Pacers 104, Rockets 101 - Houston Fails to Capitalize Down the Stretch

Tonight's game felt like a perfect representation of this entire season. The game had everything. There were flashes of brilliance, mental mistakes, signs of indifference, exciting runs, and in the end, there was disappointment. No matter how far the Rockets go, no matter how much they wonder, they will always find their way back to the path of disappointment, where they belong.

The effort was spotty at best at the beginning. You saw them out-hustled by a team on the back end of a back to back. Somehow, the Rockets looked like they were the ones on the back end of a back to back. After misses, the Pacers jetted to the other side of the court and launched open 3s like there was no tomorrow. There was no resistance. None. The score at halftime didn't reflect just how badly they got outplayed. I can't imagine what Indiana would have done to Houston with fresh legs. Indiana killed them on the boards, they get open 3 after open 3, and they damn near ran them out the gym.

The start of the second half was bad too, but after JB brought in a small lineup of Harden-KJ-Brewer-Ariza-Capela, things turned around very quickly at 7:57 after facing a 13 point deficit. What the lineup lacked in shooting ability, they made up for with length, athleticism and purpose. The team used their length to swarm and recover on defense, and on offense the team just got out of Harden's way as Capela ran to set James screens and the shooters gave him enough room to operate. KJ, Brewer, and Trevor were all fantastic during the run, playing some of the Rockets' best collection of perimeter defense all year. The lineup stormed  back to tie the game with 3:38 left in the 3rd quarter and eventually took the lead.  One of the big problems with the team's main lineup is there's no identity. You see shaky ball movement from Pat and Dwight doesn't provide the constant screen setting that Clint does. Dwight treats screens like they're a chore. When you have an elite pick and roll player like Harden, you really need someone who will run to set as many screens as possible with no hesitation, no questions asked. When you cut out the 2 guys with blurry roles, you can see results like this at times.

After getting a 5 point lead in the 4th quarter, things just went south from there as shots weren't falling and key mistakes were made down the stretch. The lead was eventually taken by the Pacers, and they never looked back.

The Rockets basically played one quarter of good basketball. That was it. Harden played 40+ minutes and was brilliant (34 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists on an efficient 11/22 shooting) for what seems like the millionth time in a row. Houston finished with Dwight instead of Capela despite Capela (+12) outplaying Dwight (-14) on yet another night. The supporting cast was inconsistent and missed open corner 3s down the stretch which ultimately led to their demise late in the 4th..

What's disappointing about this year, is that Houston hasn't had one single reliable player other than Harden and Capela, and even James could be considered unreliable after an egregiously bad start on defense. No one has actually brought forth consistent play. Jason Terry has become worthless after a very good start to the year. Beverley's offense has been shaky at best. Ariza's offense and defense have come and gone seemingly on a weekly basis, and Dwight just hasn't given good enough effort lately and demands too much on the offensive end.

The team still has a great chance to turn their season around by getting the 6 seed, but it just doesn't look like they have it in them. Harden is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and the team can't even play above .500 . It takes a special kind of incompetence to repeatedly blow opportunities in a manner such as this.

The Rockets will probably be granted more opportunities to move up in the standings and they'll probably just keep blowing them until their season is over. Because Rockets.

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