Just short of excellence: Three takeaways from Thursday’s 134-125 overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers

Mar 9, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) dribbles the ball while Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) defends in the first quarter at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Just short of excellence: Three takeaways from Thursday’s 134-125 overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers

The Rockets dropped their second game in a row on Thursday with a 134-125 overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers. This loss gives the Pacers the season sweep of the Rockets this season. It was much of the same in this game as it pertains to defense and ball movement. However, there were some definite positives to pull away from this game, especially on the offensive side.

Defense struggles yet again

This might be the biggest takeaway from the season when it is all said and done. This team just cannot defend. It feels like on a nightly basis, they surrender an astronomical amount of points.

The Rockets rank 27th in the NBA in opponent’s points per game and are tied for third worst in the league in opponent’s 3-point field goal percentage. Coming into the game, it was expected that the Rockets would struggle to find rhythm defensively, especially against a team that scores as well as the Pacers do. Indiana moves the ball well and is loaded with perimeter shooting, so it was a bad matchup for Houston from the jump.

Indiana shot 40% on 3-pointers but dominated in that category as they hit 18 of 45. The Pacers came into the game clearly planning to take advantage of the perimeter, and it worked, as they found six players in double figures.

But this offense can be special

Games like these are encouraging for the Rockets since they were able to keep up with an offensively strong team like Indiana despite struggling to contain them. The amount of young offensive talent on this Rockets team was on display tonight, from three players in particular.

The tandem of Jalen Green and Jabari Smith showed immense promise in tonight’s game as they both put up over 24 points. Smith finished as the team’s leading scorer with 30 points on 10 of 19 shooting, including the game-tying fadeaway 3-pointer, to go along with 12 rebounds and three assists. He was drafted with the third overall pick because of his shot-making ability, and he showed that tonight.

Jalen Green could develop into one of the most gifted scorers in this league. He put up 24 points with some acrobatic finishes on 8 of 23 shooting. His efficiency is still not where you want it to be, but if he can get the shots to fall consistently, he’ll be among the league’s best in that department.

The other player that stood out was Alperen Sengun, who showed some nice back-to-the-basket scoring touch. Sengun finished with 14 points on an efficient 7 of 11 shooting. He also blocked two shots, which bodes well for the team’s defensive struggles.

Missing a floor general

The Rockets have a long list of good young players loaded with potential. However, the one thing they don’t have and are clearly missing is a true point guard that can develop with this group. Daishen Nix is a solid player that can put up some serviceable minutes off the bench, but if this team wants to take the next step, they need to find a solution at point guard.

Houston was dominated in assists as the Pacers doubled them in that category. On top of that, the ball moves fairly awkwardly in this offense, and turnovers can be a massive problem at times. With that said, it’s understandable why the ball moves awkwardly since the Rockets lack truly good passers.

If the Rockets are going to accumulate all of these scorers, they need to find ways to get them the ball.

Next Up

The Rockets will head back home to take on the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.

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