After Game 1, SB Nation's excellent Rockets blog, The Dream Shake, sent us five questions. We answered, and sent them five of our own, which Tom Martin answered for us. Click here to read their questions to us, and our responses.
Click on through for Tom's thoughts on Ron Artest's offensive mentality, the question of "rust" for the Lakers, Battier vs. Kobe, the good and bad of Gasol and Odom, and the key factor in the Rockets' Game 1 win. While I don't agree with everything he says, his answers certainly give us a quick look at the series from a Rockets fan's perspective.
Thanks to Tom and The Dream Shake for this great idea.
In Game 1, Ron Artest had a wonderfully efficient offensive performance, scoring 21 points on only 15 shooting possessions. How concerned are you that this initial success will encourage him to liberalize his shot selection further, leading to a repeat of some of the bad shooting percentages he had against Portland?
Ron’s shot selection has always been odd. He tends to bypass all of the rules of rhythm and will either dribble away from the basket and pull up awkwardly, or he will chunk up a hopeless shot after bobbling a pass. But Ron is also extremely streaky, and when you’re streaky, you have as many good streaks as you have bad streaks. Once he finds his comfort zone, Artest won’t hesitate to keep shooting the ball. Unfortunately, as your question noted, he has drawn a reputation for being a liability when starting off well. If he makes a fadeaway fifteen-foot prayer in the first quarter, chances are, you may see it again later on. Rockets fans have learned to deal with it. Aside from a few games this season, and as the year has progressed, Artest has come to realize that if his shot isn’t falling early, it may not fall late either. When that happens, his assist numbers go up, and our possessions become much more efficient. Game 4 in Houston doesn’t apply to this situation in my opinion, as most of Artest’s shots came late in the game when we were trying to put Portland away. It doesn’t excuse the poor shot selection, but it really doesn’t apply to the question at hand.
However, Ron’s patience can also be a bad thing. We can’t afford to see Ron become completely dormant on offense. In the three games that he has shot over 50 % and gone for at least 17 points or more in this postseason, we have had our three most impressive wins. Ron needs to learn how to balance his first quarter production. What I mean by that is if Ron starts off well, it doesn’t mean he can shoot from the moon, but if he starts off poorly, it doesn’t mean he should pack up and leave either. His presence on offense is key to our success. The real question surrounding Ron will be: Can he learn how to find new comfort zones as the game progresses, rather than base his second, third, and fourth quarter shot selection off of his first quarter success? Hopefully he will be able to do so. If anything, he has been as mature as ever during the most important playoff series’ in his life.
So, to summarize, no, I’m not that concerned by it.
In Game 1, a whole of things went wrong for the Lakers that don't usually, and that many of us don't expect to continue. How much of that do you attribute to "rust" from a long rest, and how much should the Rockets take credit for? Do you expect the Rockets to be able to continue that, or will the Lakers return to their usual form?
I don’t think it’s rust at all, and I don’t necessarily think we played our greatest defensive game either. The "rust" issue is dead air, because as far as I’m concerned, a team as experienced as the Lakers should be immune to rust. Seems like a naïve argument, but when you’ve got guys who have played this game for as long as they have (Kobe, Fisher, Odom, Gasol), rust isn’t the first thing that popped into my mind. I did, however, think that the Lakers simply had an off night. I can’t credit Houston with L.A.’s seven missed free throws, nor can I credit them for Fisher’s and Ariza’s missed three point attempts in the fourth, as they were WIDE open. It was just an off night for the Lakers, and some of those shots literally missed by inches.
I would like to credit the Rockets for a few things, though. Shane Battier played some excellent defense on Kobe – he made Bryant take 30+ shots, something Kobe hadn’t done since March 1st. Shane’s defense is sneaky good. He forces Bryant to take shots that may seem comfortable at the time, but are really much less efficient than other preferred shots. Our team hustle was also evident from the beginning, as our pet bulldog, Kyle Lowry, was on full display for seventeen minutes running around the floor. And I also would like to credit our favorite midget, Aaron Brooks, with an intelligent performance.
While the Lakers played poorly, the Rockets didn’t exactly wow anyone either. We had 16 turnovers, gave up 12 offensive rebounds, and shot 5-18 from three point land. The key difference in the game was in the free throws. We got to the line more, and we made more of ours than L.A. did. Other than that, we weren’t really on top of our game, as Dave noted earlier on our site.
Do I expect the Lakers to play better in Game 2? Of course I do. But I expect the same from the Rockets.
If the Lakers return to form, what do the Rockets need to do to maintain their advantage?
Like I said, our advantage, in my mind, was at the free throw line. We took 29 attempts to L.A.’s 19. I expect that to change in Game 2, but I also expect us to shoot the ball at a higher percentage from the three point line as well. Shane Battier will make a much more significant contribution on offense, mark my words. Luis Scola should also play a much more efficient game in Game 2, as I wasn’t impressed with his Game 1 performance at all.
What did the Rockets do to neutralize Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom?
It’s tough for me to say that we really neutralized Odom, because he hasn’t done a whole lot offensively with Bynum out there this season, at least in terms of point production. His biggest impact has come on the boards, and as far as neutralizing goes, allowing Lamar to get 4 offensive rebounds isn’t exactly neutralizing him. We need to do a much better job boxing him out and getting him out of the paint on jump shots.
As for Gasol, I think we did a great job forcing him to take jump shots. Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes can get physical inside, but they don’t do a great job closing out on jump shots. This killed us in the Portland series, as LaMarcus Aldridge was able to shoot at will. But Gasol will have a tough time getting in the lane all series long with Scola, Landry, and Hayes in there. However, like Odom, we must keep Pau off of the offensive boards, as he grabbed five of his own. That’s just embarrassing.
How do you assess the Rockets' defense against Kobe? Did you get what you wanted with him?
In short, yes, I am happy with 32 points on 31 shots. Anything to make Kobe try to take the game over for himself – I am confident that Shane Battier is the best antidote for him. You and I both know that Kobe isn’t as fast as he used to be, and Shane can’t keep up with faster guards. Kobe uses his upper body strength and his excellent footwork to map out easier paths for him to get to the basket, but Shane does the same on defense. As for the rest of the series, it will come down stopping Kobe in crunch time. I think Bryant will have a really good game or two in which he is efficient from the field and is able to, as T-Mac once said, impose his will on the game. But as long as we keep the game close (and I think we can), it will come down to the final minutes. The fourth quarter has been a whole different ballgame for these two teams all season long. If Kobe can hit the big shots, we will have failed to stop him, no matter what he did early on. If he doesn’t, and we’re able to win, then we have succeeded.
There you have it, folks. My assessment? Rockets fans seem quite confident after Game 1. And why shouldn't they? Nobody expected them to win that game.
What do you think?