HOUSTON — Kevin McHale sat behind a table in the interview room of the Toyota Center on Monday night trying to find the answers for what’s wrong with his Houston Rockets.
The Boston Celtics defeated the Rockets 111-95. The Rockets have now lost four consecutive games, their longest losing streak since January 2013, and dropped to 4-7 to start the season.
Dwight Howard was playing with the Lakers back then and McHale was just in his second season as head coach with the Rockets.
What happened to the Rockets bunch that month, when they lost six of seven games on the road, seems like Disneyland compared to this.
McHale said there are no excuses for poor efforts on defense or players hanging their heads when things go wrong. He’s trying different rotations and even admitted to possibly benching starting point guard Ty Lawson.
He’s running out of bodies, he doesn’t have backup point guard Patrick Beverley or backup power forward Donatas Motiejunas. He just brought back K.J. McDaniels, an athletic small forward, from the D-League, who can bring some energy.
Surprisingly, McHale sat veteran guard Marcus Thornton until the fourth quarter Monday despite Thornton playing so well of late.
McHale is mixing and matching out here. The retired Hall of Famer is racking his brain and seeking advice from the assistant coaches about what to do.
“No excuse for not being able to guard guys,” McHale said. “The last two games I think we’ve been broken down steady on the perimeter where we’re not able to stay in front of anybody.”
When asked to react to his team’s ongoing slump, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey declined comment Monday night to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.
In the second quarter the Rockets were up 13 points with 3 minutes, 19 seconds to play, but by halftime they had committed four consecutive turnovers and were tied 55-55.
“It’s draining, its draining, man, when you’re fighting and it’s a crazy run [that] happens,” James Harden said. “It’s like you’re trying to find a way to get out of it; trying to do the same things that you were doing and shots aren’t really falling and they’re making some tough shots, it’s tough. But we have no choice but to keep fighting.”
The third quarter is where the game turned. The Rockets scored just 13 points, making just 5 of 17 shots from the field. Of the nine players who participated for McHale in the third, only Trevor Ariza and Harden made at least two shots. Jason Terry hit one basket.
“A muddy game,” McHale said. “We stayed in the mud and they made some shots in the third quarter and they ran us out.”
Officially Boston outscored the Rockets 32-13 in the third quarter and pushed the lead to as much as 29 points in the fourth.
McHale emptied the bench and saw that group scrap and scrape to cut the deficit to 14 on a Terrence Jones dunk with 58.4 seconds to play.
It meant nothing because the Rockets lost this game so much earlier.
This Rockets group gets down mentally, which is surprising considering the core group of players reached the Western Conference finals last season.
Even the young Celtics sensed something was wrong.
“We can’t allow negative thoughts or anything to pull us down,” Howard said. “The Celtics felt that [Monday]. They saw us complaining to each other and they just took that and ran with it. Sometimes you gotta have a better poker face no matter what’s going on the floor. We can’t let the other team see that we are affected by it. That goes for everybody, including myself. There were times I was frustrated [Monday] and I allowed the frustration to change my attitude on the floor, so I have to do a better job. … It starts with me and I’m going to remain positive.”
McHale is positive as well, but he’s also honest about his assessments.
The effort probably bothers him the most and the fact that his team doesn’t make the simple plays or play disciplined defense. Boston scored 58 points inside, and that’s with Howard and Jones on the floor. The Rockets also tied a season-high with 22 turnovers, which produced 39 points for the visitors.
There were two turnovers on inbounds plays, one after a basket, another after a timeout.
When you see the numbers and the action on the floor it doesn’t take a genius to figure things out: Effort is the biggest thing.
“At times,” said McHale, who is in the first year of a three-year extension worth in excess of $12 million that he signed last December. “I wouldn’t say full effort all the time, no. We’re hanging our head. Things aren’t going our way and we hang our head. Bottom line, we haven’t put together really good basketball, all year.”