Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shane Battier and the Houston Rockets

So at the time of this post, the Houston Rockets have won 22 games in a row. This is an amazing feat. Even more impressive, they have done it without their 7'6" 20+ point, 10+ rebound All Star, Yao Ming, who will miss the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot. The Rockets have gone from being on the fringe of making the playoffs to having the best record in a brutal Western Conference. Sunday's game against the Lakers exemplified how Houston has become the team that everybody is rooting for.

A look at the box score reveals that Rafer Alston had a career day. "Skip to my Lou" hit eight triples en route to 31 points. Bobby Jackson came off the bench to efficiently add 19 points (on 7-9 shooting) in 20 minutes, while Tracy McGrady struggled, shooting 4-16, and added only 11 points. While Alston and Jackson unquestionably had great games, the box score doesn't do any justice to the most dominant player of the game. Shane Battier had rather meager numbers, (14 points on 5-12, three rebounds and two assists) but absolutely controlled the game.

On further review, Battier's effort did show up in the box score. However, it showed next to Kobe Bryant's name. Battier drew the less-than-envious role of defending one of the NBA's most dynamic players and responded in heroic fashion. Kobe's numbers were down everywhere, he scored 24 points (-4 from his season average) on 11-33 shooting (13% below his season average). Kobe missed all four of his attempted three pointers and only added two assists (3 assists below his season average). While that sort of defensive effort is very impressive, Battier was even better when the game was on the line.

With 7:10 remaining in the game, the Rockets led the Lakers by three points. It was crunch time. This is when a superstar is supposed to take over the game and, despite the lack of a huge shoe deal, Battier proved to be that superstar by absolutely destroying Kobe Bryant. From the 7:10 mark on, Bryant shot 1-7. Kobe tried taking the ball to the rim, but Battier was always one step ahead, refusing to allow Bryant to turn the corner. As Kobe grew noticeably frustrated, he decided to step outside, but missed both three point attempts he took because Battier's hand was inches from Bryant's face as the ball was released. Battier also forced Kobe into a turnover and fought through a pick to block a Bryant 15 footer. Not impressive enough? Battier shot 2-3 over the last 7:10, including burying a three pointer from the left corner to extend the Rockets lead to seven.

Shane Battier's effort against the Lakers reflects the mindset of the Houston Rockets. Despite losing one of their leaders, the Rockets have simply outworked their opponents. Rick Adelman's players have accepted their roles, have committed to playing tough defense and are playing smart, unselfish baseketball. If they keep doing that there is no telling how long they can keep this winning streak going.

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