Big Easy Buzzkill
NEW ORLEANS, LA - Over the course of their red-hot, month-long streak of wining basketball, the Rockets displayed a knack for dictating tempo and punishing teams with their pace and transition attack. Opponents might have found a way to slow Houston for a quarter or two during that stretch, but sooner or later the Rockets’ young legs and relentlessness almost always managed to break through and have its way.
After slogging through a forgettable first half in New Orleans Wednesday night, it seemed as if Houston was on its way to finding its footing and putting the petal to the metal once more. The Rockets were on the attack, living in the paint and punishing the grind-it-out Hornets with pace. An 11-point lead ensued. Houston’s sixth straight win seemed certain. And then, be it via voodoo, dark magic, or just plain old-fashioned defense, New Orleans turned the tables and brought the Rockets back to earth in the most stunning way possible.
With Roger Mason Jr. of all people leading the way, the Hornets blitzed Houston with an astounding 22-2 run to start the fourth quarter, setting the stage for what would eventually turn out to be the Rockets first loss in six games. Mason poured in 15 points in the period, raining in jumpers from all over the floor to spark a New Orleans team that had spent much of the night struggling to score. Houston, meanwhile would only muster a meager 10 points total as a team; a number that seems almost unfathomable given the Rockets’ remarkable scoring prowess. But Houston’s collective shooting stroke abandoned it at the worst possible time, leading to a backbreaking array of missed layups and jumpers that doomed the club to an 88-79 defeat.
“The third quarter I thought we finally caught some rhythm and started playing better,” said Houston head coach Kevin McHale after the game. “Then in the fourth quarter we missed some shots and defensively we folded. Mason made some big shots, (Jason) Smith hit some big shots and we couldn’t get things to go.”
Truth be told, however, several warning signs had arisen for Houston long before that fateful fourth quarter. The Rockets turned the ball over a whopping 14 times in the first half, got outscored in the paint 22-12 during that stretch and allowed the Hornets to rebound nearly 40 percent of their misses. Remarkably, Houston still managed to take a 36-34 lead into halftime. But the fact that New Orleans was dictating the tempo offered up a fair degree of foreshadowing for what was to come.
Still, it seemed as if the Rockets had righted the ship in the third quarter, much in the same way they had during their most recent road wins in Milwaukee and Cleveland. James Harden, who hit the 25-point mark for the 14th consecutive game setting a new franchise record, was scoring with ease, the team’s 3-point attack was clicking and those paint points, so difficult to come by in the first half, were beginning to appear in bunches. As a result, Houston took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter while looking for all the world like a team that had put its earlier issues behind them.
As it turned out, however, the third quarter was simply a temporary salve rather than a permanent fix. When the fourth quarter began, the turnover and defensive rebounding woes returned with a vengeance, leaving little behind but the ruins of the Rockets’ most recent win streak in their wake.
“Their ability to keep getting offensive rebounds and our 23 turnovers – a lot of what we did was self-inflicted,” said McHale. “I’m not worried about (missing) shots; the turnovers and keeping them off the glass is what killed us. Anytime a team gets that many offensive rebounds it’s hard to run. Then you have all those turnovers we had – they had 39 of their 88 points off of offensive rebounds or turnovers. We were just not sharp tonight.
“We didn’t move the ball, we didn’t move our bodies. We had some terrible turnovers, we dribbled into piles, we had guys making passes where I don’t know how we thought we were going to make those passes. We’ve done this before. Turnovers have been a bugaboo for us and it’s going to catch you and it caught us tonight.”
The third quarter I thought we finally caught some rhythm and started playing better and then in the fourth quarter we missed some shots and defensively we folded. Mason made some big shots, Smith hit some big shots and we couldn’t get things to go. Their ability to keep getting offensive rebounds and our 23 turnovers – a lot of what we did was self-inflicted. I’m not worried about the shots; the turnovers and keeping them off the glass is what killed us.
Anytime a team gets that many offensive rebounds it’s hard to run. Then you have all those turnovers we had – they had 39 of their 88 points off of offensive rebounds or turnovers. We were just not sharp tonight. We didn’t make the extra pass, defensively we didn’t do what we had to do, Mason made some big shots, Vasquez directed the game and we just couldn’t get anything going in that fourth quarter and it just kind of ballooned from there.
We didn’t move the ball, we didn’t move our bodies. We had some terrible turnovers, we dribbled into piles, we had guys making passes where I don’t know how we thought we were going to make those passes. We’ve done this before. Turnovers have been a bugaboo for us and it’s going to catch you and it caught us tonight.
I think we didn’t get as much in transition and I think a lot of that had to do with we turned the ball over a lot and we didn’t defensive rebound. Our shots weren’t really falling and we didn’t have that same speed we usually have. A credit to them, they did a good job packing the paint and really making it tough on us and we didn’t do a great job of finding the open man and making the extra pass. I’m the point guard so it starts with me.
Some of the turnovers come from the style we play – they’re just inevitable. But we have to work on cutting down the dumb ones. My turnovers have been sky high so I’ve just got to look at the film and see where they’re coming and what situations I keep getting myself in trouble with.
On the keys to the Hornets taking control of the game:
“We didn’t move the ball. It’s simple. We didn’t make shots and we didn’t move the ball. We obviously want every game to be perfect, but it’s not. We didn’t make shots, and we got stagnant. They moved shots and they moved the ball.”
On the Hornets’ style of play:
“They did a good job of offensive rebounding and that slowed us up. If any team can get offensive rebounds against us it’s going to slow us up, so we have to do a good job of rebounding. We turned the ball over too much, including myself.”
HORNETS COACH MONTY WILLIAMS
On Roger Mason’s fourth quarter performance:
“He’s one of those guys that you can use as an example to your young guys about preparation, being a pro, being ready. He didn’t play against San Antonio; he didn’t hang his head, he came back the next day and got his shots in and prepared the way you’re supposed to. He made shots, and he also played pretty good defense on Harden.”
On danger of leaning on Eric Gordon:
“Greivis [Vasquez] doesn’t lean on anybody but himself. He’s a great teammate, but he believes he can conquer the world. Jason [Smith’s] not afraid. But I think everybody else is waiting to see if Eric’s going to carry us, and we’re just not that kind of a team. Eric’s a young guy. We believe he has great upside and potential, but everybody needs to bring their game. I thought guys just made plays tonight.”
On rebounding advantage tonight:
“Jason [Smith] was a big part of that. I don’t know how many blocked shots he had, but he distracted a lot of shots tonight. He had four fouls early in the fourth [quarter], and I didn’t even hesitate[leaving him in]. I just thought he brought something to the game that was helping our defense. Our guards did a better job of keeping the ball in front of them, and they just missed some shots, too. They had some open looks and didn’t make them. We’re not going to get too crazy with this one, but it’s a great win because our defense helped us win the game.”
ROGER MASON JR.
On the win:
“They were playing a back-to-back. From what I saw, we had to have the energy out there at the start of the game. The whole team had energy, but then we had a little lull. So, it was important in the second half that we picked it up.”
On his play tonight:
“God does it for me. He gives me peace of mind. I didn’t play much in the first half, but to be a good pro, you have to always be ready. God gave me the strength to hit some shots. I knew that the law of percentages would catch up, and I was able to hit some shots that I know I can hit. I just keep working, staying in the gym, and I feel good. ”
On protecting the paint:
“I think we did initially. That’s something we want to do every game. We want that to be the first impression, obviously, but we also want to make it last. There was a bit of a lapse, but the second unit picked it up. ”
On the physicality of the game:
“We’re going to have to carry it over, and you know what? I think that’s the thing we’re going to have to parlay into the rest of the season, because we’re not going to get a lot of calls. We’re a young team with a young head coach, so we’re just going to have to learn to be physical and come through that.”
On the comeback victory:
“It’s just one of those situations where we had to gut it out. I’m glad we got one of those under our belt. We just have to continue to build from there. I can’t stress enough how contagious and how big of an effect Jason Smith had on the game. His energy and his hustle out there was unbelievable. I think it won us the game."