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):
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.