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Game Day: Rockets vs. Blazers

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 118-113 overtime win over the Portland Trailblazers

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

After treating fans to some of the most eye-pleasing basketball of the season earlier this week in their wins over Miami and, especially, Indiana, the Rockets proved unable to reproduce a similar aesthetic during the first half of Sunday’s showdown with Portland. The Blazers began the game with a 10-0 blitz and, as if that weren’t bad enough for Houston, it took just 3:11 for Dwight Howard to exit the game after picking up a pair of fouls. Making matters worse, the Rockets knocked down just one of their 13 3-point attempts and allowed Portland to snag nearly 42 percent of their missed shots during the opening two periods, providing the Trailblazers with a massive 14-2 edge in second chance points.

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A disastrous and potentially insurmountable combo, right? Well, not exactly. Believe it or not, Houston hit halftime down just seven points. While the Rockets’ defensive rebounding left much to be desired, so too did Portland’s ball security, as Houston forced the normally sure handed Blazers into 11 first half turnovers which Houston happily accepted and cashed in for 15 points. And though James Harden hit just two of his 11 first half field goal attempts, he still had 12 points by the break thanks to a 7-for-7 mark from the charity stripe – another area of the game that proved very much in Houston’s favor during what was a wacky, wild and topsy-turvy opening 24 minutes that saw both teams exchange exasperated looks at the officials on more than once occasion. Not coincidentally, three technical fouls were dished out during the first half as well.

To put it as kindly as possible: the first two quarters were frequently a tough watch all the way around.

- Far more pleasing to the eyes in the early going was Chandler Parsons (Hmmm, on second glance that sentence probably should have been worded rather differently). The Florida product has made huge strides since entering the league with regard to his ability to make plays off the dribble and he put that improvement on display for all to see on several occasions in the first quarter while scoring 8 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Each of his makes came via various dribble drives to the basket, and his deft touch on those right-handed runners in particular was prettier than any of his modeling efforts to date (sorry, CP – couldn’t resist).

Parsons, by the way, currently ranks in the 75th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler according to Synergy Sports. His ranking in that category during his rookie season placed him in the 25th percentile. That, my friends, is one heck of a progression.

- The Blazers' offense began the third quarter by putting on an absolute clinic. Certainly helping their cause was the fact that Wes Matthews was shooting fire from his fingertips, as he rained down three triples in the period. But much more than that was the fact that Portland produced good looks nearly every time down the floor en route to building a 16-point lead while scoring on nine of their first 12 possessions of the second half.

- This game featured a heaping helping of ugly for prolonged periods of time. I mean, the 80s abomination known as Garbage Pail Kids didn't possess the level of please-make-it-stop, must-look-away hideousness this contest had contained at times. One thing that can’t be denied, though: the playoff-level intensity was definitely in full effect and it reached a fever pitch in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Rockets scratched and clawed their way back into the game.

Leading the charge for Houston was none other than James Harden, who came into the contest with a very good chance of collecting his second straight Western Conference Player of the Week award with a Rockets win. Harden entered the game averaging nearly 27 points to go along with seven assists per contest this week – numbers than matched up quite nicely with his averages against the Blazers this season.

And with his team on life support and trailing by as many as 13 points in the final frame, Harden roared to life and put his club on his back once again. Houston’s All-Star shooting guard erupted for 17 points in the period and he even delivered the assist that led to the Jeremy Lin trey that gave the Rockets their first lead of the game with 1:25 remaining in the contest. Nothing, however, could compare to his ridiculous corner 3 that quite literally saved Houston’s bacon in the final seconds. With Wes Matthews draped all over him and his club down three, Harden gathered a pass from Lin with 9 seconds left and drained the triple that effectively forced overtime.

Harden’s final numbers: 41 points 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals, joining Michael Jordan as the only two players since 1985-86 to record 41-10-6-6 in those four categories in a single game. Yes, it’s safe to say the Western Conference Player of the Week award will remain in Houston when the league makes its weekly announcement Monday afternoon.

"Earlier in his time here in Houston, you might see him forcing the issue at times or doing things that young, great players do, making those mistakes," said Jeremy Lin when asked about the roll Harden has been on of late. "But I think right now he’s learned to play in the flow and to make the right basketball decision every time he comes down the floor and that’s a big reason why he’s extremely efficient right now, why his assist numbers are high and why he’s just playing all over the place and playing really good defense, too."

- Speaking of J-Lin, though his shooting numbers from the field (7-for-17) weren’t lights-out, his aggressiveness was back tonight and that’s very good news for a Houston team that needs him to play with the attacking style that made him a household name. With Portland’s defense (rightfully) terrified of Harden and Howard, and Houston sporting a small-ball lineup that stretched the Blazers' defense in uncomfortable ways, Lin was left with acres of open space to create and he took advantage to the tune of 26 points – the second-highest total on the team. The Harvard grad was especially good in overtime, delivering six points including the bucket that put Houston on top for good, an impossibly high, arching jumper over the outstretched hand of Robin Lopez. If Lin’s mojo is back for good – and this marked his second straight strong game – a Rockets team that has already been the best in the NBA in 2014 just got even stronger.

"I’m really happy," said Houston head coach Kevin McHale, when asked for his thoughts on Lin's big night. "We need Jeremy. I’ve said it all along: Jeremy is a guy who gets fouled, gets to the line, he attacks and just makes a lot of stuff happen. When he’s rolling it just gives you more versatility with your lineup to play smaller and do different things … He played very, very well for us.

- A huge key to the Rockets’ rally: the fact that they finally managed to give the Blazers a taste of their own medicine. Houston scored 11 second chance points combined in the fourth quarter and OT, allowing the club the extra possessions it sorely needed to complete its remarkable comeback. The final numbers in that category were still decidedly in Portland’s favor – the Blazers owned a 22-13 edge on the offensive glass – but Houston’s extra efforts in the final frame went a long way toward ensuring that the Rockets’ win streak would not come to an end tonight.

"We weren’t rebounding (playing) big, but so going small didn’t seem to hurt much," quipped McHale after the game. "We did a better job of moving the ball with the smaller lineup and what happened is that Aldridge got caught on the wing guarding Chandler, and Chandler and Jeremy got some straight line drives by people, and it opened up our spacing a little bit. We didn’t go into Dwight much, but Dwight was setting really good picks and rolling, which opened it up (further) for the perimeter guys.

- With its 118-113 victory, Houston moves to 44-19 and, more importantly, now owns the tiebreaker over Portland in terms of playoff seeding. Next up: yet another massive matchup as the Rockets begin their three-game road trip with a visit to Oklahoma City.

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN MCHALE

(On fourth quarter effort) “We had great effort in the fourth quarter. I thought we started off kind of slow. They were beating us up on the boards. They were getting loose balls. The 50/50 balls were going their way. We just didn't have a lot of juice. We were down 12 (points) early in the fourth but I just felt that we were one run away from trying to really...getting our legs underneath us. We didn't have a lot of zip in us tonight for some reason but the guys just kept battling and kept fighting. Sometimes you just have to go out there and gut your way through a win. James (Harden) was fantastic. Jeremy (Lin) played really well. Chandler (Parsons) was driving.”

(On going small) “We kind of had a malaise going. It just didn't seem like we could generate anything (LaMarcus) Aldridge wasn't on fire. He made shots but he was 10-for-27. We can live with that. So I said, hey, we're going to go small. We couldn't sustain anything. We weren't getting loose balls, We weren't rebounding very well. I don't know. We just didn't have a lot of zip.”

(On Jeremy Lin finding his rhythm) “I'm really happy. We need Jeremy. I said that all along. Jeremy is the guy that can get fouled, get to the line, he attacks. He just makes a lot of stuff happen and when he is rolling it just gives you more versatility in your lineup to play smaller and you can do different things. Again, when we went smaller I think Jeremy played the rest of the game from whatever it was in the third quarter. I don't think I took him out after that. He played very, very well for us.”

(On James Harden's play) “What can you say. He was fantastic. He had 41 points, big 3's. We ran that play where we were trying to get him coming off the top on that last 3 (pointer) to tie the game. The guy bodied the heck out of him. We got loose and came low on it and got that ball in the corner and made just a cold blooded 3 (pointer).”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the tough win) “Tonight was a tough test for us. I think early in the season we probably would have lost this game but we found a way to win. Not everybody had a good game particularly. James (Harden) picked it up scoring, hitting some tough shots and Jeremy (Lin) had an amazing game. We cannot get cocky. We cannot lose our focus. We've got to stay humble.”

(On the Rockets slow start tonight) “I just think that they (Portland) came out on fire. We came out a little sluggish. Every game is not going to be perfect. You're going to have those games where we miss a lot of shots. Things happen. It's the NBA. It's 82 games. You're going to have at least ten or fifteen games where things don't go your way but you still have to find a way to win and that's what we did tonight. First half, nothing went our way. Calls, shots, free throws, everything, it seemed like it was all bad but in the second half we just stayed together, stayed focused and we got a good win.”

JEREMY LIN

(On what point he started to feel free and easy in terms of playing the way he likes to play) “Probably towards the end of the game. I think early on I was trying to attack but especially in the third quarter, my shots weren't really falling and the beginning of the fourth either. Towards the end of the game I would say is when it opened up for me.”

(On the momentum of the win against Indiana carrying over to tonight) “I think it's big. I think every game impacts the next game. You see guys go in crazy streaks and a lot of it is just keeping momentum or building off of whatever you've been working with.”

(On the difficulty of tonight's game after an emotional win against Indiana) “We spent a lot of energy and emotion in the last game. Coming back tonight, they (Portland) made us work for everything and the guys played really hard and we got some really big rebounds.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the win) “It was a great win with nothing really going our way all game long. We were down a lot and we really fought through adversity there. I'm just really proud of our guys. Really happy for Jeremy Lin. He's been struggling a little bit but we've all believed in him throughout this whole season. He came up huge and made some big, big plays tonight. James (Harden) was unbelievable. Everybody chipped in and did their own thing. It was just an all around team win with nothing that was going our way.”

(On the Rockets comeback effort after being behind for most of the game) “That was tough. Nothing was going our way at all and we fought through it which shows a lot about our maturity level and how we've grown so much and the crowd was unbelievable. Those are the best fans in the world and they were having that place rocking and even when we were down 15, 17 points, they (the fans) were with us and no one hung their heads. We believe we could win that game even though we were down a lot. It's just a huge, huge win for us with what was at stake with the tiebreaker with them and with how tight the Western Conference playoff chase is.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On importance of the win) “Tremendous. We showed some great resilience; early in the year we probably would have let that one slip away. Guys kept fighting; we knew how important this win was. It’s two games record wise and for the tiebreaker. So it was more important and we fought through it.”

(On his game tying three) “Jeremy (Lin) made a good pass and I just had confidence in my shot, I work on it everyday.”

(On if his focus improves as the season progresses) “Each game is important from here on out. We’re fighting for positioning. We’re fighting for home court advantage, so no matter who we play its going to be a tough game and tonight was a great win for us.”

(On obstacles they had to overcome) “Everything. Everything, but we showed some great adversity by fighting through it. The first three quarters we were just basically running around. But the fourth quarter we finally got more physical and created some opportunities on defense.”

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS COACH TERRY STOTTS

(On the game) “That was a tough loss. In a game that I thought we did a good job controlling it for a good part of it, we had our opportunities to win it. They made some tough shots. I thought we overcame some adversity and still put ourselves in a position to win, but we didn’t close it out.”

(On what changed in the fourth quarter) “Like I said, I thought they made some tough shots and Harden got going. They made five of ten three’s in the fourth quarter. They got to the free throw line all night. Every team makes a run, that being said, we were still in a position to win the game.”

(On their recent late game problems) “We have to just keep grinding. I’m always concerned about the team, win or lose, I’m always concerned. But, we responded with a good game tonight, we just didn’t win it.”

LaMARCUS ALDRIDGE

(On the team’s mood) “Of course there are a lot of angry faces because we should’ve had that game. We were definitely in position to win. Guys aren’t happy right now. We’ve had two tough losses on the road and we definitely felt like we didn’t do everything we could tonight so of course guys are angry right now.”

(On what happened in the fourth quarter) “I don’t know, I have to watch the film. But, we had looks, missed shots and Houston made tough shots but there’s always something you can do differently. They all sting (losses) the same amount. We need wins right now.”

(On the end of the game) “We definitely had looks at the end, but I think at times we try to play too fast and Houston made us play a little faster and at times we definitely fell into their trap. For the most part, we had looks and we just missed them.”

(On James Harden) “I wasn’t guarding him, so I don’t know. It’s a team defense and we all tried to give him tough looks. He definitely got some calls that went his way in the second half and got him going. Even though he missed shots in the first half, they still gave him some good calls where he still got eight or nine free throws. Even when he’s missing shots, he’s still getting shots at the rim. He took advantage of that down the stretch. That’s good for him.”

DAMIAN LILLARD

(On the team’s breakdown at the end of the game) “They just made a great comeback. James Harden made a bunch of tough shots and we missed a few free throws, turnovers. We were still in position to win the game. We had our opportunities. They just kept coming and they found a way to get it done.”

(On his seven turnovers) “I know one of them was an offensive turnover and maybe three of them were on passes that didn’t make it. I think that’s just what type of game it was. A lot of stuff happened out there. It is what it is and we’ve got to be ready for the next game.”

(On the team’s recent play late in games) “I don’t think we’ve played bad late in games. We’ve had a chance every time against Dallas, we were losing by thirty and gave our selves a chance down the stretch. Against the Lakers, they jumped out on us and down the stretch we still had a chance. Tonight, we were not able to pull it out. Early in the season, we were winning those games and now we’re not. We have to move on and we have to take care of business down the stretch and win games late.”

WESLEY MATTHEWS

(On the game) “It wasn’t one of our best tonight. We could’ve taken care of the ball more throughout the whole game, but we were still in position to win the game.”

(On James Harden’s performance) “He played well. We know what he’s going to do with pick-and-rolls, and going to his left, and they were going to call fouls for him. He’s going to hit free throws. It’s easy to get a rhythm when you shoot a lot of free throws and he was able to do that. He hit a big shot from the corner to tie the game up. He’s playing good basketball.”

(On the team’s mood) “We’re pissed off. This is the second time in a row when the game was on the line and the whistles changed on us. The sway and the momentum, you have to credit them or whatever. They played hard. The last two times in a row we played well enough to win and we should’ve won.

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,321 tonight. Overall, it gives the Rockets 30 sellouts on the season, extending the new single-season record for Toyota Center (prev. best: 28 sellouts in 2007-08).

The Rockets rallied back for a 118-113 win over the Blazers tonight, taking the season series (3-1) with Portland. Houston returned from 12 points down to start the fourth quarter in forcing OT tonight, evening its OT record at 2-2 this season.

Houston tied its season-high 15 steals tonight, matching a 15-takeaway game at the L.A. Lakers (2/19/14).

The Rockets hit 33-of-45 (.733) free throws tonight. Houston is now 20-3 on the season when it attempts 35 or more free throws in a game.

Houston has won its last 16 games in which at least one player scores in double-figures in the first quarter.

The Rockets went 38-of-89 (.427) from the floor and 9-of-29 (.310) from beyond the arc. Houston had shot .500 from the field in four of the prior five meetings with Portland.

Portland outrebounded Houston by 56-48 tonight, which included an opponent season-best 22 offensive boards. The Rockets took the battle of the boards by +17 (47-30) earlier this season at Portland (11/5/13) and again outrebounded the Blazers by +15 (52-37) in the last meeting vs. Portland (1/20/14).

James Harden registered 41 points (12-28 FG, 10-11 FT), 10 rebounds, six assists and six steals tonight, which included matching his career high in 3-pointers made (7-12 3FG). Harden joins Michael Jordan as the only two players since 1985-86 to record a game with at least 41 points, 10 boards, six assists and six steals. He nailed a 3-pointer with 8.8 seconds left in regulation to even the game at 106-106 and force OT. Tonight was Harden’s second 40-point outing of the season (fifth career) and his eighth double-double of 2013-14.

Jeremy Lin came off the bench with 26 points (7-17 FG, 10-12 FT) and two steals tonight, marking his sixth overall 20-point game of the season and his first since 20 points even vs. Dallas (12/23/13)

Dwight Howard collected 17 points (5-10 FG, 7-13 FT), 12 rebounds and three blocks tonight. It was his team-leading 20th game this season with three or more blocks (Rockets record: 14-6).

Pat Beverley added 12 points (4-8 FG) and four steals tonight. Since joining the Rockets last season, Houston now holds a record of 23-4 all-time when Beverley scores in double figures.

LaMarcus Aldridge posted 28 points (10-27 FG, 7-10 FT), 12 boards and two blocks tonight. Aldridge has now scored at least 20 points in each of his last 12 regular season visits to Toyota Center (11/3/07-3/9/14).

Wesley Matthews had 26 points (5-15 FG, 12-13 FT), going 4-of-11 from downtown tonight. Matthews entered this game tied for fourth in the league in total 3-pointers made (now has 156).

Damian Lillard came up with 21 points (.538, 7-13 FG) tonight. Lillard was only shooting .341 (15-44 FG) from the field in his three prior games against the Rockets this season.

Mo Williams totaled 10 points (5-15 FG) and a game-high 11 assists tonight. The Trail Blazers are now 21-4 when Williams scores in double digits this season. It marked his second double-double of the season.