Game Day: Rockets at Grizzlies
Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 99-81 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies
HOUSTON - While lamenting his club’s heartbreaking loss to the Grizzlies last night, Houston head coach Kevin McHale reminded the media contingent on hand that the Rockets never would have even had a prayer of emerging victorious if not for the heroics of Chandler Parsons.
24 hours later, the Rockets received a resounding re-creation of what such a contest would look like.
Much as they had the night before, the Grizzlies’ ground-and-pound, grit-and-grind style of play allowed them to seize control of the contest for prolonged periods of time while they methodically put together a double-digit lead. Only this time, devoid of Parsons’ record breaking 3-point shooting – the 25-year-old hit just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc tonight – the Rockets had no remedy at the ready, no cure that could spark a near miraculous comeback. Instead Houston simply continued to miss shots and watch while Memphis mauled them on the boards as the Grizzlies owned the interior and ultimately devoured the Rockets en route to romping their way to a 99-81 victory.
“Bottom line, they beat us up last night and they beat us up again tonight,” McHale said immediately following tonight’s loss. “They got offensive rebounds, they moved the ball, they got us being stagnant and they were just better than us, by far, tonight.
“They outplayed us. For two nights, they played their style and we couldn’t get into ours.”
Goodness gracious the Grizzlies know how to defend the Rockets. What do they know that the rest of the league doesn’t?
I’m kidding with that question, of course. It’s not so much about what Memphis knows but rather the personnel it can throw on the floor to flummox and frustrate Houston’s typically high octane offense. With a bevy of burly bigs at their disposal, the Grizzlies can pack the paint like few other teams can, and its backcourt now features a trio of plus defenders in Mike Conley, Courtney Lee and the injured Tony Allen.
The funny thing (well, perhaps “funny” isn’t the best word choice, but sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying, you know?) is that tonight’s contest began in much more promising fashion than last night’s matchup did. Despite hitting just three of their first 10 shots from the field, the Rockets were pushing the tempo at every opportunity and injecting so much pace into the game that Memphis’ Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph were visibly winded in the early going. And when Gasol quickly picked up two fouls and was subsequently forced to the bench, it seemed like surely Houston was well on its way to an infinitely better start than it had endured the night before.
The only problem: the team’s shooting never did come around. The Rockets connected on just seven of their 22 first quarter field goal attempts while tying their season low for first quarter points with 14.
- Though Houston’s offense experienced an uptick in productivity in the second quarter, the Rockets’ overall experience continued to plummet downward. The Memphis bench proved particularly monstrous, outscoring the Rockets’ reserves by a resounding 23-2 margin as the Grizzlies’ lead grew to 11 by halftime.
Some ominous numbers at the break: Though Houston head coach Kevin McHale desperately wanted to see his club get more points in the paint (30) and more free throws (14) than they did during last night’s loss, the Rockets were only marginally better inside, scoring 20 paint points by the halfway mark, while flat-out miserable from the charity stripe, missing all four of their free throw attempts in the half.
The end result of that carnage was a 46-35 Houston deficit that you’ll no doubt recall nearly mirrored the 44-35 lead Memphis held at halftime 24 hours earlier. The Rockets’ point total also represented the third time this season they had been held to fewer than 40 points in the first half. Amazingly, each of those contests came against the Grizzlies.
- Memphis wasted little time increasing its edge to 14 points when play resumed, prompting McHale to go small with a two point guard lineup featuring Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin – a move which momentarily pushed Chandler Parsons to the power forward spot and a matchup with Zach Randolph. The gambit made sense, as Houston was desperate for any sort of offensive spark at that point and it was worth a shot to see if sacrificing size for speed and shooting could provide any positive dividends.
That experiment was quickly tweaked, however, when Z-Bo simply overpowered the game but overmatched Parsons on the offensive end of the floor. The Rockets adjusted by giving James Harden the assignment and he actually enjoyed some success as Randolph went scoreless with Houston’s shooting guard defending him on the low block.
What the Rockets could not do, however, was generate any sort of consistent way to put points on the scoreboard. It took Houston until the 3:47 mark of the third quarter before it could even muster its first made free throw of the game. Think about that for a second. This is a Rockets team that leads the entire league in free throw rate, free throws attempted and free throws made per game. During Houston’s second meeting of the season against Memphis, Harden attempted 25 free throws all be his lonesome. And though the Rockets eventually finished 12-of-17 from the charity stripe, the majority of those makes came after the game had been decided.
The Grizzlies took a 17-point lead to the final frame and their advantage ballooned to 26 a little more than five into the period when Mike Conley drained back-to-back corner 3s from almost the exact same location. By the time all was said and done, Memphis owned a decisive 52-38 edge on the boards and a massive 56-32 advantage in terms of paint points.
- With the loss, Houston’s record drops to 29-17. The Rockets will now have a couple days to rest up and regroup before preparing to play two more Southwest Division foes, Dallas and San Antonio, in another back-to-back that begins Tuesday night at Toyota Center.
- Lastly, a word about the Memphis Grizzlies now that the Rockets are done with them for the rest of the regular season. This is, quite simply, a completely different team than Houston saw earlier in the year. Obviously, the return of Marc Gasol is massive for them, but there’s simply no way to overstate the importance of the Courtney Lee addition, either. He’s been brilliant since joining the Grizzlies and he was simply superb during these two games against his former team.
With its win tonight, Memphis moves to within a game-and-a-half of eighth place Dallas and just two behind the Phoenix Suns who currently occupy the Western Conference’s seventh seed. If the Grizzlies do mange to sneak into the playoffs, say, as a seven or eight seed, what an absolutely miserable matchup that would be for either of the two teams that finish atop the conference standings.
Welcome to life in the torture chamber that doubles as the Western Conference.
ROCKETS HEAD COACH KEVIN McHALE
On the game:
“We tried. We couldn't gain anything offensively. We battled them defensively for a while. Their bench came in the first half… They carved us out. They had maybe 20 points out of their bench in the first half. We did okay against their starters but their bench came in and with their activity, we went to our bench a little bit, but they got a little bit of a lead and then we could never sustain anything offensively all night.
“They had the same back-to-back we had. They just beat us. Bottom line, they beat us up last night and they beat us up again tonight. They got offensive rebounds and moved the ball. They caught us being stagnant. They were better than us by far tonight.
“We needed something from everybody. We're not built where we can have guys play really poorly offensively and still compete. There's not much I can say, they outplayed us. We played two nights and they played their style and we couldn't get into our style.”
On what they need to do to attack the basket:
“The last two games we have been terrible offensively. Memphis is a great defensive team and they really slowed the game down. There is no excuse for that. We have got to get the ball back. We have got to get spacing right. Last night we missed a lot of open shots. Tonight, we missed a lot of shots that we usually make. Our offensive game isn’t as good the last two games as it has been the previous couple of games.”
On becoming more consistent:
“I don’t know. I wish I knew the answer to that. It’s just so frustrating. We can be so good one night and bad the next. That is something that we have to figure out collectively.”
“It’s not going to get any easier; the schedule goes on. It’s a big point in the season for us where we have lost two games in a row. We can’t let them to continue to beat us. We can’t let Memphis beat us in the San Antonio game and in the Dallas game. We have to move past this and watch the film and get better. Hopefully, we can fix our mistakes.”
On Grizzlies’ defense:
“Their pace works for them. They make you play a half court offense. They are physical. They grab. They reach. They hold. When you do that so much, they are not going to call every single foul. They are very scrappy and very physical. They are pretty good one-on-one defenders. Their post defenders are very strong.”
On the game:
“They made a good little run at the end of the half. That put it up about 11 points. At the beginning of the second half, we missed a couple of shots and they came out and made some threes. Before you know it they were up 17. You have to give credit to the team. They played well the last two games we played them. They disrupted us but we have to look forward to the next game. We have San Antonio Tuesday and that is where our focus is.”
“We just have to learn how to play the way we play every night. Today we had 14 assists over the last five or six games we have been averaging close to 25 assists a game. We have to learn to move the ball and get everyone else going. Other than that, I think we are going to be fine. We have a good test on Tuesday.”
On moving on from tonight:
“San Antonio is one of the best teams in the West. That’s a lot of motivation right there. We are going to be playing at home. We will want to protect home court. Dallas is a team to be reckoned with. We lost to them the last time we played them. We have to be prepared for both teams.
GRIZZLIES HEAD COACH DAVE JOERGER
On the back to back games with Houston:
“Well Marc Gasol looks pretty good on our defensive end. He makes a big difference. He’s Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. He just quarterbacks our whole defense. He tells everybody where to be. I think he gives Zach (Randolph) a lot of support. He helps our guards a lot. We’re able to jump into different coverage because of his IQ. He saves people a lot of steps. I thought over these two games we did a tremendous job. They spread the floor very well. They try to get in the middle of the lane with drives and then create so you have a long way to close out. A lot of those guys are three-point threats. So you go out there in haste and hurry, and you get up too high and then they keep driving the basketball. I thought points in the paint in the last two games were tremendous what we allowed: 30 last night and 32 tonight. They have a great post-up player, Dwight Howard, but I thought we did a good job against him. Defensively we did a tremendous job over the weekend, and that’s been getting better and better. We played extremely hard both games. Both games were really competitive, hard fought games. I was talking to the guys, and I said, ‘That’s how we play. That’s how we play every single night, that physical, that hard. When you play, us the next morning, you know we played the Grizzlies last night.’ That’s just how it has to be going forward. If we do that, we can be competitive with anybody. That intensity and that focus and desire has to be every single night from the jump. Tonight’s a game where if they come out, and they start running downhill on you early in the game and you get the pace going really fast, then they think everything is okay and everything is figured out for them. The fact is we slowed them down. They were ahead, but they didn’t win the first quarter 30-28 or 40-36. It was low scoring. We dictated the game defensively and got it slowed down. We didn’t shoot well in the first quarter, but towards the end we started going. The ball started moving, and we were attacking the rim. Zach did a nice job when they went small, when they double-teamed. We had cutters in the right places. We made shots which always helps you look better.”
On the upcoming road trip:
“Just go compete and be us. These teams want to play fast. Sacramento is going to play fast. Portland plays extremely fast. They move the basketball. They spread you out. They shoot 40 percent from three. They’re highly intelligent, and they space the floor very well. They have lots of good players. It’s a tough place to play because you have a long trip there. Your first game going either direction is difficult. Then to follow it up with Sacramento, who felt like they should have had us just like we felt we should have had Houston on December 26. They’re going to be ready to play, and then the day in between we travel to Minnesota. As far as where we are as a team, just getting better and playing that hard and physical all the time. It’s really rubbing off.”
On substituting Mike Conley:
“I’m just trying to keep Mike (Conley) as fresh as possible. Patrick Beverley is a very good defender. He’s very physical, maybe one of the most physical point guards in the league. Mike’s not exactly 6’5”. Even if I took him out for a little bit, it was a little bit more like a playoff substitution.”
On Zach Randolph:
“He’s been tremendous. He carried us through a very tough stretch with Marc (Gasol) being out. We really struggled to find our identity with so many different pieces out, with Quincy (Pondexter) and Tony Allen lately. He was pretty steady, and he came to compete and be a guy who always drew double teams and create shots for other people. Defensively, this is as loud and vocal as he’s been in his youthful age. He’s doing a good job of calling stuff out for guards. That’s all a guard wants to know is, ‘Where’s my help? I don’t like getting my head taken off by the left or by the right. Let me know what coverage we’re in.’ He’s done a great job of that. The night’s where he struggles offensively maybe sometimes against length. I was just really proud of him because he didn’t quit. What he did was he went and got it off the glass, got offensive rebounds and put backs. He wants to win. It’s not about the numbers. The numbers are a great result for him, but they guy’s competitive and as proud of a man as I’ve met. He was tremendous for us for a long stretch. He and Marc have a tremendous chemistry, and I’m looking forward to seeing those guys play together going forward.”
On playing Houston back-to-back:
“We just played physical, and we played aggressive. We knew this was a back-to-back, and it is hard to beat any team two times in a row. We game in with the same game plan as last night, and I just think that having it at home was a great home advantage.”
On the Grizzlies’ physical play:
“I think it starts with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. When you see those two banging down there, playing physical, making hard fouls, getting fouled hard it is just easy to follow.”
On the focus and determination of the team:
We are ready to win. We prepare like we want to win, we are traveling like we want to win and everyone is holding each other accountable. When you put those things together, things come together like this and we beat teams back.
On tying the franchise record for double-doubles tonight:
“It feels good. It feels better when I set a record, but it definitely feels good. I just come out and play hard every night. You have to put your all into it, and be a part of the community and a part of this organization. There is a lot that goes into it, but you just have to go out and play hard basketball.”
On how other teams are starting to know what it feels like to play the Grizzlies again:
“We are playing our way, and that's physical basketball. 48 minutes of grit and grind.”
On how the Grizzlies kept the pace playing the same team back-to-back:
“We are just getting back. We tried to slow them down. They like to run up and down the court, we are just trying to come back, and play, and get stops.”