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Game Day: Rockets at Bobcats

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 100-89 win over the Charlotte Bobcats

Rockets vs. Bobcats - 03/24/2014

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

There are an infinite number of ways to begin a basketball game. Some are obviously better than others. But from a pure get-the-blood-flowing standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to beat James Harden’s fantastic one-handed facial that he served up on Josh McRoberts in tonight’s first quarter.

It’s been said in this space before and certainly will be again: Harden may not have a great deal of variety when it comes to the way he throws down, but then again why even bother deviating from the tried and true formula that doubles as his tomahawk hammer dunk when it holds so much aesthetic appeal?

- Tonight marked Dwight Howard’s return to action after having missed the last three games due to an ankle injury. If he felt rusty out there, the signs of iron oxide sure didn’t seem visible to the naked eye early on; Howard tallied six points, four boards and three assists in his opening stint while doing yeoman’s work on Al Jefferson, limiting Charlotte’s center to a 1-of-4 start from the field.

- Speaking of Big Al, Jefferson has historically been a very low turnover player and he came into tonight’s contest averaging just 1.7 turnovers per game. The Rockets forced the 29-year-old pivot into two turnovers in the opening period, however, hammering home Houston’s remarkable embarrassment of riches at the center position. With Howard and Omer Asik on the assignment, Jefferson rarely looked comfortable during the first half and, outside of a pair of put-backs off offensive rebounds, had very little come easily to him. 

- Houston began tonight’s contest 0-for-6 from beyond the arc, then proceeded to knock down six of the next nine 3s they attempted. With the way Charlotte packs the paint defensively, quality looks from downtown are inevitable. The Rockets, smartly it should be said, never shied away from those looks after their icy start and were promptly rewarded for their perseverance as they continued to fire away.

- Houston hit halftime with a 54-50 edge thanks to strong efforts from Harden, Terrence Jones, Ask and Jeremy Lin. Charlotte’s backcourt of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson did much of the heavy lifting on offense for the Bobcats, who were buoyed by their perimeter playmakers’ ability to connect early and often on long 2s.

Just as big for Charlotte, however, was the fact that the Bobcats, ranked 27th in the NBA in offensive rebound rate, grabbed more than 30 percent of their misses in the first half. The offensively challenged Bobcats feasted upon those second chance scoring opportunities not just during the first half, but for the better portion of the entire evening as well.

- Terrence Jones played like a man tonight. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the second-year forward is just 22-years-old, and tonight’s contest was certainly one such occasion. Jones poured in 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting, scored in a wide variety of ways, and even joined James Harden in the wildly popular ‘Dunk on McBob’ club. Also not to be overlooked: the versatility he showed on the defensive end as he switched onto Kemba Walker multiple times during the second half and frequently got the better of the lightning quick point guard by putting his length to exceptionally good use.

- Al Jefferson certainly turned the tables in his favor in the third quarter. While Dwight Howard struggled to get anything going offensively after his strong first quarter, Jefferson just got better as the game went on, carrying the ‘Cats offense in the third period as they continued to scratch and claw their way back into the contest. During one stretch, Jefferson scored seven of his club’s eight points, ultimately giving Charlotte a 66-65 lead with 2:44 left in the quarter.

- And then James Harden happened. What more can be said about the man at this point? The dude is just in a remarkable, supernatural, otherworldly zone right now. Houston’s All-Star shooting guard erupted for 14 points in the third quarter and, most importantly, sparked a game-defining 13-2 run that closed the third period and gave Houston a 10-point bulge.

Put simply, Harden had an answer for every single run Charlotte sent the Rockets’ way. Transition 3s, step-back bombs to beat the shot clock, momentum-dulling free throws to silence the crowd, assists to set his teammates up for quality scoring chances – you name it, Harden did it tonight, just as he has for the better part of two months now. I said it Saturday night and I’ll say it again: Harden has unquestionably asserted himself into the conversation as a top-5 MVP candidate.

Tonight’s totals: 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting that included a 4-of-7 mark from distance. And since Houston’s game against Miami, Harden has now hit 22 of his last 41 attempts from beyond the arc.

- Lastly, can’t leave without a word on Chandler Parsons. The third-year forward continued to struggle with his shot tonight – until the fourth quarter rolled around that is. With Charlotte attempting one last rally to get back in the game, Parsons drained two clutch triples as part of a final frame that saw him tally 9 of his 11 points on the evening. Houston fans will be hoping that effort sparks him to a hot streak that is long overdue.

By the way, the Rockets finished the game 12-of-27 from downtown, meaning they were 12-of-20 from distance after their 0-of-6 start. Houston has now drained 10-plus treys in each of the last four games – its longest such streak of the season.  

- With tonight’s 100-89 win, the Rockets are now 48-22 on the season. Up next: a Thursday night home date with the struggling (to say the least) Philadelphia 76ers.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On the team’s three-point shooting tonight)

“They packed the paint pretty nicely.  I knew we would get our share of three-pointers and we ended up shooting 44% from the three-point line so that was a big part of our win.  It is important to be shooting well with a team that packs the paint well.  Their team’s philosophy is four guys in the paint and we told our guys that they were going to get shots.”

(On James Harden’s play in the third quarter)

“James just took over.  He has done a fantastic job, he’s efficient and he is making the right plays.  He passes the ball, he drops the ball off to people and he leads us in assists.  Overall he has done really well.”

(On the team’s defense against Al Jefferson)

“I think it was a great job done on Al Jefferson.  Al is usually not taking 17 shots to get 20 points.  He is usually more efficient than that.  Our guys did a great job.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On tonight’s game)

“They are a good team, especially at home.  They grind games out and we didn’t get in that situation with them.  When we are not scoring 120 points, we have to figure out a way to win the game.  Defensively we got it done, having Dwight (Howard) back helped us out.  Al Jefferson has been going and playing at a high level and we kind of slowed him down a little bit.”

(On the consecutive three-point field goals from Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverly in the final two minutes)

“The confidence I have in my guys is unbelievable.  They struggled early in the game, but I know how much work they put in practicing in the gym.  My making the right pass at the right time was at an all-time high and they made all-time shots.”

(On the team’s mindset for the remainder of season)

“We just want to prepare for the playoffs.  Our entire game needs to go to another level, defensively and offensively.  Being consistent with sharing the basketball, and defensively, being consistent with helping each other out.”

JEREMY LIN

(On players stepping up down the stretch)

“That is really important. James was getting double-teamed and others stepped in and they hit big shots.  When it counted the most they were there to hit them, and that is what we need coming down the stretch.  We need everyone to produce.”

(On what is key for the team for the remainder of season)

“Defense, I would say.  Continuing to play defense and continuing to try to be who we are supposed to be.  Moving the ball and playing unselfish, playing hard on defense and defensive rebounding is probably our biggest red flag right now.”

Bobcats Head Coach Steve Clifford

(On tonight’s game)

“We did a good job not turning the ball over tonight.  We don’t have a James Harden but we have more than enough to win.  When that ball moves, we’re a great team.  We didn’t have the same attention to detail that we needed to tonight.  We didn’t have the mentality that we had the other night, to play against a team like that.”

(On whether he considered purposely fouling Dwight Howard down the stretch)

“If you go back through his career, that’s usually when he makes them.  When I was there (in Orlando), his concentration goes up and he feels challenged.  I’ve been there way more times when it backfired than when it did any good.”

(On Luke Ridnour)

“He’s getting his rhythm.  He plays good every night.  He may not have shot the ball well but he has the team organized.  When you’re open, the ball is delivered every time.  The defense is good and he knows how to play.  He’s a proven player.  I like having him out there.”

(On Gary Neal)

“He’s a weapon off the bench.  He’s also a ball mover, not just a scorer.  He’s a guy that you can put out there and he gets the ball moving.”

Bobcats center Al Jefferson

(On James Harden’s play tonight)

“He didn’t really surprise me tonight.  He did tonight what he’s been doing all season long.  He’s an amazing player.  I think he’s the best one-on-one player in the game right now, and he made us pay.  I think it was good defense, but better offense.”

(On going against Dwight Howard and Omer Asik)

“You hardly ever play a team that has an All-Star center and then another starting center that comes off the bench.  They kept it big all night.”

(On moving on to the next game and finishing the season strong)

“The rest of the season is going to be a battle for us.  We’ve just got to be focused and be ready to come in and play.  That’s all it is.  Mind over matter.  I just think that we kind of let them get us out of what we do.  We didn’t move the ball and we gave them 21 fast-break points, and we’ve been good at that stuff all year.  We’ve just got to get back on track.”

Bobcats guard Kemba Walker

(On getting within five points several times in the fourth but never closer)

“We got closer and closer, we just couldn’t get over the hump.   But that’s not the reason why (we lost).  We made a lot of mistakes that we shouldn’t have made, and small mistakes at that.  It’s something that we’ve got to correct and get ready for the next one.”

(On tonight’s game)

“We were not moving the basketball like we usually do and that’s something we’ve got to get back to.  Last game, things were clicking for us and we were moving the basketball around.  Tonight the ball stuck a lot.  I’m pretty sure it was those guys.  Their length bothered us at times.”

(On James Harden’s play down the stretch)

“He made some tough shots.  I thought we played great defense, but he’s a great player and great players make great plays.  That’s what he did.”