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Rockets 102, Pacers 99: Defensive Effort on Both Sides Helps Decide the Outcome

The 1-6 Houston Rockets limped into Indianapolis to battle the media darling Pacers without Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming, giving Indiana a nice chance to put a positive follow-up on Tuesday’s dominating victory. Unfortunately, defense helped put Houston in the win column, where the lack of defense helped the victory slip away from Indiana.

As mentioned, the Rockets were short two starters, but the tenacity of the group really lifted against the young Pacers squad. Following the 20 straight baskets on Tuesday, the Pacers missed 11 straight in the first quarter, quickly falling behind by nine. The Pacers went on an 11-0 run to give themselves the lead in the second quarter. James Posey helped the blue and gold in the second quarter as the team took a narrow two point lead into the locker room.

Out of the half, the Rockets offense finally got rolling in the third quarter, as former Pacer Brad Miller, along with Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, pushed the Rockets to a double digit one before Posey and Mike Dunleavy pushed the Pacers back into it with some timely three pointers, as the two teams pulled even for the fourth quarter.

In the fourth, the Pacers really pushed themselves to take control of the game, but timely three point baskets from Chase Budinger and Brad Miller nullified any Pacer momentum. A Brad Miller free throw would put the Rockets back in the lead, and for good, as Martin helped close the game out, as Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy, and Josh McRoberts were the victims of some questionable whistle calling (or lack thereof).

Despite all of the issues, the Pacers found themselves down just three points, needing to make a stop. Martin would gladly deliver the dagger, responded by a blazing layup from Darren Collison. After getting a needed stop, Indiana still had one chance left, down three points. The Rockets defense stood strong on the three point line, and Indiana was unable to get a good look, as Collison’s final shot went wide right, giving Houston the 102-99 victory.

The defensive efforts by both teams were important in how the game ended up for both squads. Indiana was unable to make key stops, while the Rockets continued to force the Pacers into contested jump shots.

After the jump, some more ups and down bullet points from the tough Friday night loss:

  • After getting some flak for his words against Paul George’s effort, Coach Jim O’Brien made the decision to hand the rookie a dreaded DNPCD. To take his place: James Posey. While I’m not a huge fan of O’Brien’s benching techniques, he’s good at finding the hot hand and going with it, and no one had a hotter hand tonight than Posey.
  • Posey finished with a team high 19 points on 12 shots, with five three pointers to his name. He managed to pull down five rebounds as well. Posey’s efforts to put the Pacers in the game for the fourth quarter were undeniable, and for all the love we have for young George, Posey’s hitting the shots George isn’t.
  • Mike Dunleavy continued his hot streak, hitting his first five shots (including some third quarter daggers) and finishing 6-9 with six dimes for 15 points. Dunleavy’s defensive liabilities weren’t hidden tonight as there was more than one case when his defense led to an easy Rockets bucket, but his value to the offense was a nice shot in the arm for the second straight game, even if his defensive efforts cause issues.
  • Danny Granger had another quiet night, but stepped up admirably in the fourth quarter, after no second half points. He was right in the mix in the possession where he was hacked in six pieces and not sent to the line. Granger’s 17 points are around where I’d like him to be in a winning effort, but in a losing effort, Granger needs to be a bigger focus of the offense and work his way to the line more often. There’s little reason for Granger to end the night on two free throw attempts, especially in 38 minutes of action.
  • Roy Hibbert had a nice first half, and quickly made an impact in the second half, leading myself to believe he had a solid chance of making an offensive contribution in the second half, but finished with just four points after the break. The team went away from Roy yet again, a problem that needs to be addressed. Roy needs to be involved for all 30+ minutes he’s on the floor. Even if teams work to adjust to him, keep that threat alive by getting it into him. Only good things can happen if he’s drawing double teams. He’s capable of recognizing the open (even cutting?) man.
  • Speaking of Hibbert, the big fella was beaten pretty handily by the savvy Brad Miller. Miller's ability to spread the floor took Hibbert by surprise, and he wasn't able to quickly adjust to playing so far out defensively. This may be something to keep an eye on as the team moves forward.
  • After a great debut, Brandon Rush finished with a familiar 2 point and 3 rebound effort in 26 minutes. Even in coming back down to earth for Brandon’s contribution, he didn’t look like the old Brandon out there. He did work to get involved from time to time, but wasn’t feeling his shot tonight. Even still, working through his struggles offensively is important, especially on nights the offense isn’t on its best game.
  • The difference in tonight’s game had a lot to do with Houston’s ability to get to the charity stripe. Indiana went 10-13, but left far too many points for Houston, who went 17-25. The Rockets defense did a nice job of forcing Indiana into jumpers instead of allowing the Pacers to drive the lane, and didn’t commit to silly fouls when the Pacers did. Helps the Rockets found themselves the benefactors of some curious calls and no calls, but that was a small part of the night’s overall effort.

Indiana has a quick turnaround and will be in Cleveland tomorrow night to face the new look Cavaliers. The Cavs are right in line with Indiana in the Eastern Conference, so this game is not one to be taken lightly. As for tonight’s effort, the Pacers left a lot on the table and need to step up defensively; not to mention work on better shots for the offense. That won’t be the last time we say that about this team following a loss. We’re in for a lot of close ones in the coming months, but hopefully it’s offset by some rewarding and well fought victories. Tom will have more on this one from the confines of the Fieldhouse, so don’t take this one too hardly, there’s another one in less than 24 hours.