Lin had a game-high and season-high 31 points, and shot very efficiently: 10-17 from the field, 3-6 from distance, and 8-9 from the stripe. Lin iced the game at the end of the second overtime with a floater in the lane that stretched the lead to four with 34 seconds remaining.
We'll get back to Lin and his dominant offensive performance in a minute, but, as a team, the Rockets showed strides in their not-so-impressive-on-paper victory. Let's throw out all defensive factors for a minute (which we'll revisit when assessing Lin's performance and Terrence Jones' impact), keep in mind that the team is still struggling from beyond the arc (everyone not-named Lin shot just 4-20), and just look at how a handful of Rockets performed statistically:
James Harden: 26 points, 10 assists (six turnovers)
Dwight Howard: 18 points, 24 rebounds, five blocks
Jeremy Lin: 31 points, five rebounds (five turnovers)
Chandler Parsons: 18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists
Terrence Jones: 7 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks (32 minutes)
Obviously, the Rockets played a 58-minute game, so these numbers are inflated. But the way the points were distributed between the core group of players was very similar to how I envisioned it being before the season. Harden served as more of an offensive facilitator. Lin attacked the basket and shot 3s without any hesitation (I can't say I think he'll score 30 too many more times this season, but sometimes the guy just goes a little Linsane).
Howard owned the glass, blocked five shots, altered several more, and scored in bunches (scored 17 points in the first half; I believe his ability to score consistently will come over time). Parsons quietly poured in 18 points (right around the number I projected him to average this season). Jones, who needed Francisco Garcia to miss a game before he could find rotational minutes, was a monster on the boards, played tough defensively, but looked uncomfortable at times offensively (although that's nothing surprising for this team).
I consider myself somewhat of a realist, and although beating the Raptors in double overtime in the middle of November at home doesn't prove a lot, it shows that the Rockets can pull out a victory late in a game, which is something they'll need to get used to doing if they're going to contend.
The game showed us the value of playing T-Jones at the 4, as Houston disrupted Toronto's offensive flow consistently with 14 blocks while limiting it to just 10 assists and 33% shooting. It proved to us that both of the point guards can be useful down the stretch, as Kevin McHale elected to put Patrick Beverley in for Lin at the end of regulation and in the second OT (after Kyle Lowry torched him for two consecutive three-point shots) as a defensive replacement, although Lin was reinserted after Parsons fouled out. Most importantly, and most depressingly, it proved that Howard's inabilities as a free-throw shooter are strictly mental and need to be addressed; unfortunately, Howard needs to figure that one out on his own.
Now, finally, back to Lin. The former Knick had himself a heck of a game, and there's no denying that. Did this performance prove anything that we didn't already know? We already knew he could explode at any time (usually against bottom-tier starting point guards), so that's nothing new. We already knew the guy has pride, which is why his stellar and highly aggressive performance came on the heels of Beverley's career-high, 19-point, four-steal game against the Los Angeles Clippers and the league's best point guard, Chris Paul. It proved that Lin is becoming comfortable in his new bench role and as an independent scorer, which was evident by his relentless attacking of the basket and his grand total of zero assists.
On the negative side for Lin, the defensive issues are still there. McHale yanked Lin twice down the stretch in favor of Beverley, who served as strictly as a defensive replacement after playing his worst offensive game of the season (one points, three turnovers, 0-5 from the field). While Rockets fans and Lin fans alike should be encouraged by the performance, talks of Lin stealing the starting job from Beverley would be premature, as the healthy balance of offense and defense is of the utmost importance for this team.
Going forward, Houston should be encouraged and with the upcoming schedule being relatively easy, the Rockets might be able to string together a little winning streak in the next week or so. Up next are the Philadelphia 76ers, who are coming back to earth after a hot start; the New York Knicks, who have struggled all season long; the Denver Nuggets, who don't look like a playoff team; and the Boston Celtics, who have played well after a rocky start but certainly don't have the size inside to deal with Howard.
Another promising takeaway from the double-overtime win was the fact that McHale started Jones in the beginning of the second half over Omer Asik, who clearly struggles next to Howard, and stuck with Jones late in the ball game. While I've read countless of people throw out ridiculous claims of Asik being better or just as good as Howard, these people need to face the music: Asik is a fringe starter, and Howard, despite being flawed and still raw in many ways, is one of the best two or three centers in the game today. Jones' athleticism, size, rebounding and shot-blocking ability make Houston a better defensive unit when he's playing next to Howard, as both Asik and Howard are both used to being the last line of defense and neither can guard the pick-and-roll or a stretch 4 (Jones played well against Rudy Gay down the stretch).
Also, it's important to note that Jones is just 21 years old, in his second season, and Tuesday night's game was just the 24th of his career. The former Wildcat is going to need to figure out his game offensively, and he'll need to carve out a niche in this pro-style offense that the Rockets are playing. But with the talent his possesses, I have faith he'll surprise the masses with his eclectic offensive arsenal.
Jones is a long-term option and possible solution for the Rockets at power forward, where there's been a vacancy ever since the team amnestied Luis Scola in the summer of 2012. Hopefully, McHale gives the starting job to Jones and puts Asik on the bench for Houston's next game against the 76ers.
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and a graduate of Montclair State University. He has followed the Rockets from the championship days of Hakeem Olajuwon, to the years of Francis and Mobley, to the McGrady and Yao era, and will continue to follow them through Harden and Dwight's reign of destruction.
- Sports & Recreation
- Houston Rockets
- Jeremy Lin
- Dwight Howard
- Terrence Jones
- Patrick Beverley