ORLANDO – Houston left it all out there for Kevin McHale in his official debut with the Rockets, so he should’ve given them every opportunity to win.
Instead, he saved Hedo Turkoglu from any real embarrassment after committing the Cardinal sin of fouling a 3-point shooter in the final minute of a three-possession game, allowing the Rockets to trim their deficit to six points with 30 seconds remaining.
Instead of instantly fouling Jameer Nelson and seeing whether the basketball gods would play a role in a comeback, McHale apparently had little interest.
“You mean fouling,” he asked when PBN inquired whether he thought about it after the 104-95 loss, albeit annoyingly prefacing it by saying it was a little second-guessing to welcome him back to the coaching fraternity. “Yeah, we could’ve.”
By all means, McHale has been through more games than I’ve ever watched, so I didn’t mean to come off as an ass. That said, I know a little about this game, too and nearly every coach in this league would’ve fouled in that situation and taken their chances. It’s like playing for 47:30 minutes and surrendering with the victory still in sight.
What if Tom Thibodeau would’ve surrendered with the outcome seemingly out of reach on Sunday? The L.A. Lakers would be in a much better place right now.
What was puzzling is that momentum had shifted since you can close your eyes and imagine the genuine dismay that came over the new cooler, calmer Stan Van Gundy. If it was a rookie, someone would’ve had to hold him back. Since it was Turkoglu, Van Gundy probably just closed his eyes and repeated whatever mantra he’s attempting to have work for him these days.
Turkoglu ended up nailing a 3-pointer after Nelson ran down the clock to make the final result 104-95, but it was simply a puzzling ending to a night where the Rockets fought back from countless deficits and made the Magic hit huge shots to earn a win.
Samuel Dalembert, playing despite being unable to practice this week, gave every ounce of energy possible in battling with Dwight Howard. Luis Scola and Courtney Lee worked all night to overcome the continued struggles of Kevin Martin. All night long, they battled.
In the end, their coach let the game go when he shouldn’t have, whether it was simply a mental lapse or not. McHale, who I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to over the past few years and who is obviously among the nicest guys in the world, is a far better coach than GM and has proven that. Perhaps he was simply rusty, because allowing a result in an abbreviated season is short-sighted no matter how you slice it.
Mark Jackson has said he wants his team to develop a bunker mentality and fouled DeAndre Jordan every chance he got on Sunday night. He would’ve absolutely fouled in this situation, but sadly, especially with Stephen Curry banged up, won’t be in this position very often early in his coaching career.
McHale is getting his feet wet now that he’s back at it and will simply move on and try to generate opportunities with a deep roster of talent this very instant. But I hope next time, he’ll foul in that situation.
Look, it’s tough to coach in the NBA, especially this season.
Abbreviated training camps give way to hectic schedules as the NBA tries to put together 66 games at a rate of nearly one every other day in order to stage the Finals at the “normal” time.
Treasure that reference for the foreseeable future, because it may be the final time you hear that word describing the NBA for the foreseeable future.
Coaches and players always lament a league schedule that forces them to travel from one city to another after taxing games with limited preparation time. At the onset of a season that has seen roster turnover to a level where many coaches are still learning the habits of their own personnel, this becomes even more of a chore.
You have to give your team an opportunity to win every time a result is floating out there.
Van Gundy and his staff got a hearty helping of Thunder rudely served to them roughly 22 hours before opening at home against a Rockets squad led by a new coach and a roster whose two best players were traded to New Orleans as soon as the lockout ended.
David Stern rescinded the trade proposal that would’ve seen Chris Paul land with the Lakers, putting McHale and his Rockets in a difficult spot as it is. Instead of having Pau Gasol as a centerpiece, the Rockets ended up with Samuel Dalembert, who wasn’t able to practice until his signing became official.
They were already behind the eight-ball. From here on out, it’s on McHale to reward over-extending them as he admittedly did to Scola and Kyle Lowry by giving them every opportunity to walk out of an arena a winner.