Game Day: Rockets at Magic
Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 101-89 win over the Orlando Magic
- Far often than not in life, human nature trumps talk. The Rockets came into Wednesday night’s matchup with the Orlando Magic saying all the right things about taking Orlando seriously and making sure there would be no letdown in the wake of their massive win over Miami the night before.
But saying and then doing are two totally different things. The fact of the matter is it’s not easy to generate the same sort of energy every single night, especially when going from a raucous arena one night to a sterile environment less than 24 hours later, and especially when playing the second night of a back-to-back. But such is life in the NBA. Nobody cares about such excuses, but the schedule plays a huge factor in what transpires in the league on a nightly basis. It worked in Houston’s favor Tuesday when they caught a weary Heat club, and may well have conspired against them tonight against Orlando. Over the course of the season, these things tend to even out, but that doesn’t diminish the impact scheduling can have.
All of which is a very long-winded way of saying the Rockets, for all their good intentions, sure looked like a team that succumbed to the classic trap game at the start of the contest. Their starting five, so dominant the night before, came out of the gate playing a plodding pace filled with indecisive maneuvers and sloppy playmaking. Houston turned the ball over five times in the first five minutes alone, and finished the first half with 13 turnovers overall.
The Magic, meanwhile, shot 61 percent in the opening period, including an absolutely absurd 8-of-11 mark from midrange. By the time the second quarter began, Orlando owned a 13-point lead and all of the momentum.
- But then the second quarter began, and the Rockets’ reserves rapidly went about the business of making amends for their no-show the night before. Their momentum-changing efforts began with a wondrous chase-down block from Jordan Hamilton, who momentarily turned into a one-man fast break stopper, twice preventing easy break-out buckets for the Magic as Houston gradually began to tilt the tables in their favor.
Hamilton’s plays typified the kind of half it was for the Rockets’ bench: they didn’t put much in the way of points on the board, but their defense went a long way toward dulling the sting of Houston’s frigid first quarter. With Omer Asik shutting down the paint and devouring rebounds at a rapid rate and the other reserves chipping in here and there, the Rockets were able to limit the Magic to an anemic 29 percent hit rate in the second period and ride Chandler Parsons’ 15-point period back into the realm of respectability, closing the gap to seven heading to halftime.
- Having finally asserted its superiority, Houston wasted no time re-establishing its suffocating defense in the second half while welcoming its usually high-octane offense to the game for the first time. The Rockets required less than two minutes to erase Orlando’s lead and claim their own, using an 8-0 run out of halftime to assume control of the contest. In short order, all those defensive stops started translating into quality scoring chances at the other end of the floor; opportunities that Houston finally began converting.
James Harden, Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones were instrumental in the Rockets’ second half reversal of fortune, as each player made a point of bullying Orlando in the paint in their own unique way. And speaking of bullying, what Jones did to Tobias Harris late in the third quarter was downright inhumane. Jones’ killer crossover from the wing left Harris wildly out of position and flailing at air as TJ nonchalantly cruised in for a layup. This was Bridget Jones-level embarrassment played out on the basketball court. Yes, it was that bad. And it also put an exclamation point on the dominance Houston displayed after languishing through its opening period of yuck. The Rockets outscored Orlando by 23 points combined in quarters two and three, with Howard and Harden teaming up to score 25 points in the third quarter alone.
- Life sure is nice when you have superstars, example 1,432: After the Magic made one last fourth quarter flurry against Houston’s suddenly offensively-challenged bench unit, head coach Kevin McHale reinserted his starters and immediately saw his club regain control. At the center of it all stood Harden, who drained a pair of ridiculously high degree of difficulty jumpers – one while being fouled, no less – as part of a sublime second half performance that saw him tally 25 of his game-high 31 points. His herky-jerky moves and subtle shifts of speed flummoxed Orlando's perimeter defenders throughout the final 24 minutes and his playmaking put an end to any hopes the Magic may have maintained of springing an upset.
- Terrence Jones finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, reaching double-double status for the third straight game – the first time in his young career he’s put together such a streak.
- The Rockets outscored Orlando in the paint by a 58-26 margin – quite a commanding number given that the Magic came into the contest conceding the fewest pace-adjusted paint points per game outside of Indiana and Chicago.
- With the win, Houston has now won 13 of its last 15 games, moving a season-high 23 games over .500 at 42-19. Next up Rockets: yet another mega matchup, this time a home date against the Eastern Conference leading Indiana Pacers.
On struggling and then kicking their game into high gear:
“Yes, we started off slow, and then from that point on we played pretty solid. Our defense was really good in the second and third, and then we got the game back under control.”
On whether he wanted to leave the starters out as long as possible in the fourth quarter:
“Yes, I was hoping to let them rest a little bit more. We had a long game last night, but then we have tomorrow off.”
On whether the slow start was legs, fatigue or just a slow start:
“A slow start. I think that we came out hoping that we’d play well and have a 15 point lead after the first quarter. It didn’t happen. They came out real aggressive, played very well, and got into us, made some shots. They were shooting 70 percent there for awhile there in the first quarter. They were just more aggressive and came out sharper than we did.”
On James Harden:
“He gets to the line a lot. He can shoot the three. He can drive. He’s got a midrange pull-up game. He’s a handful. He’s hard to guard.”
On not settling for jump shots:
“We do settle for jump shots at times. We take a lot of threes, but it’s the quality of the threes you’re taking. We’ve got to take open threes that come out of movement, not one pass threes. Our best threes are drive and kick pass, pass threes. We’ll take as many open threes as we can get. I thought tonight we took some forced threes.”
(on 7 assists tonight) “I have great teammates that can finish. It makes my job a lot easier just being able to facilitate and put them in the right spots. I don’t look at myself as a passer or a shooter. I am just a basketball player and can do a little bit of everything. On any given night, I can give you a something different.”
“We just have to take good shots and keep shooting the ball with confidence. I have been rusty offensively and just have to stick with it. Our offense is so free flowing. We have to space the floor. We have to cut. We have to give up our body and get out in transition to make plays for one another.”
“It feels good. I don’t think I played really well. I missed a lot of shots and am just glad we got the win. I always get this exciting, weird feeling every time I come here and I love playing here. It is probably my favorite place to play in the league. I enjoy my time here and I love seeing my family and playing in front of my high school friends and Gator nation.”
(On crowd’s reaction throughout night toward Howard) “I thought it was going to be much worse and a lot louder. At the end of the day, it is just one game and I am glad we are walking out of here with a win. He has been great for us all year long and we have to keep going to him.”
“It is a business and he had to do what is best for him. I know he is happy now in Houston. He made that choice. As a fan, you never want to see one of your favorite players leave your team. I understand from that point, but they will get over it one day.”
“I think last year was a little bit more emotional coming back here and seeing a lot of old faces. This year I wanted to come in and get a good win.”
(on video tribute) “I do appreciate it. I thought we had some great times here in Orlando. I will never forget them. It was good to see some of those plays.”
“Our defense has to get a lot better. I do like the fact that since the All-Star break we have come out with a better mentality on both ends of the floor. James and myself have really done a good job of trying to lead this team in the right direction. We have guys like Chandler who has been playing great all year. Terrence Jones has been playing excellent basketball and we just have to keep it going.”
“We just stay composed. That is one thing that we saw last night even though we got the win against the Heat. The whole game no matter how many plays they made or how many plays we made, they just stayed composed. They didn’t argue with each other. They did what they had to do in the huddle and came back out and played. That is what we did tonight. Orlando came out and hit a lot of shots. Instead of us pointing the finger and complaining, we just stayed together.”
“I understand that they are trying to rebuild. They have a lot of young talent. I was surprised not to see Oladipo. I think he has a great opportunity here in Orlando to be awesome. He has had some great games this year. He has led this team and he is a young guy. Once the game starts to slow down for him, he is going to be one great player.”
“I played here and some people are upset that I left so they are going to boo. They are going to let their frustrations out and that is totally understandable. I appreciate all the fans that did cheer and have been a fan of myself and this team from day one. I had some great years here. The reasons that I left had nothing to do with the fans here or anything like that. I will always be grateful for the fans that supported me since day one.”
“I think the game in Indiana, we didn’t play our brand of basketball. They were a lot better team than we were earlier in the season. We understand the game as a team a little bit better. I think it is going to be a different game and we are looking forward to that matchup. We have a great opportunity to get over 55 wins this season. That is more so our goal.”