and then wasn’t sure what to do with the ball. I’m not sure if he was nervous in front of his former coach or what. But Lin looked so hesitant in the first half and I wasn’t surprised at all that McHale quickly replaced him in the first quarter. I think McHale did the right thing, because Lin wasn’t playing his game and sometimes players need some reminding. Again, I was really surprised in the faith that McHale had in Lin. I expected McHale to bench Lin for much of the game, but he stuck with Lin and it payed off in a big way. So I think it seems as if McHale is letting Lin play through his mistakes and is starting to believe in Lin’s clutch genes. Lin finally played aggressively in the second half like he was supposed to do the entire game. I’m sure he got a talking from from McHale during halftime, because during one of the time outs in the third quarter, McHale had a very positive exchange with Lin–probably telling Lin that that’s the way he’s supposed to play all the time.

One major thing that I’ve noticed about Lin is that he starts out the game really not wanting to do much. I think it’s because Lin wants to take time to get a sense for what the defense is giving him. So I think he spends the first quarter studying the game. I think as a result, the Rockets tend to start out slowly. I think the Rockets coaching staff probably notice this about Lin, also. I don’t know if they’re going to do anything about it. Lin rarely plays aggressively from the get go. He usually is tentative in the beginning and takes it easy then starts playing more aggressively as the game develops. Also, Lin is more concerned about getting his teammates going in the first quarter and, as a result, he sacrifices his game. But I think this is counterproductive, because when Lin plays aggressively, he makes his teammates better.

Another thing I’ve noticed about Lin is the fact that when he drives into the lane, his first thought is to pass the ball out, rather than to score the ball. This is the complete opposite of what guys like Harden or Melo do. I think this is why Lin is not as great at finishing, because he’s not singularly focused on scoring when he’s driving to the basket. This is a tough one to rectify, because on the one hand, you want Lin to be a distributor and get other guys involved, but I think he does this a little too much and  passes up a lot of potential scoring opportunities when he’s so close to the rim. If Lin is more focused on scoring in those situations, rather than turning around in mid air and passing the ball out, then I think he’ll be able to put himself in position to draw fouls more often, like Harden. I think Lin makes it too easy on the defender when he keeps driving all the way in and then passing the ball out. The problem is, when you’re not focused on scoring, you don’t see the shot so you pass it out. But if you’re focused on scoring, then you’ll see the shot or ways to draw fouls. During Linsanity, Lin struck a perfect balance between scoring and distributing and if you recall Lin was great at drawing fouls. He has many opportunities to draw a lot of fouls this season, but he just ends up turning away from the basket to pass the ball out after he did all the hard work of getting into the paint. It’s just a mental shift. One of the reasons why pure scorers like Melo is so lethal is that when he has the ball, he’s purely focused on all the ways in which he will put the ball through the hoop and, as a result, he finds a way to do it. Now, I’m not saying that Lin should be like Melo, because that’s not Lin’s game. But I’m saying that Lin needs to focus a little more on scoring when he’s driving to the lane, rather than dishing when he’s driving to the lane. I’m not sure if this is something the Rockets have caught onto about Lin. I’m not even sure if Lin realizes this about himself. He should, because during Linsanity, he did a great job of balancing scoring with making plays. I think with Harden, Lin thinks he should focus more on distributing, rather than scoring. But I think he needs to find a better balance.

Tonight’s game was very illustrative of these things that I’ve pointed out about Lin. The first half and second half were two different Lins. In the first half, when Lin drove into the lane, he didn’t think about scoring at all. In the second half, Lin drove into the lane to score. Lin needs to play like how he played in the second half of tonight’s game. It also helped that Lin’s shot fell tonight.

Someone else who got his shot back was Parsons. That was great to see, because Parsons has been struggling with his shot for quite a while. Parsons had a lot of patience tonight with his shot and they really looked good. He did say that he felt good in the shoot around in the pregame interview, so I was happy to see it translating in the game.

Harden, once again, was magnificent. 31 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds. Harden has had an amazing string of games (13 consecutive 25+ point games), but this one has to be one of his best. He embarrassed Kobe on several possessions. I’m sure that felt good.

Delfino continues to be a big factor off the bench (5 of 7 from 3-point) to finish with 19 points, including back-back nearly identical shots from beyond the arc in the first quarter. Both were feeds from Harden. I felt that he really kept the Rockets in the game when they needed it the most. Fun fact, Delfino had the highest +/- of any NBA player last week with +64.

It was funny, late in the first quarter, I casually asked why Delfino hasn’t checked in yet and right on cue McHale put him in. I’ve been giving McHale a lot of credit, lately, for sticking with Lin, even in games when Lin has struggled. I also need to give McHale credit for his coaching overall. I think McHale does a great job of really letting the guys do what they do best and just getting out of their ways (with the big exception of Lin early on in the season). He also understands match ups very well and is very versatile about the line ups and will make quick line up changes depending on the flow of the game. It’s very critical for coaches to be able to do that, because this is how coaches have a direct impact on the game. So far McHale has really impressed me with this skill. Also, the fact that the Rockets were able to turn around that Bucks game so dramatically is a testament to McHale. I’ve always believed that the third quarter belongs to the coaches, because that’s the quarter after they’ve had a chance to digest the game and make adjustments during half-time. Good coaches make the right adjustments and find ways of firing up their squad.

During Linsanity, when Melo returned and the Knicks went on like a six game losing streak or something, they did terribly in the third quarter. And that was one of the big clues to me that D’Antoni is not a very good coach. I’ve complained about D’Antoni’s coaching in previous posts last season, so no need to rehash it here. But just thought I’d bring it up as a point of contrast to McHale, who I think is a very good coach. Even when he didn’t know how to play Lin, I didn’t complain about his coaching. I only complained about his lack of confidence in Lin and how he was playing Lin. But I wasn’t ready to call him a bad coach because of it. I just didn’t know enough about McHale’s coaching at the time. But now that I’ve had many games to see how he coaches in different situations, I have to say that I’ve been quite impressed. I like his half-court offense, because it caters well to a team with great play makers in Lin and Harden. McHale keeps it simple, but not so simple that it’s predictable. McHale also has the soft skills to motivate his players, which is extremely important. This is something D’Antoni completely lacks and this is the biggest reason why I’ve never been high on D’Antoni–even during Linsanity. And it’s why, if you recall from my previous posts, that I thought D’Antoni coaching the Lakers was going to be a disaster.

Anyway, another great win for the Rockets. This game could have been a wild card, because you got a wounded animal that’s really hungry. I’m just glad that we were able to tame it in the second half with a combined 23 points from Linharden in the fabulous third quarter.

Good Post-Game Interview with Lin (at 00:24 Lin talks about what goes on during halftime):

http://www.nba.com/rockets/video/2013/01/08/Lin010813mp4-2349053

Love this And 1 by Lin. It started with a Linharden screen, which I’ve been calling for from day one (but it took McHale a while to figure out). What I liked about this play is that the Linharden screen didn’t work out, but Harden didn’t give up. He just threw it right back to Lin and Lin just when HAM for the And 1. The excitement from Lin and his teammates after the shot reminded me a lot of Linsanity.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fcr8aP5JwW8]

About JLintel

NOTE: On June 11, 2016 I switched the comments section to Disqus's platform. As a result, all comments from previous platform have disappeared from all articles.
  • I’ve read somewhere that the reason why the Rockets were losing back then was all because of Sampson.
    A lot of fans are not liking him and personally i don’t like him too.
    Honestly, I still can’t forget that Trailblazers game last Nov16 wherein he benched Lin the entire OT period which eventually resulted into a Loss.
    I think the other assistant coach looks nice than him.
    Anyway talking about Lin, yeah I also thought he will not end up scoring in double figures because of his 1st quarter performance.
    But I have noticed, Jlin is most dangerous in the second half or even at the later part of the 2nd quarter lately.
    Just glad KM already realized Jlin’s value to the team by trusting him more.
    I think they tied their longest winning streak of 5 for this season 🙂
    Hopefully it’ll continue 🙂
    Go Rockets!! Go JLIN!!!

    • standupphilosopher

      Yep, they tied their longest wining streak for the season. Gonna be a tough schedule ahead with three road games in four nights. I would be very impressed if they win all three of these road games. And if they beat the Clippers I would be shocked!

  • Ashley

    Dear Philosopher,

    I couldn’t agree with you more about your take on Lin driving into the lane and not looking to shoot. In that 38-point Spurs game, he dribbled in a circle near the paint before he finally dished out to Asik. At that time I thought it was fun to watch but felt it could be a waste of time. He didn’t play like that in NY, so I’m curious why he’s been doing that so much this season. Some posters have pointed out that he would help the team more by shotting and scoring more, insted of passing, and it would certainly help relieve pressure from his teammates.

    On his starting out slow and scoring so little in the first half, I think the coach probably might need to address it with him. It’s just weired why he was only that aggressive in the third or fourth quarter instead of earlier. I doubt if he needs to take that much time to study the game or get his teammates involved before he goes all out attacking. His “late-explosion” no doubt is dramatic, but the previous unproductivity would surely keep his fans in disappointment and suspense and likely put his team’s win in doubt.Let’s just hope all of this will be fixed as the season unfolds.

    • standupphilosopher

      I think the main reason why Lin is being more of a distributor in Houston than during LInsanity is because he doesn’t feel like he is needed to score. During Linsanity, he was the main offensive weapon, since Melo and Amare were out for most of it. So Lin was focused on scoring the ball a lot more. That’s the difference. The problem is, I think Lin has taking that a little too far in Houston. Needs to find a better balance. He needs to play a little more like he did in the second half of last night’s game.

      As for him starting out slowly. I don’t think Lin is fully conscientious of what he’s doing. I don’t think he says before the game that he’s going to spend the first quarter or something studying the defense. I think it’s just an inclination he has to feel the game out a little and lay back a little. Even during Linsanity, he was much better in the second half of games. This “habit” of LIn’s is going to be a little tough to fix, since it’s happening sort of on a subconscious level. Lin just needs to make a conscious effort to start out aggressively and I think the more McHale drills this in the team, the more Lin is going to realize that his habits are holding the team back and causing them to fall into double-digit leads early in the game. Hopefully, this happens soon, because they have a tough schedule ahead. Can’t afford to give up big leads against the teams they’ll be facing on the road. New Orleans may have a terrible record, but they’re much better than their record–especially now that they have Eric Gordon back. I also think Vasquez is an excellent Point Guard. So it’s going to be a tough game tonight and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Rockets loose tonight.

  • ashley

    Philosopher, you’re absolutely amazing in predicting the likely outcome! I’m so impressed!

    • standupphilosopher

      Thanks, Ashley. Although, I was hoping I’d be wrong on this one.