First-year Rockets coach Kevin McHale can’t help but feel he could use a little alone time with his team.
There was certainly that need Thursday night as McHale watched his Rockets completely fall apart in the fourth quarter against the punch-less New Orleans Hornets, to the tune of a historic low before they got back together in overtime to pull out the 90-88 at Toyota Center for their fifth straight win.
After leading by as many as 14 points, the Rockets matched a franchise –low seven points on 3 of 21 shooting in the fourth quarter to allow the Hornets to get back in it and to force overtime. It was the kind of performance that is maddening to a coach even in victory. But it’s also the kind of performance you get from a team that is still learning each other without a lot of practice opportunities in this lockout condensed season.
“We need to clean up a lot of stuff,” McHale said after his team improved to 8-7 on the season. “We need to get in the gym, we need to watch some film and we need to work out some stuff.”
Maybe it seems like nitpicking because the Rockets did win the game and what can be gained from learning to win close games, but this team won’t be in games against quality opponents if they turn the ball over the way they did in the fourth quarter, settle for the shot selections they did and forget some of their defensive principles.
The jury remains out when it comes to how much noise the Rockets can make this season, but with point guard Kyle Lowry, guard Kevin Martin, forward Luis Scola and big man Samuel Dalembert leading the way they can at least make things interesting if they play smart and energized.
But they seemed almost lifeless in that final period of regulation Thursday night. For some reason, the Rockets had completely gotten away from the things that had built them a big lead early on.
“We definitely struggled in the fourth quarter,” said Lowry, who had 10 points and eight assists but committed seven turnovers. “I think we were a little bit tired and we were definitely fatigued tonight. They played great defense and they jumped it up on us a little bit.”
During the first-half Thursday, they were explosive offensively and sound in their defensive principles which all led to a 58-49 halftime advantage. But you started seeing those things chip away in the second half as Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli and Jason Smith all came up with easy baskets against the Rockets.
Martin had been on fire in the first half with 27 points, couldn’t find his rhythm and neither could Lowry. Were it not for some energy from Courtney Lee (17 points) off the bench followed by some heads up play by Dalembert (15 points and 17 rebounds) in the overtime this could have easily gone the other way.
In the end, however, the way things ended could have been good for a team that is still carving out an identity and still learning how to win.
“It was one of those ugly grind it out kind of games,” McHale said. “I told the team we are going to have some of these. You would think when you play a lot of games you’d get more rhythm but there seems to be a lack of rhythm up there. Everybody is clapping off beat.”
But of beat or not, what was impressive is the Rockets put together enough plays to win a game they certainly seem to have the energy for in the fourth quarter. Dalembert finally sealed it on a follow slam in the waning moments for the two-point win.
“Tonight was a desperate performance by us,” said Martin, who finished the night with 32 points on 12 of 27 shooting. “We got down by two and a half minutes, around that mark, and down by 5 (points) at overtime.
“It just looked like the life was out of us, but we found a way to pull that one out.”