Since I was at this game, I got an up-close and personal look at almost a repeat of the match-up in Houston. Houston was in control for nearly the entire game. The Blazers didn’t take a lead until a minute or so left in the game. Then Sampson made a terrible mistake, which McHale is not going to be very happy with I can guarantee you that, by favoring Douglas over Lin in overtime. This decision by Sampson was just plain wrong. It’s hard to prove what could have been, but I feel strongly that Houston would have won the game if Lin had been in instead of Douglas. It’s not that Douglas did anything wrong in particular, but the offense is completely different when you have Lin vs. Douglas. I just felt like Rockets would have had better ball movement with Lin on the floor and that could have been the difference in the game, since Rockets had trouble scoring in overtime.
I wouldn’t have blamed Sampson for substituting Douglas for Lin in the last game (against the Hornets), because Lin didn’t contribute much offensively and Douglas was on. But in the Blazers game, Lin looked the best he’s looked since the last Portland match-up. Although, I think my perspective may have been skewed, because I had the luxury of focusing on Lin the entire game.
Last night, Lin played as aggressively as I’ve seen him play since he’s been in Houston. I think the coaches are releasing some of the constraints they’ve put on Lin, because I saw Lin calling for some screens. I also saw Lin making a concerted effort to go to his left, even when he didn’t need to, to prove that he can go to his left. These may have been things I noticed, because I was so focused on him. So not sure if my reading was entirely accurate. Lin did have 11 assists, last night, so I don’t think my reading of Lin was that far off. I just felt like he made significant contributions to the offense by being aggressive when he needed to be and helping to move the ball. Lin also is the best on the team at giving the ball to his teammates exactly when and where they want it. Lin did a great job of that, last night and that’s why he ended up with 11 assists.
On the flip side, Douglas was terrible last night. He went 2 of 11 from the field. He put up more shots that Lin and played fewer minutes and ended up making fewer shots. He also dribbles way too much and doesn’t help move the ball. That’s why I think having Lin in the game in overtime would have made a significant difference and could have won the Rockets the game.
I have no idea what coach Sampson was thinking. When he took Lin out of the game in the final two minute or so in the fourth quarter, Lillard nailed a three over Douglas. So after the timeout, Sampson put Lin back and I was very proud of Sampson for admitting his mistake. Despite Lillard’s 27 points, most of which he got late in the game in in overtime, I thought Lin did an excellent job of containing Liillard when Lin was on him. Lillard rarely touched the ball in the first quarter and only started coming alive in the third quarter or so. Got to give Lillard credit. He shows up when the game is on the line. Plays with the poise of e veteran. So a lot of times, it really doesn’t matter what you do, Lillard will get his points in clutch time. Lillard got a lot of his points when Douglas was on him. So Sampson’s decision to replace Lin with Douglas in overtime doesn’t even make sense from a defensive standpoint, because presumably that was Sampson’s reason for favoring Douglas over Lin.
Sampson like’s Douglas’s athleticism. Yeah, Douglas is a very aggressive defender, but I think Lin is just as aggressive. But Lin is also a very smart defender. When Douglas is defending aggressively, I’m always worried that he’s going to get called for a foul. During clutch time, it’s critical to not get called for unintentional fouls, so that’s another reason to not have Douglas in the game when the game is on the line. There are just so many reasons why Sampson’s decision to take Lin out in overtime was wrong. The only reason I would support his decision is that at this point, I trust Douglas’s shooting more than Lin’s. But Douglas is also a very streaky shooter so that advantage is minimal and not anywhere near enough to justify favoring Douglas over Lin. Also, Douglas was 2 of 11 from the field and 0 for 5 from three point last night.
Lin had one of his better games as a Rockets and Douglas was back to being Douglas, so it made no sense to favor Douglas over Lin. I know I’m repeating myself, but I can’t help it. I just don’t know what was going through Sampson’s mind. Of all games, why would he favor Douglas over Lin in last night’s game. Why didn’t he do it in the game against the Hornets? I would have been fine with that. The only other explanation is that Lin asked to be taken out, because Lin doesn’t trust his own shooting at the end of games at this point. But I can’t imagine Lin asking to be taken out during clutch time. I’m sure McHale is enraged over Sampson’s decision to take Lin out in overtime as are probably most of the Rockets organization.
It may sound like I’m not a big fan of Sampson, but I actually think he’s very knowledgeable of the game. I think his post-game comments are spot on. And I feel like he does a good job of knowing when to play which players for the most part, although in the Miami game, he made a HUGE mistake by not putting Asik back in when Wade was on the free throw line, resulting in Bosh getting the offensive rebound, which basically sealed Miami’s win. He also didn’t put Asik back in at the end of the game last night when we needed a rebound on a Harden intentional miss at the free throw line. He was right to take Asik out when he did in the Miami game, but he made a mistake by losing track of Asik and not putting him back in to rebound the ball. Sampson seems to do a good job for most of the game, but then seems to lose track of his key players, like when he mismanaged Lin’s minutes in the Hornets game. And then he makes critical errors or just blatant poor decisions at the end of games. I’m not sure if this is just because he hasn’t coached in a while or he just favors certain players and that clouds his judgment at the end of games, because he definitely seems to favor Douglas over Lin or at least he’s a bigger fan of Douglas than probably anyone in basketball.
Anyway, I think I’ve said enough about Sampson’s poor decision to take Lin out in overtime. I’m hoping everyone within Houston’s organization feels the same way so that Sampson won’t make that mistake again.
Overall, I thought both teams played well last night. The blazers were just on fire–especially Batum, who had a career high 35 points (hitting 5 of 8 from three point). I did take some videos of the game, but I didn’t capture anything great and my camera phone makes everything look at lot farther away, so you can’t really see much. I’ll see if there’s anything worth uploading.
I actually had very good seats an felt like I was right in the action. I didn’t feel like I missed any angles on the floor. During the pregame, Lin missed a fair number of practice shots, so I think for whatever reason, Lin just doesn’t have his shot. It has nothing to do with the pressure of the games. That’s why he’s missing wide open shots in games, because he’s missing them even when he’s practicing shooting. That being said, I was a little horrified at the number of missed baskets during pregame by professional basketball players. I always figured they’d make like 90 percent of their shots or something when they’re practicing shooting. But that’s not the case. They even miss like 3 foot jumpers. It’s a little ridiculous.
There were a lot of positives in last night’s game. So I don’t feel too bad about the loss. With this Rockets team, I try not to focus too much on the present. It’s not so much about winning games as it is about improving their chemistry with each game. And I feel like they’ve done a pretty good job of gelling ever since the Miami game.
A great thing to see is Morris hitting the three that tied the game. It wasn’t an easy basket and he nailed it, just like he did in the Miami game. So Morris is building on his confidence. Parsons ended up with 19 points, which was surprising to me, because I didn’t think he had many touches–especially in the fourth quarter and in overtime. Harden had another solid game, in which he wasn’t trying to force too much. One thing I will say about Harden, though, is that he has yet to prove that he should be the primary ball handler during clutch time. I don’t think he makes very good decisions during clutch time and ends up forcing a shot himself or he ends up getting trapped and doesn’t know what to do with the ball. I’m hoping the Rockets review his game during clutch and maybe not rely on him as heavily as we have. It seems like on the last possession in particular, we rely a little too much on Harden–although last night Morris did hit the game tying three and in the Miami game, Lin could have hit the game winning three. So maybe I’m being a little too hard on Harden. But it seems like he always gets into these traps and ends up forcing something, while everyone stands around watching Harden during clutch time. I think it has hurt the Rockets to take the ball out of Lin’s hands during clutch time. I think they need to continue to have Lin take the ball up, even during clutch time, because I feel like Lin makes better decisions than Harden. Harden just ends up playing hero ball and doesn’t have the vision that Lin has. Lin does a better job of knowing where his teammates are and understanding when and where to give them the ball in order for them to be successful. Lin is also very good about knowing which players are hot and should get more touches. So with Lin controlling the ball during clutch time, we become more dangerous, because we have five weapons, rather than just one weapon when Harden is controlling the ball. I think we make it too easy on the defense when we have Harden control the ball, because the defense just collapses around Harden, whereas with Lin controlling the ball, the defense has to worry about Harden and Lin is free to make good decisions. Unfortunately, I don’t think even the Rockets organization will figure this out. So I’m afraid they’re going to continue to put the ball in the hands of their best player, as per conventional thinking. The reason I don’t think the Rockets will figure out what I’ve figured out is because that conventional thinking of giving the ball to your best player during clutch time usually works. But I think the Rockets have a unique case in which they have two players who can make plays and even though Harden is a better player than Lin, Lin actually has better vision and decision-making and Harden has the disadvantage of the defense being focused on him. It’s counter-intuitive thinking to not put the ball in the hands of our best player, but in the case of the Rockets, putting the ball in Lin’s hands is the right move. Other players in the Rockets (i.e., Parsons, Morris, Delfino) have proven they can hit clutch shots, so there’s no need to just use Harden as our only threat during clutch time. I know the Rockets reason that Harden can make the right play, but I would argue that Lin makes better decision and on top of it, Lin doesn’t have the disadvantage of the defense collapsing on him so he will be more clear-headed. The other reason why I don’t think the Rockets will figure this out is because of Lin’s air ball in Miami. That’s probably part of the reason why Sampson took Lin out in overtime last night. But this is faulty logic. I think when you start with the ball in Lin’s hands, you actually have a lower chance of him taking the final shot, because he’ll end up putting the ball in the hands of someone else on the team. Whereas if you have the ball in the hands of Harden, you may end up with Lin taking the final shot, because Harden may have to give up the ball. But I don’t have confidence that the Rockets will figure this out, because the conventional thinking of giving the ball to your best player during clutch time is too entrenched.
Apologies for the very long rambling post, in which I’ve repeated the same points over and over. I just had to get these things off my chest. I should put together a more coherent post about some of these points I’ve made here in another post, since I think the point I’ve made about the mistake of overusing Harden during clutch time is a revelation.