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Delfino's Return Helps Houston Soar Past Hawks

December 31, 2012 9:48 pm EST

HOUSTON - Forget about New Year’s resolutions. The only thing the Rockets seem to require these days when it comes to short-term self-improvement is a play date with an Eastern Conference team.

Houston continued its mastery of the NBA’s weaker half, crushing the Atlanta Hawks 123-104 New Year’s Eve at Toyota Center. The win ran the Rockets’ record against the Eastern Conference to a robust 12-2 on the season and allowed the club to rapidly remove the bad taste left in its mouth following bitter, back-to-back defeats at the hand of Western Conference powers San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

That the victory happened to coincide with the healthy return of Carlos Delfino was only appropriate, given that the Argentinean’s presence in the Rockets’ lineup has also been a harbinger of good things for Houston this season. Delfino went out of his way to ensure Monday’s game was no exception, shaking off any rust accumulated during his recent two-game absence to record a season-high 22 points and career-high tying eight assists. The 30-year-old seemed to have an answer for every Atlanta attempt at a rally as he repeatedly rained in bombs from beyond the arc. When the dust had settled, Delfino had drained six of his eight attempts from long range, keying a Rockets barrage that saw the club connect on 16 of its 29 3-point attempts overall.

For those who have paid close attention to the Rockets’ season to date, none of this should really be considered terribly surprising. Houston has consistently been at its best when Delfino is on the floor, a reality that’s statistically portrayed by the fact he remains the Rockets’ season leader in plus-minus and his name is littered among the club’s most effective lineup combinations. His spacing, smarts and veteran savvy have been invaluable for a club long on talent but short on experience. Little wonder, then, that Houston is 14-8 when he plays and an unsightly 3-6 when he sits due to injury or illness.

“He just lets the game come to him and makes the right play, the easy play,” lauded Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. “The ball hits his hands and he moves it to the next guy. He just plays real solid and is a very good basketball player. I’ve always liked him.”

What’s not to like? He’s an underrated playmaker and absolutely deadly when left alone for corner 3s – something the Hawks, quite inexplicably, did again and again to Houston’s cadre of corner 3-point specialists. He is also, for this particular Rockets team, a perfect fit. Put him on the floor with players like James Harden and Jeremy Lin who can rip a team to shreds with their dribble penetration, and Delfino will happily feast on the open looks those collapsing defenses provide him. The end result is a pick-your-poison conundrum for opponents, which represents the primary reason the Rockets’ ball movement and overall offense tend to seamlessly slide into high gear the second he steps on the floor (Houston averages 113 points per 100 possessions when Delfino is on the court – an offensive efficiency rating that would lead the entire league).

“No matter who is on the court, we are playing the same way and moving the ball,” said Delfino. “We are a young team with fresh legs and we can do that. The ball is always moving faster than your legs. So when we are sharing the ball, no matter who is on the court, we are a very good team … We need to find a way to play all the time like that.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(on Carlos Delfino)

He played really well for us and we needed it, too. Carlos just came in and moved the ball, made shots, had eight assists – he really played well. He just played simple basketball and made simple plays. That’s kind of how he plays. He just lets the game come to him and makes the right play, the easy play. The ball hits his hands and he moves it to the next guy. He just plays real solid and is a very good basketball player. I’ve always liked him.

(On teams play) “Patrick (Patterson) played great. Patrick got 3 of 4 guys later just by sprinting hard and drawing the defense running hard. Making guards chase him, all of a sudden the guard is now able to freewill a little bit. Patrick had great energy tonight, he did a nice job. O (Omer Asik) really rebounded the ball well and James (Harden) really made some big plays and a big steal and had a 3-point play. We really moved the ball well obviously shooting 61% in the first half. We made a ton of shots. We moved the ball really well and attacked. We had 48 paint points and for us that's a good sign when we get the ball in the paint.”

(On limiting turnovers) “We (had) eleven, I think we had eight at the half. It was big for us. We just can’t afford to turn the ball over. If we don't do that and we make just good and simple plays, usually we can get some pretty good shots with some movement and our guys knocked them down tonight.”

(On offensive play) “We had better segments tonight where the ball and body moved with purpose and I think sometimes when we get sticky with the ball and we don't get that type of movement it's just less space and we have more turnovers. Some of that is just us finding that rhythm and some nights you're not going to have that rhythm. Last game against the Spurs wasn't that bad. We just had a dry spot. We just didn't have much against Oklahoma City. It was a good bounce back game for those guys.”

(On Patrick Patterson's versatility) “Patrick allows you to play him at the 4-5. He can guard stretch guys, he can guard bigger guys, he can guard quick guys. Patrick is just a versatile defender. He's a very bright basketball player. He really knows his defensive assignments.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On the importance of the win) “Tonight was a must win for us. We were on a five game win streak and then we had two kind of bad losses and we needed to come back and play our brand of basketball and do whatever it takes to get a victory. The guys locked in for 48 minutes tonight.”

(On the Rockets playing as a collective unit) “We're getting better. We're playing as a team. Over 10 games we've been playing pretty well as one. Those were two of the best teams in this league, the Spurs and the Thunder. Those are some good challenges for us and we have put ourselves in a good position to be in the game but we had a couple of mental mistakes. We wanted to come back out here tonight and just collect all those mistakes that we made in those previous two games. To move forward we have to be better with our turnovers and making the right decisions.”

CARLOS DELFINO

When you start by hitting your first couple shots, you feel great. But it was all about team basketball. When we share the ball, pass the ball and find the open guy, we hit shots, come together and it’s much easier. That’s the way we made runs.

(On playing with Jeremy Lin and Toney Douglas at the same time) “No matter who is on the court, we are playing the same way and moving the ball. We are a young team with fresh legs and we can do that. The ball is always moving faster than your legs. So when we are sharing the ball, no matter who is on the court, we are a very good team. Playing with Jeremy and “TD” (Toney Douglas), they are play makers and they are point guards, of course it’s easier. We need to find a way to play all the time like that.”

No matter who’s on the court we need to play the same way. When we’re sharing the ball … we’re a better team.

TONEY DOUGLAS

(On key to playing at a fast pace without the turnovers) “Just make good decisions. I feel like we can still play fast, but we just have to make better decisions, that’s all it is. You know what happens, it’s just a part of the game, but just don’t compound mistake after mistake after mistake.

(Matching up against Eastern Conference teams) “In the West, we are running teams. In the East, they walk the ball up and slow the ball down a lot, except for Miami. Other teams do a lot of sets in their offense. In the West, San Antonio, Dallas, and us (Rockets), we run, and Denver does the same thing.

MARCUS MORRIS

(On containing the run in the third quarter) “We were locking down a little bit more. We were up, so we started to slow down a little bit more. Just locking up and moving the ball.”

(On improvements that need made as a team for 2013) “We just have to keep trusting each other, keep trusting in our defensive schemes and keep moving forward.

ATLANTA HAWKS COACH LARRY DREW

(On the game) “You have to give credit where credit is due. Houston is a very hard team for us to match up with. The fact that they do such a phenomenal job, we have a hard time defending this team. The have guys in their starting line up and they use all four guys very well coming off the dribble and then they have the big guy (Omer) Asik in the middle. Starting off the game I felt we did a good job, but in the second quarter our job wasn’t as good. They made some shots, and (Carlos) Delfino came in and made some three’s and that really hurt us. We were sputtering a little bit, even going at half time I told our guys the first half is over with and we can play better. We had a good start in the third quarter, but couldn’t quite get over the hump. I thought our guys off the bench did a good job. I was going to ride with our guys off the bench.”

(On Jeremy Lin)  “Lin is a pretty good defender. He does a really good job at fighting over screens and through screens. We didn’t do as good a job setting screens. Jeremy seems to be getting a lot more confidence in his game as the seasons gone on.”

KYLE KORVER

(On the game) “Houston scored a lot of points in transition and we didn’t get back. They shot the ball extremely well; made three’s and stretched us out. And their pick-and-rolls were hard for us to guard. We just gave up too many things. Basically they were playing four shooters with Omer (Asik) and he is a big body and sets screens. We tried to scramble, but we didn’t do a good enough job. Houston was really hitting tonight, and when they’re hitting they are a really tough team to beat.”

JOSH SMITH

(On the key to the game) “Houston’s shooting pretty much sums it up. They got on a streak where they couldn’t miss (Carlos) Delfino shot the ball extremely well tonight. We wanted them to be able to beat us on the perimeter and when it rains it pours. Their shooting got everyone else playing confidently.”

(On the Rockets) “They have a pretty good team. They are really good at home. They are still trying to gel, but they should be a good team.”

LOU WILLIAMS

(On the match up versus Houston) “We play at a certain pace and they’ve trumped us twice playing better at that pace then we have. It’s a tough match up for us, but it’s over now. They won the battle this year.”

(On the game) “We’ve put this game behind us. Nights like this happen when you throw up a dud and sometimes the team is just better then you and you have to get over it and get ready for the next one.”

(On the Rockets back court) “They have a very solid back court. They have both put together a pretty good body of work and are playing well together and they’re winning for the Rockets.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,160 for tonight’s game.

The Rockets racked up a 123-104 victory over Atlanta tonight to sweep the season series with the Hawks. Atlanta entered this game ranked seventh in the NBA in points allowed (95.0) and 11th in opponent field goal percentage (.440).

Houston finished 45-of-84 (.536) from the floor and 16-of-29 (.552) from beyond the arc tonight. The Rockets became just the third team to shoot better than .500 in a game this season against the Hawks. The Rockets also matched Houston’s Toyota Center record for most 3-pointers made (.533, 16-30 3FG on 12/10/12 vs. San Antonio). The 16 makes from downtown tied for the third most in a game for the Rockets.

Houston dished out 30 assists tonight, which marked its fourth 30-plus assist game of the season.

The Rockets scored 64 first-half points behind a 24-of-39 (.615) performance from the field, which marked their best shooting half of the season (prev. high: .605 first half on 12/25/12 at Chicago). Overall, Houston has now recorded 13 60-point halves this season.

Houston now holds an overall record of 17-9 when wearing their alternate uniforms featuring the “ketchup-and-mustard” color scheme. The Rockets also upped their all-time record to 9-4 (9-2 home, 0-2 away) in games played on New Year’s Eve.

The Hawks, who were 12-of-23 (.522) from downtown tonight, set the franchise record for consecutive games with double-figure 3-point field goals made at four in a row. Atlanta has now hit 46 combined 3-pointers over the last four games (46-100, .460).

James Harden finished with 28 points (7-17 FG, 12-13 FT) and five assists tonight. Harden, who had a career-best 45 points (14-19 FG, 15-17 FT) in the last meeting at Atlanta (11/2/12), has now posted 20-plus points in a career-best 13 consecutive games played (12/7/12-12/31/12).

Carlos Delfino returned tonight with a season-high 22 points (8-10 FG, 6-8 3FG) and a career-high-tying eight assists (fourth career 8-assist game: last on 2/20/12 vs. Orlando).

Omer Asik posted 11 points (5-7 FG) and 17 boards tonight. Asik, who had just nine games of 10 or more boards over his first two seasons with Chicago, already has 21 10-plus rebounding games on the season.

Jeremy Lin recorded 16 points (6-11 FG), eight assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. Lin now has five multi-block games on the season, which matches Eric Bledsoe (5) for the most such games in the NBA by a guard this season.

Lou Williams led the Hawks with 21 points (9-16 FG, 3-6 3FG) tonight. Williams also started the prior four games (all wins), averaging 17.8 points, 8.7 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.00 steals.

Al Horford had 18 points (9-16 FG) and 13 rebounds tonight for his 16th double-double of the season.

Josh Smith collected 17 points (5-12 FG, 5-6 FT), seven rebounds and four blocks tonight. Smith (1,365) surpassed Pau Gasol (1362) into 43rd on the NBA’s all-time blocked shots chart.

Jeff Teague, who entered tonight’s game 13th in the NBA is assists per game (6.6), registered 10 points (4-17 FG) and a game-high nine assists tonight.