I believe this final possession perfectly summarizes what the Rockets have lacked all along, and how it came to haunt them in the Playoffs. You might win all your games in the regular season, but the Playoffs are a different story. It is a head-to-head matchup, teams adjust to each other after every single game, so coaching matters, stepping up at the final second matters, but most importantly, defense matters. You can catch the holiest of fires in a 2013 Warriors fashion, but there will be a team to put that out for you eventually.
Now let's rewind to December, when Asik rumors were everywhere (and don't forget, that was something the Rockets wanted to happen desperately because they thought that would increase Asik's value.) It was when the Rockets refused to entertain a package of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a protected first round pick. As Baxter Holmes reported, the Rockets weren't happy with the 2015 pick acquired from the Clippers, and wanted a 2014 first-round pick. We have time and again covered this topic so I won't bore you with all the details, but that was a deal that worked for both teams, bot the Rockets got, well, greedy and they have held on to Asik.
Fast forward to the first round of Playoffs.
Houston Rockets have exhaustively fielded 7 players against the Blazers, and the eighth guy in rotation was a D-leaguer known by no one before Game 3, except for probably hardcore basketball enthusiasts and Rockets fans themselves. Oh, and one of their stars is a terrible defender. Oh, and their two best interior defenders can't coexist because they can't shoot, like, really can't. But yeah, they had to give Omer Asik increasing minutes because without him, they couldn't stop LaMarcus Aldridge, but then when Howard and Asik are both on the floor, James Harden is pretty much rendered useless. (He shot 37.6% from the field, 29.6% from downtown in the series. Here are his regular season numbers: When Asik and Howard are both on the floor, his offensive rating drops to ~.90. Spacing is important.)
You know whom the Rockets could have used? Some tall above-average defender who could stretch the floor, and being able to shoot free-throws would be a plus too. You know, maybe someone named Brandon Bass, who was able to hold Aldridge to 8-17 shooting (per mysynergysports) in Trail Blazers-Celtics matchups this year? Or how about Jeff Green at least? Yeah yeah, I know that hindsight is 20/20, but seriously, what were the Rockets expecting heading into the Playoffs? That Howard would have a 2012 LeBron moment (by the way, he really did his share against Portland, so I won't blame him)? That Harden would suddenly become a decent defender? That Asik would become an effective mid-range shooter? What was the plan? Whatever it was, there are a lot of questions on the Rockets' future, and the answers aren't gonna come easy.
There are lessons to be learned for any GM, or for that matter, any basketball fan. When you think a deal makes sense, you pull the trigger. Basketball might reward greed, but more often than that it will punish missed opportunities.
The Rockets GM, ex-Celtic Daryl Morey outsmarted himself this season, and now he has in his hand an early first-round exit against a Portland team who also have their fair share of defensive issues. I hope that he will take this as a learning experience and knock on our door with a trade offer that makes sense for both teams and doesn't require any of them to bend over backwards.
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