For the Lakers, coming back from seven points down in a quarter might not be a big deal, but for a team having a start like the Rockets have had, it was big for their confidence moving forward. The Rockets were down 89-82 and it looked as if Kobe Bryant was going to start doing his thing and put the team away, but the Rockets weren't done.
Kevin Martin turned in 22 points and Shane Battier was huge down the stretch with big bucket after big bucket.
Down 91-84 with 6:28 to play, Kevin Martin entered the game and immediately gave the Rockets a spark offensively. He forced Kobe into a shot foul on a three point attempt and brought the Rockets within four by sinking all three.
Led by Battier, Kyle Lowry, and big rebounding from Jordan Hill, the Rockets were able to get enough stops on defense to get them back in the game.
After a huge and unlikely three from Lowry and two more free throws from Scola, Martin went around Kobe with a pump fake and nailed the jumper to bring the Rockets to within one. The score at this point was 95-94
That's when Shane Battier took the game over.
That's right. After Kobe buried his patented fade away jumper, Battier hit two three pointers in a row to give the Rockets the lead, 100-97.
Apparently the refs felt like Kobe needed help, so when he tried to drive the lane against Battier and fell to the ground with almost no contact, they blew the whistle, and Kobe sank both free throws.
So Battier, apparently unhappy with the call, drained a two point jumper right after Kobe had so obviously fouled him. That's the first and last time you will see me write "two point jumper" and "Battier" in the same sentence.
With the lead at 102-99, the Rockets needed a stop. Three guesses who they called on to slow down Kobe. Battier forced Kobe into a bad shot, got fouled shooting a three by Derek Fisher on the ensuing possession (really Fish? aren't you a veteran?), and proceeded to sink all three free throws with no hesitation.
So, for those counting, that means Battier scored 11 points on four straight possessions. On this night, the deadly closer was on the team opposite the Lakers.
After wins over the Lakers and Thunder, can the Rockets make it back over .500 by the end of the year?
Enough of the game recap. Let's delve into what this means for the Rockets moving forward. First of all, the best thing that has happened to this team is a healthy Kyle Lowry. He runs the offense so well and is a much better defender than Aaron Brooks is, playing much bigger than his 6'0'' listing indicates.
Lowry wasn't healthy for the first few weeks of the season and it showed, especially on the defensive end. Battier is a great player, but without help on the perimeter it doesn't mean much.
With the Rockets adding Kevin Martin, I would argue the Rockets would be better off playing Brooks off the bench, but Rick Adelman has not shown the confidence to start Lowry over a healthy Brooks just yet.
Another thing that has changed is Jordan Hill and Chuck Hayes getting more playing time, especially in the 4th quarters of games. Brad Miller is a nice addition, but his defense is awful and as sad as it is to say, a 6'6'' Chuck Hayes did better on Gasol than a 7'0'' Brad Miller.
Hayes has been the starting center since their win over Golden State, where defense was such a high priority against the sharp shooting Warriors. Obviously Adelman loves his tenacity and hustle more than Miller's skills on the offensive end.
The biggest problem for the Rockets so far has been winning games on the road. They are 2-8 in road games and 4-4 at home. They have to play better on the road if they have any hopes of turning their 6-12 start into a .500 record before 2011.
The Rockets schedule for December is going to be much easier than that of the November schedule, which was brutal and the 7th toughest in the NBA according to ESPN's John Hollinger.
10 of their first 17 games were against teams with winning records as of November 30, and in those seven against teams with under .500 records, four of them were on the road. So 14/17 games were either on the road or against a winning team.
Counter that with December's schedule, where 11 of their 14 games come against teams with a losing record at this point in the season. The Rockets have a golden opportunity to make a run and be over or around .500 entering 2011.
They started the season 0-5 and have gone 6-7 since then including their most recent wins over the Lakers and Thunder with a depleted roster. Aaron Brooks should be coming back soon and his offense will definitely provide a spark.
Another thing to take into account is the new faces that have had to come together; it took a little while to gel and the chemistry is starting to show. Brooks, Lowry, Chase Budinger, and Yao Ming have all missed time due to injury, so new guys have had to come in and fill the void.
Ish Smith looks like a great young player for the future, but still makes rookie mistakes and doesn't play as well on the road. Hill is coming in to his own, but lacks the offensive prowess to get him in to the starting lineup. Still, his ability to guard big men and athleticism is hard to ignore if you're Adelman.
Courtney Lee was added in a late off season trade and is still grasping the offense; he is in a bit of a shooting slump but has been strong from three point land hitting 44 percent of those shots.
Hopefully the playing time these guys have gotten while others have been injured will be valuable down the stretch. The Rockets look like one of the deepest team in the NBA on paper, but it hasn't amounted to much yet.
The one thing you can always count on is the heart you will see from this team each and every night. They did not quit last year and had a 42-40 record even though they were without Yao.
"That's the thing about the Rockets is they never quit on you. You know you're going to get everything from them and their roll players." said ESPN's Tim Legler.
It is refreshing to have a team that never lacks effort—if their talent ever catches up this will be a very dangerous team.
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