Rockets misfire, defend poorly in loss to Pistons

Updated 10:10 pm, Saturday, January 6, 2018

DETROIT – The Rockets could get their 3s. They can always take a bunch of 3s.

They just did not do much of anything else, as if they would wait until their 3-point shooting touch rejoined them before offering the sort of defense or intensity that likely will be needed without James Harden whether the 3-point shooting clicks or not.

With the Pistons, hardly an offensive juggernaut, scoring easily, the Rockets misfired until it was too late, with the Pistons taking a 108-101 win on Saturday that sent the Rockets to their seventh loss in their past nine games.

The Pistons made 50.7 percent of their shots to build a 16-point lead and hold off one late Rockets run with little difficulty.

The Rockets took the first steps of a rally to end the third quarter and begin the fourth, scoring eight points to cut the Pistons’ lead to six. The Rockets never threatened, never even threatened to threaten again until the final two minutes after the Pistons had taken their lead to 16.

In the next seven minutes the Rockets made 1 of 11 shots with six turnovers. They moved the ball as quickly as the boats stuck in the ice in the Detroit river. They defended poorly. They generally looked as if they would wait for a bunch of 3s to fall, as if anything else would be too much trouble.

The only rally came in the final minutes when Eric Gordon and Chris Paul got a pair of 3s to fall and with the Pistons protecting the 3-point line, Paul passed to Tarik Black for a few dunks.

The Rockets closed to within six in the final minute before an Eric Moreland dunk. Black answered that before Ish Smith made a free throw. The Rockets’ remote last chance ended after Paul hit another 3, reducing the lead to four with 15.5 seconds remaining, only for Smith to put in two free throws to end any remaining doubt.

After Gordon and Gerald Green each missed 3s, dropping the Rockets to 15 of 47 from the 3-point line, Tobias Harris finished the win at the line, giving him 27 points to lead all scorers.

The Rockets’ shooting touch had shown signs of leaving them in the first half, but when it entirely betrayed them, the Pistons began to pull away. The Pistons were scoring much too easily for the Rockets to also misfire from the 3-point line. When the Rockets made just 3 of 20 3s in the second and third quarters, they went from a seven-point lead to a 14-point deficit.

Gordon finally snapped that with a 3 to end the third quarter, pulling the Rockets within 11, and Green sank another 3 to start the fourth.

By then it was clear however that unless they got much more than a sprinkling of 3s, they would have to defend far better than they had since the opening tip.

Instead, the defense remained troublesome and the offense fell apart completely.

The Rockets might have had some concerns with the open looks they missed in the first half. Forwards Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson were a combined 2 of 9 on 3s. The Rockets made just 2 of 11 3s in the second quarter, just 7 of 22 overall. With the Pistons crowding the lane, even without center Andre Drummond, the Rockets got little going to the basket.

Yet with the Rockets holding a lead, anyway, none of that could have been as troubling as their inability to defend a shorthanded team that generally does not shoot well even at full strength.

The Pistons, who rank 23rd in field goal percentage, made 22 of 38 shots in the first half. They faded late in the half, but midway through the second quarter, the Pistons were making 63.3 percent of their attempts to erase a seven-point Rockets lead and the bad taste left from their blowout loss in Philadelphia the night before.

The Rockets took a 58-57 lead into the second half, but were not doing anything well enough to feel good about holding onto a slim lead.

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