Valiant Effort by Rockets in Loss to Spurs – I Blame the Loss on McHale

Don’t have much time to write and don’t have much to say about last night’s game. But did want to get a few things off my chest so that’s why I’m posting.

Although they lost, the Rockets showed that they can compete with the best of them last night. Spurs were shooting the lights out in the first quarter and somehow the Rockets managed to keep pace and remained within striking distance for all three quarters.

Does anyone know what happened to Delfino last night? Is he injured? I haven’t read anything about Delfino being out, but he didn’t play last night. I can sort of understand why McHale played Parsons and Harden over 40 minutes last night, because we lacked a lot of depth, but I still thought he did a poor job of managing minutes and the players were just gassed by the fourth quarter. I’m not sure if we would have won the game if our players weren’t gassed, but I think McHale’s poor management of minutes was the cause for the loss. That and uncharacteristically poor free throw shooting by the Rockets. Also, Asik was ineffective against Duncan, because Duncan has the mid-range game that’s very difficult for Asik to defend. It also opens things up for the Spurs, rendering Asik ineffective. I suspect this is why McHale favored Aldrich over Smith, but not sure if that was the right call by McHale. I’d still probably prefer Smith over Aldrich. But I’m fine with that decision.

What I didn’t like was when McHale took Lin out with 5:50 minutes left to go in the first quarter right after Lin got the ball stolen by a very sneaky Leonard. Leonard came from Lin’s blindside and stole the ball, so I don’t really blame Lin for the turnover. It’s just one of those turnovers that just happen. Just have to chalk it up to a good steal by Leonard. This was right after Lin hit a three point and made a layup on consecutive possessions. Lin just started getting going. I guess it would have been around the time that McHale generally subs Lin out anyway, but I just didn’t like the timing of it. Lin was just starting to heat up and McHale takes Lin out immediately after he got the ball stolen. This is what I mean about McHale’s actions not backing up him saying that he keeps telling Lin to play aggressively. It’s just sending the wrong message. McHale could have waited for a few more minutes to sub Lin out, so it wouldn’t seem like he took Lin out because Lin got the ball stolen. I really didn’t like that move by McHale.

The biggest mistake McHale made last night–in my mind it’s one of those mistakes that should NEVER be made by a coach–was to leave Harden in after he picked up his fourth foul with less than a minute left to go in the third quarter. Then in the next possession, Harden committed his fifth foul and as a result McHale had to sit Harden for a much longer stretch than he prepared for in the critical fourth quarter. Not taking Harden out after his fourth foul was so boneheaded and also emphasizes McHale’s overconfidence in Harden and lack of confidence in Lin. When Lin picked up his third foul in the third quarter, McHale immediately took Lin out. It seems to me that McHale still finds every reason to take Lin out and every reason to keep Harden in. In my view McHale’s mistake came before even Harden’s fourth foul. I was screaming at the screen for McHale to rest Harden and for him to bring Lin back well before Harden’s 4th foul. I would have preferred him to take Harden out with 2 minutes left to go in the third or something–specifically, after a time out was called with under two minutes to go in the third quarter. I have no idea why McHale kept Harden in their. He had played since the beginning of the third quarter. It was time to give Harden some rest so he could come back and play the majority of the critical fourth quarter. In my view McHale’s poor management of Harden’s minutes caused us the game. Those fouls by Harden disrupted any momentum that the Rockets had going into the fourth quarter and when Harden came back he was no longer the same player. McHale should have rested Harden a little earlier in the third quarter and play Harden the majority of the fourth quarter. What I think may work out in general is to have Harden play up until like the three minute mark in the third quarter. Put Lin in and then give Lin like a 2 minute or so rest in the fourth quarter when they bring Harden back at the 10 minute mark or something in the fourth quarter and then Let Harden and Lin finish the game at the 8 minute mark. This isn’t going to make sense every game, but it’s what McHale should do in most games and last night was one of those games that McHale should have done that. Also, McHale needs to do a better job of resting Parsons. I see Parsons consistently play entire quarters without any rest. Now, Parson’s job isn’t as tiring as Lin’s or Harden’s, since he’s not handling the ball a lot, so it’s understandable that McHale would play Parsons without much rest. But still. It all comes down to McHale not giving guys like D-Mo and Jones a chance. But can’t really go into this now. Just wanted to point out reasons why I think the fourth quarter wasn’t as competitive as it should have been. I think McHale should take the blame for the loss, but I know he’s not going to.

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Happy Holidays + Late Reaction to Flawless Victory vs. Grizzlies

I don’t have much time to write and haven’t been in front of my computer much due to Holiday festivities, so apologies for not replying to some of the comments. Hope you’re enjoying the holidays. As of late, the Rockets have looked just as good as I expected them to look right about this time in the season, but I’m sure they’re way ahead of schedule as far as Rockets management is concerned and they’re probably shocking a lot of analysts out there who have understandably underestimated the Rockets from day one.

Rockets had an extraordinary game against the Grizzlies. It may have been their best game of the season. I didn’t pay as close attention to the game and I missed all of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter. But from what I managed to see, it was pretty much as flawless as I’ve seen the Rockets. They executed well on both sides of the floor and did so for pretty much the entire game. Harden had another amazingly efficient game. 31 points, 9-13 shooting (3 of 3 from 3 point), 10-12 Free Throws, 8 assists, 3 steals, 3 Turnovers. These are video game numbers. These numbers shouldn’t happen in real like. You’re NOT supposed to score 31 points on 13 field goal attempts. To compare, Kobe scored 34 points on 41 field goal attempts against the Golden State Warriors the other night. Harden pulled off these video game stats two games in a row! And for three straights games, Linharden has been what I hoped it could be. Lin scored 15 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 Turnovers, 1 block shot. I really liked how McHale managed the minutes between Harden and Lin in the Grizzlies game. He made a concerted effort to stagger their minutes and also let Lin assume the primary floor general duties. McHale is finally playing Lin the way I’ve been reiterating over and over on how they should be playing Lin. McHale is also starting to show confidence in Lin. Hopefully all of this continues. I don’t see why not as the Rockets have overtaken the Thunder as the number one offense. I remember when the Rockets were at number 4 and I said that the Rockets coaching staff is probably reluctant to change anything on the offensive end and are just concerned about defense. But I said that it was a mistake to not change anything on the offensive and and if they only reverse the roles between Lin and Harden and show more confidence in Lin, their offense can look even better. Now after only a short period of time, the Rockets have moved from fourth to first and I have no doubt that it’s due to the Rockets coaching staff waking up and not continuing to marginalize Lin for inexplicable reasons. They shot 53.7% from the field and and incredible 42.9% from three point against the Grizzlies. I’m very happy to see that things are finally starting to gel offensively for the Rockets and it’s no coincidence that this coincides with Lin finally being allowed to play his game for the most part. Lin is still struggling with his shot (1 of 5 from three point against Grizzlies), but it’s notable that this hasn’t stopped Lin from being a huge contributor on the offensive end, because he has confidence in his game and is being allowed to play his game. It’s all just starting to happen for Lin in Houston, so the Rockets coaching staff need to do everything they can to not mess it up. Have you notice that when Lin plays well, the Rockets win? I’m sure the Rockets organization are well aware of this. The reason is that Lin is a team player and when he does well and plays his game, then that also means that his teammates are getting good looks, because Lin creates almost equally for himself and his teammates. In Houston, Linsanity is more about creating for his teammates than for himself. There were some Linsane moments in the third or fourth quarter when Lin had several almost back to back plays in which he fed Smith off the Pick and Roll. Lin made it look too easy. It looked like a practice drill. Lin didn’t just pull it off one time. He did it in succession. The exact same play. (Delfino also had a back to back carbon copy play in which he drove and fed Asik for a dunk. That was pretty awesome, but not something that we can expect from Delfino. In fact, when Delfino drives, he more often turns the ball over. SIDE NOTE: I’ve noticed that Delfino is one of the players that really doesn’t pass to Lin. I think Delfino sees himself as a bit of a play maker, so he thinks he can make plays himself and doesn’t see any reason to pass to Lin. Just something I’ve noticed throughout the season. Not a big deal, though.) Lin was also awesome on the defensive end, wrestling with Randolph for the ball multiple times.

Asik had another great game. 14 points, 12 rebounds in only 23 minutes. So the Money Boys did it once again! They had a lot of help. Morris was exceptional. He not only was huge on the offensive end, contributing 16 points on a very efficient 6 of 8 shooting (3 of 4 from three point). He also had two blocks and did a superb job of containing Randolph. Randolph had just 10 points on just 5 of 8 shooting! All in all, we had 7 players in double figures. This is what’s been most enjoyable watching the Rockets, lately. They’re playing team ball–the way I had expected them to play. This is why I was so high on the Rockets in the beginning of the season–even in the preseason. I saw a team composed of key players who are all about team ball and they’ve shown that. It has come as a result of the coaches finally letting Lin do what Lin does best, which is to play team ball. Of course, a big factor last night was also great defense.

I won’t have a chance to see the Bulls game tonight. I’m confident that they can pull off a win tonight. At this stage, unless Rockets are up against teams like the Spurs or the Thunder, who the Rockets play really shouldn’t matter. (I mean, they BLEW OUT the best defensive team in the NBA!) As long as Rockets continue to play team ball the way they have been playing since the Knicks game, they should be able to beat most teams in the NBA and the Bulls are one of those teams. Lets just see if they have the mental toughness to maintain their level of play on the road. These next few games will be a huge test for the Rockets. I will still be surprised if the beat the Spurs and the Thunder.

Jeremy Finally Playing Like Linsanity in Knicks and Sixers Games

Even when Jeremy Lin tried to play aggressively this season, his moves to the basket has been very straight forward and lacked the variety and creativity that we all grew to love last season. But in the Knicks and Sixers games, Jeremy finally showcased some of his Linsanity moves.

1:47: Spin Move and strong finish. Lin actually had his first spin move of the season in the loss against the Rapotrs. That was the only thing that was good about that game.

2:20: Floater tear drop. And how about that nice screen from Harden?! That’s the Linharden synergy at work right there!

3:37: Strong penetration and finish with four guys surrounding him. Not afraid to go up in traffic.

3:51: Behind the back dribble to change directions.

5:28: This is not Linsanity, but just pure Jeremy Lin great decision-making. Jeremy throws a cross-court pass to a wide open Morris for a three the moment Lin saw Morris’s guy go to double on Asik rolling to the basket. This is why it’s so critical for Rockets players to move without the ball, because the defense will react and Lin will find the optimal play.

6:33: Crossover, acceleration and strong finish in traffic.

1:56: Ability to stop on a dime in the middle of a strong penetration.

4:08: Acceleration off the screen and finish.

7:15: Splitting the defense (3 Knicks surrounding him), cradling the ball to prevent it from being knocked out and wills in a shot in somewhat awkward position.

10:50: The Linharden screen. Harden’s man is all over Harden, freeing the lane up for Lin. By the time defenders realize what has happened, it’a already too late and they have to commit a foul to prevent a basket.

11:55: Crazy hesitation move. This one really demonstrates Lin’s smarts. He pretends to call a time out by hesitating at mid court then just accelerates, taking the defense (and everybody) off guard.

14:00: Penetrates and stops on a dime in traffic. Fakes a turnaround shot and drops the ball off to an open three. This shows some decision-making growth from Linsanity to not force a high-risk play in traffic.

Okay. Now it’s time to give Harden some love. I like this write-up by Jason Friedman of Rockets.com about Harden in the Sixers post game summary: http://www.nba.com/rockets/news/so-easy-so-harden

“He patiently picks his spots, his eyes betraying nothing as he sizes up the defense, biding precious fragments of time while the computer in his mind calculates the proper angle at which to attack. When he does, it’s with a quickness that is sudden yet hardly otherworldly by NBA standards. So often he beats his man instead by baiting him; unleashing his long arms, longer strides and those strong hands which cradle the ball while practically begging for defenders to try to knock it away. They can’t help themselves. They reach. They slap.

And fall right into the trap.

Such is the core and the crux of the matrix in which Harden invites those who dare defend him; a place where everything around the 23-year-old seems to slow down while he glides past with an efficiency of motion that borders on sublime. He is a scoring, Eurostepping machine and right now he is operating at a rate that is downright robotic.”

This is the wise Kung Fu Master at work. It’s hard to believe that he’s only 23. I still don’t get how he’s able to penetrate and draw fouls the way he does, so relentlessly and so deceivingly simple. I see what he’s doing, but I don’t get it, because it doesn’t look like he’s doing a whole lot. It looks like he’s barely even trying. Lin, of course a great job of breaking it down in his post game interview starting at 0:43 in this video:

Rockets Put Away Sixers: Great Team Win–Especially for the Money Boys + Smith, Douglas, Morris

The chemistry among the Money Boys (i.e., Harden, Lin and Asik) reminded me of the chemistry they had in Harden’s debut games–except it was even better tonight. That chemistry went away after the coaches over-emphasized Harden being the number 1 option and messed up Lin’s head. But that chemistry was back tonight, as Lin is playing with a lot of confidence. Lin also looked like he enjoyed himself out there and was having a lot of fun. It was the most comfortable and fun I’ve seen him out on the court (I missed the Knicks game). Lin’s enjoyment reached a peak when he dropped off the ball to Douglas for a three in transition in the fourth quarter. Lin had a big smile after that play, which is great to see. These guys are really enjoying playing with each other right now. The more they’re having fun out there, the more they will keep winning. That was what Linsanity was all about. It was one celebration after another and there was so much joy on the court. I’m not sure if the Rockets will ever reach that level of joy (probably no team can), but hope they come close this season.

I thought tonight was one of Harden’s best games. He plays like an old, wise Kung Fu master: patient, decisive, and devastatingly efficient. He played within himself, rather than try to force plays and shots. He had great numbers tonight: 33 points, 7 of 12 field goal (2 of 3 from three point), 17 of 18 free throws, 7 assists and only 1 turnover! I think the 18 free throw attempts is a career high for him. Not sure, but just guessing. It was ridiculous how many fouls he drew tonight. So frustrating to watch for Sixers fans, I’m sure.

Lin finally had back-to-back good games! I think it’s a turning point for Lin. This is what I was picturing would happen for Lin soon after the Spurs game. It took a few games for it to work itself out, but looks like things are starting to move in the right direction for him and, as a result, the Rockets are playing well. They shot 56% from the floor tonight: a season best for the Rockets! It’s not because they were hitting outside shots. In fact, they struggled with their outside shots tonight (with the exception of Douglas threes in the 4th). Their high field goal percentage is due to the fact that they were taking high percentage shots, because Lin and Harden were playing aggressively and their Bigs (Asik and Smith) had so many opportunities in the Paint. We had six players in double figures: Harden 33; Lin 18, Asik 17, Douglas 17, Morris 14, Smith 13. Parsons had 9 points. Smith was a perfect 5 of 5 from the field and had six or eight straight points in the second half that was key to staving any hope of a Sixers come back in the third quarter (I think). Smith is such an impressive finisher. Asik, after struggling in the past several games had a big night tonight with 15 rebounds to add to his 17 points. He was great in the pick and roll tonight. The best I’ve seen him all season! Hope he continues improving on that, because between Harden and Lin, Asik and Smith are going to have a lot of opportunities for easy baskets. The player that struggled the most tonight was Delfino. He couldn’t get anything going and was pretty much taking away minutes tonight. Parsons has also been struggling pretty badly with his outside shot (4 of 13 Field Goal and 1 of 7 from Three Point), but still managed to be effective in other ways.

I saw the coaches play Lin differently tonight. Lin got screens whenever he wanted them. The ball was in his hands just as much as it was in Harden’s hands. When Lin went to the bench towards the end of first quarter and into the second quarter is when the Sixers made their run and McHale didn’t waste much time in putting Lin back into the game. So they’re showing a lot more confidence in Lin. Like I’ve been saying, I know that the Rockets have a good offense, but I think it can be even better if they let Lin play more of his game and they did that tonight. As a result, the Rockets had their best Field Goal percentage of the season! When Lin plays well, the Rockets do well. It’s that simple. Lin just needs to maintain this same level of energy and mental toughness to continue to play his game no matter what. I think it’ll be easier for him to do this now that he knows this is what the coaching staff want from him. I think up until the Knicks game, he still wasn’t sure if the coaching staff wanted him to play aggressively or defer to Harden. But now it’s clear that the team is better when Lin plays aggressively. And Lin’s aggressive play does not affect Harden’s scoring in any way, as evident in the Knicks game and tonight’s game.

There were a few lapses in tonight’s game (early in the second quarter and in the third quarter), but overall, I thought the ball movement and player movement was solid. It was a fun game to watch. I even saw Harden set a screen for Lin. Hope they continue to throw that into the mix. It’s one of the Linharden synergies I’ve envisioned from day one. It appears this team is just starting to gel. If this is real and they have in fact built some good chemistry, then they’re way ahead of schedule. I think the Rockets organization had expected it to take much longer for this team to gel. The big test is against the Grizzlies and I’m very optimistic that the Rockets have a good shot at beating the Grizzlies, as long as they continue to play team basketball with Lin being aggressive as the primary play maker and Harden being the scorer.

RELATED POSTS:
https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/reasons-for-lins-scoring-struggles-and-why-the-spurs-game-is-his-breakout-game/

https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/minus-harden-lin-has-his-most-important-game-of-the-season-against-a-great-team/

https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/harden-plays-like-an-old-wise-kung-fu-master/

https://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/linharden-the-scariest-back-court-dude-in-the-nba/

Good article on Lin’s return to NYC by Ian O’Connor

I found this quote by Lin particularly poignant: “I just said, ‘Tonight, I’m going to be free and fun. I’m going to throw everything else out the window and enjoy the game,'” Lin said. “I think that was the biggest thing, just enjoying this game and nothing else.”

I hope Lin has the mental toughness to have this attitude for all the games. This is the key to Linsanity.

Monday, December 17, 2012
Updated: December 18, 9:56 AM ET
Lin shows Knicks why he’s a keeper
By Ian O’Connor
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK — The artist formerly known as Jeremy Lin was back on his preferred stage, throwing himself fearlessly at the Madison Square Garden basket while recreating something he swore he did not want to recreate.

Yes, this was a worthy sequel to Linsanity. Some sentimental New York Knicks fans showed up in their Lin jerseys, maybe for the last time, and their former point guard showed up with some of his old flash and dash, definitely not for the last time.

Lin desperately wanted to beat the Knicks on Monday night, to finish 2-0 against them in his first season with the Houston Rockets, and there was no denying that. As he walked away from his 22-point, eight-assist performance in yet another Houston blowout of the Knicks, as he walked out of his postgame news conference and toward a reunion with family and friends in the Garden stands, Lin revealed he’d promised confidants he would hold nothing back against the most recent franchise to fire him.

“I just said, ‘Tonight, I’m going to be free and fun. I’m going to throw everything else out the window and enjoy the game,'” Lin said. “I think that was the biggest thing, just enjoying this game and nothing else.”

It hasn’t always been fun in Houston. Lin called his play over the first 23 games “terrible,” and he was struggling to find his niche with the ball-stopping James Harden as much as he’d struggled to find his niche with the ball-stopping Carmelo Anthony.

In fact, Lin had confided in a friend that he felt like he was back in New York with a healthy Melo all over again. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this, not after Lin took the big money in Houston and signed a contract the Knicks refused to match.

Lin was supposed to be the featured star in the backcourt, the dominator of the ball, and then all of a sudden the Harden trade came out of left field — the same place that had delivered Linsanity to the world last winter. The Rockets had acquired an elite scorer from the Western Conference champ, Oklahoma City, and they were celebrated around the league for their ability to close the deal.

But as much as Lin thought he’d failed his Houston coaches, Kevin McHale and Kelvin Sampson had failed him, too. They allowed Harden to iso the point guard into oblivion, leaving Lin to stand statue-still in the corner as a spot-up shooter, something he was never meant to be. The one night Harden was out with an injury, the night Houston’s coaches had no choice but to turn to their point guard, Lin dropped 38 points on the Spurs.

Back at the Garden, Lin decided he was tired of being the mediocre player his numbers (10.8 points, 6.0 assists, .395 shooting from the floor) suggested he’d become. He didn’t care that Harden was in uniform, ready to score 28 points of his own.

“Stay aggressive, be really aggressive — that was my mindset coming in,” Lin said as he walked the Garden hallways, a lively bounce in his step after his sweetest victory as a Rocket. “Be aggressive, have fun and let everything fall where it may.”

Nothing fell quite like the Knicks’ perfect record at home.

“I was so comfortable in the game,” Lin said. “I saw so many of the same people, all the season-ticket holders and people like that. It was crazy. It was like yesterday.”

In a pregame news conference, Lin called the experience of walking through the Garden door as an opponent “weird.” He said he tried and failed to maneuver his way through the renovated building, making like the clueless rookie out of his undrafted past.

Linsanity, the maker of the phenomenon said, “was the time of my life.” The 38 he scored on Kobe’s Lakers, the shot against Toronto, the magazine covers, the overnight ascension from apartment-crashing, couch-hogging scrub to worldwide celebrity — Lin said he’d remember those things forever.

But he also told everyone he was in an entirely different place now and on an entirely different journey. “I don’t think anybody from the Rockets’ organization is expecting me to recreate anything,” Lin said, “and I’m not either.”

He headed out onto the Garden floor for pregame warm-ups, stopping to share a few laughs with Amare Stoudemire. A circle of photographers and cameramen followed Lin to the scorer’s table, where he laced up his shoes and listened as Sampson, McHale’s lieutenant, gave him an animated pep talk.

And then Lin faced off against a Knicks team trying to make do without Carmelo Anthony, out with a bum ankle. Funny, but Lin always played his best basketball when Melo wasn’t on the floor.

The point guard was the last Rocket introduced, and the crowd gave him a healthy round of applause. “It was actually a lot better than I thought,” Lin said. His replacement, Raymond Felton, opened with a quick jumper and a hint that their shared season-long narrative — Felton has been the superior player — wasn’t about to change.

But Lin immediately answered with a layup off a backdoor cut, sending a message of his own. The same fans who had showed their appreciation during introductions started booing Lin when the ball found him, and when he in turn found lanes to the goal.

The Rockets ran a layup line on the Charmin-soft Knicks, with Lin and Harden leading the charge. In the second quarter, the former teammate Lin likened to “a big brother to me last year,” Tyson Chandler, decided he’d seen enough and flagrantly fouled the man of the hour with a right forearm to the head.

“I totally understand when someone comes in your lane, you want to make sure they think twice about coming back,” Lin said. “So he hit me hard.”

The point guard threw a bit of a hesitation dribble into his response before adding, “I still kept coming though.”

He wasn’t stopping for anything or anyone, not this time. He had 16 points at the half, and soon enough the juggernaut that had been 10-0 at home was down 27 in the fourth quarter.

Mike Woodson didn’t even bother to play Felton in the fourth — another victory for Lin, who survived some poor 3-point shooting (he still needs to work on that) and one mocking chant of “Airrrr-bawwwwl.” Lin executed a few daring drives to his left (he’s done some work on that) and ultimately inspired the same fans who had booed him to boo the Knicks.

“It was great to be back,” he said, “and it was a lot of fun to play on that court again.”

With 2:25 left, another former Knicks point guard, Toney Douglas, wrapped his arms around the first stringer, and Lin was off to the bench for good. He shared hugs with Steve Novak, Chandler and Knicks assistant Herb Williams after the final horn, and then did a spirited jog for the showers.

Lin would say he found a connection with Harden, at last, and that it represented “a big step in the right direction in terms of figuring it out.” Of course, it’s on Lin to figure it out, too, to find a way to make it work with Harden after he lost his chance to make it work with Anthony.

But this much is certain for the 24-year-old Lin, still a rookie quarterback: He is going to be a good player in this league for a long time, even if Felton wins a ring for the Knicks.

So as much as Lin savored the sight of fans wearing his old Knicks jersey (“I was like, ‘Wow, that was really cool,'” he said), he needed to get on with the next stage of his career.

“I’m glad it’s over,” he would say before joining his family and friends in the stands, “just because, in some ways, I wanted closure.”

Jeremy Lin got what he wanted Monday night when he left the Garden with plenty more than a 2-0 record against the Knicks.

He left the place with a reminder that Linsanity didn’t happen by accident.

Hall of Famer Walt Frazier: “Lin is like me and Harden is like Earl”

So, I missed last night’s game against the Knicks, in which Lin and Harden figured out a way to mesh well. If anyone has any insights into how it worked, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts. Since I didn’t see the game, I don’t know if it was because McHale changed things up and finally had Lin assume more of the floor general duties and let Harden play off the ball, as I’ve been suggesting. Or did McHale keep everything the same and Lin just blocked everything out and played without overthinking things. In the post game interview, he said he just went out there and had fun. Every time Lin just plays without thinking, he has a great game, just like during the entire Linsanity winning streak, as well as against the Spurs as a Rockets.

Hall of Famer Walt Frazier made some very interesting observations about how Lin and Harden can mesh and I think he’s dead on. It’s what I’ve been saying all along. I hope McHale is listening. Oh, also, yesterday morning (i.e., before the Knicks game), I tweeted Morey the following. You can find the tweet here: https://twitter.com/JeremyLintel:

@dmorey Harden > Lin playing off the ball. Lin = or > Harden as floor general. Irrational to make Lin play off ball. Reverse their roles!
7:28 AM – 17 Dec 12
I doubt Morey even read it, but one can always hope.
Anyway, Frazier, who has been a big fan of Lin’s had some very interesting insights into how Lin and Harden can mesh.  Here are some quotes from Frazier, that I saw on Ultimate Rockets: http://blog.chron.com/ultimaterockets/2012/12/knicks-legend-walt-frazier-says-meshing-lin-harden-just-a-matter-of-time/

“Jeremy is like me, and Harden is like Earl,” Frazier said. “He likes the ball. I was the guy who created. They have to find the harmony to make that happen. I’m sure as the season goes on, Harden is not going to want to be out here, 30 feet away, trying to maneuver to get in. It’s tiring, man. If he’s got a good guy like Lin who can set him up to get easy shots, that’s going to prolong his energy level.

“The thing with us, both of us could be a point guard or a shooting guard, which is rare today in the league. If Earl was having a good game, he would be the shooter and I would be the orchestrator, and vice versa. I liked when he was having a good game, because they would double him and I would get more shots.”

Frazier said the questions about the Rockets’ backcourt are similar to when the Knicks traded for Monroe, except he was a top rival. Frazier and Monroe won the Knicks’ second title together. Both are in the Hall of Fame, with their numbers retired in New York.

“It could happen for them because Lin likes to penetrate and dish,” Frazier said. “Harden likes to go to the open spot and shoot the ball.”

I’m 100% in line with Frazier on this and I have no idea why McHale et al haven’t been able to see this. I think maybe it’s because Frazier, who is the play-by-play commentator for the Knicks, got to observe Lin closely and can fully appreciate what Lin offers, while McHale and company only experienced Linsanity from afar. McHale mostly saw the “hype”, not the substance behind it.
I’m hoping that this game, combined with the Spurs game will wake up the Rockets coaching staff. I mean, when Lin plays well, the Rockets are capable of competing with the best teams in the NBA! They went to overtime against the team with the best record in the NBA (at the time) and they destroyed a team that’s undefeated at home, breaking their own losing road streak! Both times, Lin got to play his game. That has got to count for something. I know the Rockets have a great offense, from a statistical standpoint, which is why McHale et al are very hesitant to change anything on the offensive end, but I really think the offense could be even better if they let Jeremy Lin be the primary ball handler. As I’ve said before, when Lin is the primary ball handler, the ball movement is much better. When Harden is the primary ball handler, the ball gets sticky. Guys stand around watching Harden a lot of the time. Harden is more of a pure scorer. I’m not saying that Harden shouldn’t make plays and handle the ball. I’m just saying that Lin should be the one doing it 70% of the time or so when they’re both on the court together. I think its great that they can switch roles, making it even more difficult for the defense, because the defense doesn’t know who to focus on at any given time. This was my hope for the Linharden synergy when I learned about the Harden deal. I still think it’s possible, but the coaching staff needs to stop overly favoring Harden at HUGE expense to Lin’s game. Yes, Harden is the number one option and the best player on the team. But this doesn’t mean that you make the irrational decision to make Lin play off the ball, because you think it might hurt Harden’s game some if Harden doesn’t have the ball. Harden can play off the ball so much better than Lin can and Lin is equal if not better than Harden as a floor general. Personally, I think Lin is a better floor general, because Lin is not looking to score. He’s primarily looking for the most optimal play. In order for Lin to be successful, he needs a fair amount of high pick-and-rolls. I can go on and on, but I’m sure you’re all sick of me saying the same things over and over again on this blog. I also want to add that Lin is not completely innocent here. In the post game interview last night, McHale said: “We keep on telling him to be aggressive and attack. Maybe he felt comfortable here in Madison Square Garden, I don’t know, but he played very well.” Now, I’m sure McHale is being honest here. I’m sure he has been TELLING Lin to be aggressive and attack, but what I don’t know is if McHale has been backing that up with his ACTIONS. What I’m not sure about (and I’m genuinely not sure about this) is if McHale has been benching Lin whenever Lin has not been aggressive to encourage him to be more aggressive. Or if McHale has been benching Lin, because he has no confidence in Lin and, as a result, Lin is PLAYING TO NOT LOSE. And that’s why Lin hasn’t been playing aggressively. Lin is afraid of making mistakes. I suspect Lin is also confused about this and doesn’t really know why he keeps getting benched. Maybe this game will clear things up and maybe after this game, McHale will make it clear to Lin that Lin needs to play aggressively and just let the chips fall where they may. This is what I’m hoping for, at least. We’ll see.
The Walt Frazier interview makes me think of this:

Reasons for Lin’s scoring struggles and why the Spurs game is his breakout game

I know you probably think I’m crazy for saying so, but Lin has actually played pretty well thus far in Houston. He has actually improved his game in several areas and hasn’t seen drop offs in key aspects of his game:

  • He’s become an even better defender.
  • His decision-making has improved.
  • He’s learning to play in different gears.
  • He’s become better at making the easy plays (i.e., perimeter pass to teammates who are all set to shoot), rather than going for the high-risk plays (i.e., passes into traffic, leaving his feet without a specific plan in mind, etc.).
  • He still has just as keen of a sense for when and where to give his teammates the ball.
  • He still has the ability to get into the lane pretty much anytime he wants, the only problem is that in Houston, once he’s in the lane, he doesn’t have a guy like Chandler or Amare who’s ready and willing to receive the ball. Asik still has trouble handling the short hand offs or wrap around drop offs, that Lin often did with Chandler and Amare when Lin attracted the defense in the paint and 2Pat is usually in the perimeter so he’s not usually around to get the ball from Lin in those situations. So this is why you don’t see Lin doing this as much in Houston, but the ability is still there.

As a result, Lin has been quite effective at running the offense and giving his teammates good looks. Lin is doing a good job as a point guard in that regard. Lin’s struggles this season has only to do with his ability to score the ball (this is why in the title of this article, I specifically say “scoring struggles” as opposed to “offensive struggles” or simply “struggles”). His shooting percentage is down and his explosiveness, as well as his ability to finish at the rim is not at the same levels that we saw during Linsanity. He’s also not able to draw fouls like he did during Linsanity. Some of Lin’s scoring struggles have to do with Lin, but some have to do with outside factors. Here are the main reasons for Lin’s scoring struggles:

  1. Rockets coaching staff. The Rockets coaching staff have not been high on Lin from the very beginning. Compound this with the fact that they were over the moon with the acquisition of Harden and Harden’s monster debut games and you have the recipe for Lin not being allowed to play the way Lin knows how to play. In the preseason, McHale told Lin not to worry about getting the ball to KMart, when Lin expressed his concerns about not being sure if he’s giving KMart enough touches. This was a big relief for Lin. But this all changed once Harden was acquired. The coaching staff emphasized that Harden is the number one option, which makes complete sense, but they went a little overboard. They also made Lin change his game, since both Harden and Lin are ball-dominant players. But, because Harden is a ball-dominant number one option, Lin was forced to play off the ball–something Lin has not been good at. Whenever you’re not playing your game, you’re going to struggle scoring the ball no matter how elite of a scorer you are (i.e., Melo under D’Antoni), because you’re out of rhythm and you’re forced to think about what you’re doing constantly, since it’s still all new to you. In sports, whenever you’re thinking, you’re not doing and so this is a big reason why Lin hasn’t been able to score the ball. He’s uncomfortable contributing as a scorer off the ball. It’s something that he’s still learning and will take a very long time to be comfortable with–if ever. It’s very difficult to learn a new style of playing for anybody. Aside from changing Lin’s game, the Rockets coaching staff also doesn’t instill confidence in Lin. Scoring has a lot to do with confidence. When you feel confident and think that everything you put up will go in, they usually go in. But when you’re feeling like you’re constantly being doubted, then that wears on you and the shots don’t fall. Lin doesn’t feel like he has the license to make mistakes–whether or not this is valid. So he’s been very cautious (i.e., passive) in his play, fearing that the coaching staff will yank him if he makes mistakes. When you play passively you’re not going to score the ball.
  2. Lin over-thinking. As I’ve said many times in this blog, over-thinking is death in sports. The ideal state is to be in a state of flow, where you’re not thinking about what you’re doing at all. In the Spurs game, Lin said that he wasn’t thinking. He was just playing. And in his breakout game last season against the Nets, Lin said that he finally just went out there and just played the way he knew how to play and just put it all out there without worrying about it. This season with the Rockets, Lin is constantly thinking out there. He’s thinking about whether or not what he’s doing is what the coaches want him to do. He’s thinking about whether or not he should be playing aggressively or passively so there’s a lot of hesitation when he’s shooting the ball, say. In the back of his mind, all the attention about the Linsanity hype, also plays a part in messing with his psyche. I think he’s also concerned about limiting his turnovers, so he’s playing more passively.
  3. Lin’s shot adjustments. A recent Sports Illustrated article mentioned that Lin’s shooting coach is trying to take some arch out of his shot, since he tends to shoot the ball short. This is unusual, since coaches tend to want players to shoot with more arch. But Lin has too much arch, so a lot of his shots fall short. This explains why Lin’s shot has looked so horrible at times. It’s very difficult to change your shot mid-season, because you need a lot of time to get comfortable with the new adjustments, no matter how minor they may be. Lin is still not comfortable in the mechanical changes to this shooting stroke, so that’s why his shooting percentage is so ridiculously low.
  4. Lin’s teammates’ lack of confidence in him. When Lin joined the Rockets, he was embarrassed by the “face of the Franchise” label that the media pinned on him. As a result (this is pure conjecture on my part), Lin tried to downplay himself and maybe he toned it down during training camp. I’ve talked about this in a previous post, so won’t dwell on it here. As a result, his teammates weren’t impressed. Contrast this to the way Harden came in and embraced the “face of the Franchise” moniker and told his teammates to tuck in their shirts on the first day of practice. I’m not criticizing Lin nor Harden’s approach, but just pointing out the contrast. I think as a result of Lin downplaying himself, that first impression Lin made to his teammates really stuck. And as Lin began struggling with his scoring in the pre-season, as well as during the season (which was capped by his end of game air ball against Miami), his teammates continue to look Lin off more and more, which is completely understandable I might add. Lin has rarely received the ball back from his teammates after he passes it off. When you’re not getting screens (which is a big part of your scoring game) and your shot isn’t falling, it’s very difficult to beat your man off the dribble if your man is standing back daring you to shoot. It would help some if Lin gets the ball back from his teammates when he’s wide open or when his man is not expecting it so he can drive past his man.
  5. Lin’s knee recovery. People have pointed this out as a reason for Lin’s struggles. I think this is last on the list of things, but it is still a factor. I think this is affecting Lin’s explosiveness and his ability to beat his man off the dribble, as well as his ability to finish at the rim. So even though it’s last on the list of factors as far as I’m concerned, it is still a significant factor.

Of the five major reasons for Lin’s scoring struggles, some are external to Lin, some are internal, some are a combination of both and one factor is internal to Lin, but is something no one really has much control over (Lin’s knee recovery). The reason why I think Lin’s Spurs game is a breakout game for Lin is because it has positive impacts on three of the five factors above. Namely, “Rockets coaching staff”, “Lin over-thinking”, and “Lin’s teammates’ lack of confidence in him”. This is why my immediate reaction to Lin’s performance in the Spurs game was that it is the most important game Lin has had in Houston.

Lin had probably his best statistical NBA game against the best team in the NBA. A team that embarrassed the Rockets just a few days prior to that game. It would be very hard for the coaches and Lin’s teammates to ignore the significance of this. It’s the type of game that will help change their perceptions of Lin and force the coaches to re-think the way they have been playing Lin and treating Lin. If the coaches are too stubborn to change, then I have a feeling that Morey and Les will have a thing or two to say about it. Les, in particular, was the one who really wanted Lin at all cost. Now, I’m not expecting major changes overnight, but I think that Spurs game will encourage the coaches to allow Lin to play more of his game. As Lin is allowed to play more of Lin’s game, Lin will have fewer things to think about when he’s out on the court. As a result, he will be playing more aggressively and making more shots. In turn, his teammates will gain more confidence in him and give Lin the ball when his man is not expecting it or when Lin is wide open so Lin will get more shot attempts and maybe even get to the line more often.

As for the other two factors, his shot will come as he continues to work on it. His knee is also looking more and more like it’s fully recovered, considering how hard he played in the Spurs game. Lin was just as aggressive in the Spurs game as he was last season. So I don’t think the knee is that much of a factor anymore–if at all.

I know you might think I’m crazy for placing so much significance in just ONE game. But, hey, Lin was able to leverage ONE game last season (i.e. against the Nets) into a “ridiculous” contract in the off season. So if anyone can leverage ONE game, Lin can. Lin just needs to play the way he knows how to play and turn everything else off. I’m not saying Lin is going to score 20+ every night from now on nor am I saying that Lin is not going to have games where he’s shooting 2 for 11. What I am saying is that you’ll see Lin playing more aggressively and making plays almost equally for himself and for his teammates from now on. I’m saying that the days of consistent single-digit shot attempts for Lin are over. From now on, Lin scoring in the mid to high double digits is going to be the norm, not the exception. Unless Lin continues to struggle massively with his shooting, I think this scenario will play out for Lin. Lin’s ability to shoot the ball at an adequate rate (field goal percentage in the mid 40%) is critical to Lin’s scoring success, because it opens up all aspects of his game. For example, when the defense has to worry about your shooting, he can’t stay back on you, making it easier for you to beat him off the dribble.

Anyway, I know this might sound like wishful thinking. Maybe it is. We’ll see how it all plays out.