He used words like “soft” and phrases like “not enough fight” after a game in which the Rockets held a 17-point advantage only to see it vanish.
Houston started the game leading 20-4 and at one point held a 43-26 second-quarter advantage.
It all fell apart late in the second quarter as the Rockets watched the Pacers go on a 24-8 run to cut a 17-point deficit to just one. The Rockets were outrebounded 17-4 in the frame.
“It was like five or six straight plays of being soft,” D’Antoni said. “Soft on getting back on defense, soft on rebounding and getting an outlet pass, just soft. Now that we let them get back in the game, they missed a lot of shots on their own in the very first [quarter] and that wasn’t going to last the whole game, you knew that. But again, we’ve just got to have a little bit more fight. There’s just not enough fight out there. There’s just not enough.”
For the game, the Rockets were outrebounded 55-39 as they shot a terrible 10-of-45 from 3-point range. Missed shots led to the Rockets not getting back in transition and failing to protect the paint. The Pacers scored 50 points in the paint.
In the past four games, the Rockets have allowed 218 points inside. A lack of height is part of the reason for Houston's inability to grab rebounds. The Rockets been outrebounded in three of the past four games, during which they’ve gone 2-2. The only team the Rockets outrebounded in that span was New Orleans, and that team featured DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
Was a lack of height the reason for the rebounding issues on Monday night?
“No. Heart,” James Harden said.
The front office and coaching staff know that adding a wing defender or big man who protects the rim will solve some of these issues. Center Andrew Bogut is a possibility but it's unclear what type of shape he's in, per the reports Houston has received. According to a source, the Rockets don't appear to have a serious interest in him.
Last week, Sacramento reached a buyout agreement with wing defender Matt Barnes, and there is little interest on the part of the Rockets. Those close to Harden say he would like to see Barnes on the team, which is a surprise in itself given the history between the two. Two years ago, Barnes made an obscene gesture toward Harden’s mother during the Western Conference semifinals. Barnes apologized and Harden has moved on from the incident. Harden has said he likes the current makeup of this team.
Like many of his teammates, Harden knows how close this team is to achieving something good. Offensively, the Rockets are elite, and that was before they added Lou Williams in a trade with the Lakers last week. Yet when the offense struggles -- as was the case Monday when the Rockets shot 36.4 percent from the floor -- they need another means to win games.
That’s where hard physical defense could take over, something the Rockets didn’t have over the full 48-minute game Monday.
“We’re going to have to battle and fight and be a little more tenacious for those boards,” Harden said.
Several players agreed with D’Antoni’s assessment that the Rockets didn’t do enough to get stops on the defensive end.
“That’s pretty accurate,” Williams said when asked about the lack of fight. “I think early on we made some shots, got a big lead and probably felt like the game was coming to a squeeze, and we kind of got lax and they picked up their intensity and I don’t think we matched it after that.”
D’Antoni said if the Rockets want to surpass the other elite teams in the Western Conference, they can’t afford losses such as this one to the Pacers.
“Every guy has got to examine himself,” D’Antoni said. “You’ve got to get it. ... You’ve just got to fight. I told them they don’t give championships up there for guys who just show up. You’ve got to go get it.
“A champion has a heart. Big heart, big heart and we haven’t shown that lately.”