Rockets 105, Raptors 108 - Room for Improvement

By Forrest Walker on March 9, 2018

The Houston Rockets are not perfect. As the final buzzer sounded tonight, The Toronto Raptors picked up their 48th win and the Houston Rockets finally accepted a 14th loss. After 17 straight victories, the streak is over and the Rockets fall back into a tie with the Golden State Warriors. The Toronto Raptors have now swept the Houston Rockets in the season series, and remain alongside Detroit and Washington as the only teams the Rockets have yet to defeat this season, and will remain so until the NBA Finals at earliest. For as mighty as the Rockets are, there still remain spaces for improvement.

Let's begin at the end. In the waning seconds of the game, the Rockets needed to inbound the ball and hit a three in the last five seconds of the game to force a tie. Trevor Ariza, as per usual, was the inbounds man, this time haunted by prominent rapper Drake, who hovered just behind him, speaking unknown words into his ears. The Rockets needed just one open look to have a shot at a game they should have been long out of. Instead, they got a contested thirty-foot shot from James Harden after a total mess of a play.

Perhaps they would have had more time to mount their comeback if Harden hadn't spent an entire shot clock dribbling on the perimeter with just seconds left on the clock. Perhaps they would have been ahead if Harden had managed something better than a hotly contested three after letting the air out of the ball the entire possession.

Even that would not have mattered if the Rockets had shot more than 1-9 on three pointers in the first half. Missing threes is part of the roadmap, but not shooting them is a different matter. The Rockets made up for it with an absurd 62 points in the paint, but were already at a disadvantage by not playing the game their way. In a game in which the opponent shot 50% from three in the first half, nobody should know better than Houston that trading twos for threes is a losing proposition.

All of that would not even have mattered if the Rockets were able to make sharp rotations in the first half, limiting the bloodbath of shooting and scoring the Raptors beset them with. The Rockets didn't seem prepared to deal with the sheer amount of ball movement from Toronto, and the incredible 60% plus shooting from the Raptors throughout the first half was in part a consequence of them finding open looks. They've won plenty of games on the defensive end. This was not one of them.

There is a silver lining, which is that it took all of those factors and more, that entire confluence of events, for the Toronto Raptors, easily the best team in the Eastern Conference, to eke out a three point victory, even after being up by 18 points. The Rockets could have stolen that game, and it would have been a marvel.

But with the mere difference of a couple made shots, it was not a marvel. The line between a win and a loss here was razor thin, and all the Rockets had to do was reach out and take it when the lights were brightest. The fact that they were unable to is a small slight against them. But in this NBA, with the Golden State Warriors breathing down their necks, there is no margin for even that much error. It's unfair, and too much to ask of them, and patently impossible, but it is what's being asked of them nonetheless. As long as there is room for improvement, anywhere, improvement will be necessary. Tonight, the Toronto Raptors reminded us of that.

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