The Houston Rockets entered tonight with the NBA’s worst record. They were missing their top three starters. The Detroit Pistons were coming off of a morale-boosting win against the Brooklyn Nets. Naturally, the Pistons lost to the Rockets 117-114.
Why did they lose?
Well, for one, they decided to play like a group of five 6-foot-3 point guards who had no answer for Houston’s length, athleticism, or desire to get into the paint. The Pistons were outscored in the paint 70-42. They lost the battle for second-chance points 21-4. They were outrebounded 59-47.
Everything that went wrong for Detroit was synthesized into a complete late-game collapse on the most fundamental play in basketball — boxing out and securing the rebound after a free-throw. This was the go-ahead shot for the Rockets that won them the game.
KJ Martin makes a clutch layup and the foul with help from Eric Gordon. KJ misses the free throw but gets an offensive rebound for another 2 points to give the Rockets a 1 point lead.— Houston Rockets Discord (@RocketsDiscord) January 29, 2023
Discuss on the Houston Rockets Discord: https://t.co/hoU9QniNpy pic.twitter.com/tAfarIG7h8
KJ Martin was fouled by Jalen Duren. Martin then missed the game-tying free-throw, but Houston got two offensive rebounds and the eventual tip-in winner.
This was certainly a game of runs. Often, when a game goes back and forth with huge swings, writers will reach for a boxing metaphor. Two sides exchanging body blows while the game goes to the 12th round. This wasn’t that. This was more like two kids on the playground, repeatedly saying “why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?”
Detroit led by as many as 13 points late in the first quarter as a young and overmatched Rockets team struggled with a team that was simply out-executing them and hitting open looks.
Then chaos ball broke out and Detroit couldn’t hang. Houston had the lead before halftime because the Pistons simply couldn’t contain anything inside the paint. Jalen Duren was obviously uncomfortable with Houston’s five-out attack and was routinely caught in no-man’s land as Houston guards blew by every Detroit defender for an easy layup.
But some Pistons thrive in a little bit of chaos, mainly Hamidou Diallo and Killian Hayes. Hayes was able to pick apart a weak defense and lead a comeback in a bench role. Diallo was a whirling dervish for Detroit, scoring 15 points, creating five steals and was a team-high +16 in just 19 minutes of action. Hayes scored nine points and had seven assists in just 20 minutes.
Unfortunately, it was all those other minutes Detroit had to worry about. Jaden Ivey did not have a strong game, as the chaos of the night overwhelmed him. He had more turnovers (six) than assists (five). Saddiq Bey also struggled, and Bojan Bogdanovic was a bit of a mess.
Alec Burks was the only member of the starting lineup to really show up for the Pistons. He hit six threes and almost snatched a victory out of this overall pathetic performance.
Dwane Casey needs to figure out what kind of lineup combinations he actually wants, and what he thinks can work. He’s seemingly orchestrated everything to maximize Ivey’s development as a ball-handler, decision-maker and primary scorer, but it’s at the detriment of everything else. He’s being forced to do way too much, and it is predictably leading to plenty of unfortunate results.
Putting Alec Burks in the starting lineup makes sense, but why not slide a sure-fire perimeter threat alongside Hayes, who needs shooters around him and also plays the best defense on the team? Because the Pistons want Ivey to get as many reps as possible. And Casey can’t juggle all the other parts of the rotation to accomodate this need. And we’re all living with the results.
To my eyes, the better team won tonight, and that team is the Houston Rockets.