Game Day: Rockets At Grizzlies

Rockets rally in 4th Quarter to pull out 93-86 win
by Jason Friedman Writer/Reporter


MEMPHIS - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s Monday night matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies:


Perhaps the Rockets needed a one-game reprieve from being known as an explosive offensive unit that thrives upon pace-and-space. Or maybe they just wanted to see how grit-and-grind fit their particular hoops physique. Whatever the case, Houston found the formula for success this evening, even though it took them an awfully long time to perfect the process.


There was very little that could be classified as aesthetically pleasing about tonight’s 93-86 win, but the end result will suit the Rockets just fine, especially given the fact they were forced to rely upon an extraordinary fourth quarter that helped to at least temporarily exorcize some of the late-game demons that had occasionally haunted Houston early on this season.

As mentioned in today’s preview, the Rockets entered tonight’s game possessing a significant advantage on the offensive end. To make the most of that edge, it was imperative that they take care of the defensive glass and limit their live-ball turnovers in an effort to keep the Grizzlies’ easy buckets to a minimum. Make Memphis work their grit-and-grind posteriors off in the half-court, and chances were they wouldn’t be able to score nearly enough to keep pace with Houston.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.

Right from the opening tip, the Rockets allowed Memphis to make a resounding statement on the offensive glass as Kosta Koufos grabbed half a dozen boards on that end of the floor in the early going, allowing the Grizzlies to pile up a heaping helping of second chance points. That, combined with Houston’s all-too-frequent miscues with the ball, contributed to Memphis scoring 16 of its initial 19 points either via second chance opportunities or points off Rockets turnovers. Just like that, the tone had been set and Houston had its work cut out if it wanted to have any hope of snapping its 5-game losing streak here at FedExForum.

Rather shockingly, the second quarter saw things go from bad to worse. Whereas Houston actually shot the ball well in the opening period when it wasn’t turning the ball over, the second quarter brought with it little more than one brick after another. The Rockets’ offense, so dynamic, potent, free-flowing and borderline unstoppable since Terrence Jones’ insertion into the lineup, looked absolutely discombobulated in the frame as Memphis continued to triumph in the tempo tug-of-war. Houston shot just 3-of-18 in the period on its way to finishing the half with a mere three assists and 32 points – a stunning total for a team that put up back-to-back 40-point quarters last week. For those perusing the pages of the grit-and-grind handbook for the first time, tonight’s first half served as a fairly thorough way to catch up on the source material.

The Rockets showed improvement after the break, though it largely came in fits and spurts. The early offense Houston thrives upon was rarely seen, forcing Houston to find its way in the half-court with only limited success. Post-ups weren’t working and the Rockets’ perimeter touch was M.I.A. You could say Houston really missed the pick-and-roll creativity of James Harden in the half-court, and they undoubtedly did, but that excuse hardly holds water when taking into account that the Grizz probably wouldn’t have minded seeing that Gasol dude on the floor tonight, too.

But then, the breakthrough, and it came in large part thanks to the Rockets’ bench. Like the rest of the team, Houston’s reserves had been rendered dormant during the first half, but they came alive late in the third quarter and triggered the game-changing 17-2 run that allowed the Rockets to turn the contest on its ear and silence the Grind House denizens. Omri Casspi and Patrick Beverley were nothing short of outstanding in the final frame, combining to score 18 points in the period as Houston rode that combo – not to mention sizeable contributions from Omer Asik, Francisco Garcia and Chandler Parsons – to a monstrous fourth quarter effort that was essentially the exact opposite of what the Rockets experienced during the Dallas debacle last week.

The Rockets’ defense was terrific, and, really, it was very good for much of the night, but it took them gaining control of the defensive glass to finally flex their muscle on that end of the floor. As the stops piled up, so too did Houston’s transition opportunities, at long last allowing the club’s scoring punch to find its mark. All the breakouts and easy buckets that had been nothing more than a myth for Houston for much of the game finally became a fully-realized reality, and the Rockets rolled accordingly while outscoring Memphis 38-23 in the decisive period.

You hear it all the time: the NBA’s marathon regular season forces teams to win every which way. Houston has proven on several occasions that it can run teams off the floor when its shots are falling and the offense is nigh unstoppable. Tonight they showed they can battle adversity – on the road, no less – and get the job done on defense as well.

Next up, a pair of home dates with Atlanta and Brooklyn. See you then.

And-1s: Aaron Brooks sustained a bruised right thigh in the third quarter and did not return. James Harden (foot), Greg Smith (knee) and Ronnie Brewer (calf) did not play. 



On coming back in the fourth quarter:

“I thought our guys needed a rest, and we just kept trying to find a lineup that would really click.  That last lineup we had out there did a really great job.  They took care of the boards and did a great job defensively.  Omri Casspi moving without the ball, Cisco (Francisco Garcia) made a big three and really defended well.  Patrick (Beverley) made some big shots, and Chandler (Parsons) was big.  That lineup had some rhythm, and we just went with them.

On playing poorly in the first half:

“We didn’t have great energy to start out the game.  We didn’t have great concentration.  We were chasing non-shooters over screens into layups.  We were going under on shooters giving them shots.  We weren’t sharpest on that game, and it stayed with us for a while.  I was impressed.  For us, that was a great win.  We did not have a lot of rhythm, and to come out in that fourth quarter, everybody stayed together, everybody kept fighting.  I think that we got six offensive rebounds before you could even blink an eye, and all the stuff we talked about doing we didn’t do to start the game.”

On playing as a team:

“More guys making cuts for each other and guys sharing the ball and just sharing space on the floor.  Guys not hunting shots but hunting opportunities for their teammates, and just more symmetry.  Especially the way we play a lot of chemistry a lot of symmetry a lot of movement.  If guys are doing that for each other we can have a 38-point quarter like we did the fourth quarter.”

On shooting three pointers:

“Our guys shoot good open threes, and I tell them good shots, great shots.  Those are shots we’re going to take.  We’re assembled as a three-point shooting team.  We have a lot of those guys, so when they have open three pointers that’s a great shot for us.  I tell them all the time, ‘You’re not going to make them all, but if you shoot them with confidence and you’re a good shooter, you’re going to make your share.”


On adjusting after the first half:

“First off, they were denying us and getting us out of our system.  We got a little stagnant offensively. Coach (Kevin) McHale adjusted at halftime, and we moved the ball better the second half, and we got better shots and made good plays.”

On winning the game:

“I was surprised, because he kept us out there.  We tip our hats to Coach (McHale) for believing in us.  We kept fighting, and we had a really good group.  I’m just happy that we’ve done the job.”


On rebounding the ball:

“Our guards have to do a way better job of staying inside and getting those long rebounds, because (Kosta) Koufos and (Zach) Randolph did a great job of keeping balls alive and tapping the ball all night long.  So it’s our jobs as guards we can’t leak out and try to start and break early.  We have to get back in there and help them out.”

On playing as a team:

“We’re having fun and playing loose.  The space has been really good.  We don’t care about stats.  We’re just trying to play for each other, and get the best possible shot.  Whoever’s hot, we’re going to keep going to that guy.  Like we’ve seen, it can be a different guy every single night.  We just have to keep doing that, and we really have to be better defensively on the glass so we can do what we do.  I thought tonight showed a lot about our team.”


The Basics:

Houston Rockets (9-5) at Memphis Grizzlies (7-6)

Point Differential:

Memphis: -2.2 (18th)

Houston: +4.3 (9th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Memphis: 100.2 (17th)

Houston: 108.3 (3rd)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Memphis: 103.0 (18th)

Houston: 102.1 (14th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Memphis: 92.2 (30th)

Houston: 100.14 (5th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Memphis: 48.6% (NBA rank: 18th)

Houston: 54.7% (NBA rank: 2nd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Memphis: 15.7 (15th)

Houston: 18.8 (30th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Memphis: 51.5% (6th); offensive rebound rate: 25.3% (16th); defensive rebound rate: 76.7% (2nd)

Houston: 53.0% (1st); offensive rebound rate: 28.2% (7th); defensive rebound rate: 71.9% (26th)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Memphis: .255 (22nd)

Houston: .460 (1st)

Got those Memphis facts and figures memorized yet? Good. Now forget them all. With Marc Gasol sidelined indefinitely due to a sprained MCL, it’s awfully difficult to divine what the Grizzlies will look like or how they will perform in his absence. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is the backbone of his club on both ends of the floor, meaning Team Grit and Grind is going to have to take its junkyard dog mentality to an even meaner, nastier level in order to have any hope of making up for the massive void left behind in the wake of his injury. To that end, more will be asked of Kosta Koufos who is tailor made for the Grizzlies’ rough and tumble ways, and also of Ed Davis who has shown flashes of fulfilling his promise as a former lottery selection (though those flickers admittedly came more so in Toronto than they have upon his arrival in Memphis). Jon Leuer’s ability to space the floor from the big position could be part of a potential solution as well.

As is the case anytime an All-Star goes down, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Last year Memphis boasted a robust defensive rating of 95.4 whenever Gasol was on the floor while posting a pedestrian mark of 102.2 when he sat – hence the well-deserved hardware he took home. His surgical passing from the elbow, savvy post-ups and off-the-charts intelligence will be sorely missed on the offensive end as well.

So who are the Grizzlies now? We’re about to find out. But as with any wounded animal, opponents would be wise not to overlook or underestimate what remains of the Memphis roster. Many of the pieces that led Memphis on its run to the Western Conference Finals are still in place and no doubt eager to keep the good ship Grizz afloat until Gasol returns. Nonetheless, one has to believe tonight’s contest provides the Rockets with a rather golden opportunity to put an end to their 5-game losing streak here in Memphis.

Know Thy Enemy

- One thing that isn’t likely to change amid Gasol’s absence: Fans still aren’t likely to find a contrast in styles much more distinct than the brand of ball employed by Houston and Memphis. Whenever the Rockets and Grizzlies face off it is a battle of pace-and-space versus grit-and-grind, and tonight’s contest should be no exception. The tempo tug-of-war can be clearly seen in each club’s respective pace rating, and it manifests itself in plenty of other places as well. To wit: The Rockets attempt the highest number of 3s per game of any team in the league; Memphis, meanwhile, hoists the fewest (and makes the fewest as well – the Grizzlies average a paltry 4.4 made 3s per game, while Houston nets nearly 10 a contest). The Rockets also take a whopping 15 more free throws per game than do the Grizzlies. It should come as no surprise, then, that Memphis tops the league in percentage of points that come via 2-pointers (69 percent) while the Rockets reside at the very bottom (50 percent) in that regard.

- Care to guess which point guard currently ranks second in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating behind Chris Paul? No, it’s not Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, John Wall or any number of players currently plying their trade at the league’s most loaded position. It’s none other than the solid, steady and seemingly always improving Mike Conley, whose PER of 24.04 actually places him within the top-10 of the entire NBA in that category, regardless of position. Impressively, Conley’s turnover rate is at a career low even while his usage rate has never been higher. He’s also finishing in the restricted area better than he ever has before and ranks in the league’s 94th percentile in terms of his scoring efficiency as the pick-and-roll ball-handler according to Synergy Sports – all adding to the list of reasons why he’s putting points (19.5 ppg) on the board at never-before-seen levels. The 26-year-old has been terrific to start the season and his ability to maintain that excellence will be vital for the Grizzlies, especially since Memphis will lean on him even more while Gasol is on the shelf.

- One of the reasons why Memphis’ defense has fallen from the ranks of the elite during the early stages of the season: the Grizzlies are getting badly burned via their opponents’ spot-up opportunities. Per Synergy Sports, Memphis ranks dead last in the league in such situations on a points per possession basis (after finishing 5th in that category a year ago), and the Rockets’ drive-and-kick approach promises to apply constant pressure to those vulnerabilities should they again reveal themselves this evening.  

In the spotlight

Remember when the Rockets seemed to dig themselves an early hole seemingly every night? That trend has reversed itself in a big way ever since Houston inserted Terrence Jones into the starting lineup. In those six games, the Rockets have outscored its opposition by a total of 58 points in the first quarter; essentially the equivalent of ending the initial period with a 10-point edge. Houston’s defensive rating in the first quarter during that stretch is 93.8 – a mark that would put them well within the league’s top-3 in that category. Even more impressive, however, is Houston’s first quarter offensive rating during that time when the Rockets are scoring at a rate of 129.7 points per 100 possessions. For added perspective, Miami’s high-scoring, league best offensive machine scores at a rate of 111.5 points per 100 possessions.

Given Houston’s offensive edge tonight, it becomes doubly important for the Rockets to ensure they don’t give up that advantage by, well, giving up the ball when they don’t have to. Houston enters tonight’s contest ranked last in the league in both second chance points conceded (16.6) and opponent points off turnovers (21.1) per game. The club’s coaching staff continues to hammer home those points of emphasis and for good reason – it’s hard to envision the Grizzlies (or most teams for that matter) keeping up with the Rockets’ explosive offensive attack so long as Houston doesn’t allow too many easy buckets via live-ball turnovers and offensive boards.

Injury Update

James Harden (foot) and Greg Smith (knee) did not take part in this morning’s shootaround. Smith has been ruled out while Harden is being listed as a game-time decision. Ronnie Brewer (calf), meanwhile, has been upgraded to probable.

All stats courtesy of except where otherwise noted.

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