Blazers did it to the Rockets Again–With the Help of Sampson’s Poor Decision to take Lin out in Overtime

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.

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15 thoughts on “Blazers did it to the Rockets Again–With the Help of Sampson’s Poor Decision to take Lin out in Overtime

  1. That’s so awesome that you were at the game! There were a couple times(on tv) I saw Sampson yelling or talking in a very enthusiastic manner at Lin. Did he do that with any other players?

    Sampson is lying when he says that TD is “a little” better on D than Lin. Synergy stats prove that Lin is the smarter and better defender. Also, you take Lin, a kid who’s been hot all night out because TD’s just because “a little” better on D??? That makes no sense. He’s also lying when he says he has complete confidence in Lin. I’m calling b.ulls.hit on this. If you have confidence in your player, you put him when it matters most, at the end of games/OT and he didn’t do that.

    I’m telling you now, this coaching staff is going to LIMIT Lin’s success. We will never know if Lin is just an average or above average or star PG because they’re misusing him. They don’t fully believe in him, they think it’s nearly impossible for him to achieve anything close to Linsanity again (mchale, sampson, and moray have said this). So, instead, they play and encourage him to play like a role player. It looks like we’re not going to get to see what he could develop into. This makes me mad.

    Did you see this tweet from the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen? It made me so sad. I hope Lin/D’antoni are reunited one day. “D’Antoni raving about Lin, said Lin reinforced his confidence in his system, style. ‘He changed my life, too.'”

    • Yeah, it was pretty awesome, Cary. I missed those times where Sampson was yelling at or talking in a very enthusiastic manner toward Lin. But, I did see Sampson interact with Lin quite a bit. I think coaches in general talk most to their point guards, since they’re the ones running the plays for the coach on the floor.

      I wouldn’t say that Sampson is lying. I would say that he is wrong in his perceptions, though. I think TD might be a little more aggressive, but I think Lin is a smarter defender. I think Sampson underrates Lin’s athletic abilities, because of his preconceptions of Lin.

      Yeah, there’s no excuse for Sampson taking Lin out in OT last night. And I think it does speak to the fact that Sampson doesn’t have confidence in Lin. I think some of it may have to do with him not wanting any conflict between Harden and Lin in clutch time. I think he took Lin out so Harden could be the clear floor leader and I think that’s a mistake. Just hoping the Rockets organization as a whole come to their senses on this matter, but I’m not optimistic about this because conventional thinking on that matter is so ingrained.

      I think when McHale and Morey say that Lin won’t achieve Lin sanity, they’re trying to protect him from the media and the hype. So I don’t really take them at their word–especially Morey. McHale may not see Lin as a star, but I don’t think it will be easy for Morey to give up his belief that Lin is underrated and could be a star. Morey trusts his numbers.

    • Hey, CW, call me delusional if you want, but the cream will always rise to the top!

      I am sure you’ve read the most recent Howard Beck’s article on D’Antoni and Lin. Linsanity takes so many different twists and turns! I do not expect to experience the same form of Linsanity in NY earlier this year. It will be something different. I am hooked on watching the whole new script unfold.

  2. Asik sat at the end because he got 6 PF, I remember seeing.

    And it’s so awesome you got to go to a game! I’m actually thinking of catching one later in the year with the Clippers or something. Or do one of those ‘party on the lawn’ at Staples because I refuse to give the Lakers my money.

    • Oh yeah. That’s right. Being at the game, i wasn’t quite sure if he fouled out or not. But I remember thinking that that’s why Asik sat out. But by the time I wrote up the post, I forgot to check the box scores to see if he did foul out. I just checked and you’re right, Asik did foul out.

      Ha ha. I fully support your refusal to give the Lakers any money. I especially want the Lakers to fail this year, because I’m anti the strategy of getting a bunch of big name players together to win a championship.

    • EMZ, Lin vs CP3 will be something to watch, don’t you think?

      On a separate note, please pass my Linsanity script around while you’re partying on the lawn at Staples. I might get lucky!

      Have fun!

  3. I was watching whole game through NBALIVESTREAM. .Lin had a great game with 11 assists & 11points; I felt relieve after this box score; during OT when I saw no Lin on court, I was so mad & turned the computer off, couldn’t care if rocket win or not

    • I feel your discouragement, Sammy. I was pretty shocked when I didn’t see Lin in overtime–especially since it seemed like Sampson admitted his mistake and put Lin back in at the end of the fourth quarter after only momentarily replacing Lin for Douglas. I don’t know what he was thinking gong back to Douglas in overtime. It’s probably the worst substitution call I’ve seen. I haven’t been looking at the forums, but I would be surprised if fans aren’t up in arms about this. I’d be shocked if McHale isn’t enraged by Sampson’s decision, as well. I hope the anger resonates throughout the Rockets organization.

  4. Thanks for your analysis of the game, Philosopher. I know it takes time and effort to write such analysis. I find myself agreeing with almost everything you say.

    It is pointless to try to understand Sampson’s decision to bench Lin in OT, as it is impossible to fathom the mind of FEP. They will only see what they want to see in order to confirm their bias. Having said that, let me try: OT is the reverse of TO. ‘Sorry for the bad joke.

    I agree with you that the Rockets do not know how to think out of the box and go “unconventional” in playing Lin and Harden in tandem. It is Rush Hour 4, but Harden is really Jackie Chan, the Kungfu master, and Lin is Chris Tucker, the smart detective.

    Speaking of movie, I am pretty sure that Hollywood will make a movie on Linsanity some day. I think it should be called ‘Secret Agent Man: Linsanity’. I would take all the highlights of Lin and blur out his face and complexion and put them in the movie introduction. And of course, the theme song is ‘Secret Agent Man’. OK, I am Asian and sorry again for the bad ‘racist’ joke.

    Still, on the subject of movie script, it’s D’Antoni vs Lin tonight! The only thing that will top it is the return of Lin to MSG on Dec 17. Anyone wants to call the game? As a delusional Lin Fan, you know what my call is. Stop it!

    On a more serious note, I read the recent article of AWoj on Lin many times over. It is Lin’s prerogative to not to “not let any of (his) friends become a fan.” I hope that he would still allow some of fans become his friends. As a friend, I would advise Lin to just relax and play and have fun. He is simply trying too hard out there. The shots will come when the mind is relaxed, free of tension and worries. What has happened to all that smile during Linsanity in February?

    • Thanks, MrPingPong, but why don’t you agree with EVERYTHING I say? What’s wrong with you?! 😉

      Yeah, not sure what Sampson was thinking, He’ll definitely be bombarded with questions about that the next time he faces the media. So we’ll see what he says.

      I think the Rockets organization are out of the box thinkers, but coach McHale is very traditional in his approach to the game. So that’s one of the reasons why I’m not optimistic that they’ll with convention on the point about having Lin control the ball during clutch, rather than Harden. It’s also the most entrenched strategy in the NBA, so I think it’s hard for ANY team to break with that convention. The Rockets organization probably have as much chance as any team to do this. So I don’t think it’s a Rockets issue. I think it’s more of a basketball convention: every team wants their best player with the ball at the end of games. This is true from grade school through the NBA. So it’s going to be hard to deviate from that convention. I don’t even think it’s in the radar of their thinking to even consider having someone other than the best player controlling the ball at the end of games.

      As for Linsanity movie, I think you need to get yourself an agent!

    • Thanks for the link, CH. Glad to see a lot of agreement that it was a poor decision by Sampson to take Lin out in OT. Also, some good stats about JLin vs. TD on defense. It confirmed what my eyes tell me: that Lin is a better defender. I think Sampson’s judgment is just clouded by his own preconceptions. I’m sure Morey will set him straight with the numbers.

      I’m seeing Lin being more and more aggressive. Lin was even more aggressive in the LA game today than in the Blazers game. So I think they’re starting to release the constraints on Lin some. They even put the ball in Lin’s hands at the end of quarters tonight against the Lakers when Harden was on the floor. So I think they’re actually experimenting a little with putting the ball in Lin’s hands during clutch time. We’ll see if they continue the experiment further and put it in Lin’s hands at the end of games.

    • Yeah. I don’t think they’ll make that mistake again. I’d be shocked to see it happen again, unless Lin has a really terrible game or something. I’m confident that a lot of the Rockets organization let Sampson know he made a mistake. I mean, if it’s so obvious to me that Sampson made a mistake, it has to be obvious to the Rockets organization.

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