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Game Day: Rockets vs. Bucks

Analysis and observations from Houston's 114-104 win over the Milwaukee Bucks

Rockets vs. Bucks - 01/18/2014

HOUSTON - The Rockets ‘get well’ game went right according to plan - Terrence Jones made sure of that. 

48 hours after suffering one of their more dispiriting defeats of the season, the Rockets went wire-to-wire while cruising to a 114-104 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Leading the way was the Rockets' rising star who delivered a career night that seemed to come straight from the epicenter of his wildest hoops dreams. Jones exploded for 36 points - 21 of them scored in the second quarter alone - 11 rebounds and three blocks while helping Houston to a massive 66-44 advantage in paint points. 

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The second-year forward's efforts made sure the Rockets removed at least some of the bitter taste left behind by Thursday's loss to Oklahoma City - a game that was still very clearly front and center in many players' minds heading into tonight's contest.

"There wasn’t too much that needed to be said," Jones responded when asked if his team harbored any additional motivation this evening. "I think a lot of guys showed it with their play: the way James played defense all game just pressuring the ball, and the way Dwight came over and did his thing blocking shots, I think a lot of guys stepped up and showed that they were determined to win tonight."

Indeed, it was imperative for Houston to bounce back this evening, especially given the fact it was playing host to the team with the league's worst record. And though Milwaukee's atypically accurate outside shooting helped the Bucks hang around perhaps longer than expected, the Rockets comfortably controlled the proceedings from the opening tip until the final buzzer.

As Jones mentioned, Howard and Harden's play on both ends helped Houston seize and maintain its cushion. But for one night at least, neither All-Star could compete with the luminescence produced by the Rockets' dazzling power forward.

"We just couldn’t contain him," conceded Milwaukee head coach Larry Drew when asked about Jones' performance. "He was very aggressive early and we just did not do a good job from the physical standpoint against this kid. He just manhandled us on hustle plays, on second effort plays, he just totally from a physical standpoint, outmuscled us.

"It's one thing to go into a game with a game plan and we knew we had to slow down Dwight (Howard) and slow down James Harden and defend those guys at the 3-point line but you don’t factor in a guy like that having that type of game. You have to give credit where credit is due, he played a much more physical game, he beasted us. He had a phenomenal game.”

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

- Noted San Francisco 49ers fan, James Harden, clearly came into the game determined to set an early defensive tone for his team (both the basketball and football versions) tonight. He played the passing lanes in the first half like a ball-hawking defensive back greedily in search of his next pick-six while collecting four steals, each of which was converted into a Rockets layup at the other end.

“The more we can create opportunities off our defense, the better off we’ll be and the easier the game will be for everyone,” Harden said after finishing the game with five steals to go along with his 22 points. “Whenever we pick that up consistently, we’ll be a good team.”

- For all their myriad woes, the Milwaukee Bucks possess a bevy of young, front-court talent with the likes of Larry Sanders, Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson dotting their roster. But they were all relegated to the backseat during the second quarter when Terrence Jones went supernova, scoring 21 points in the period. Jones hit all seven of his shots in the period, knocked down seven of his eight free throws and grabbed four boards (all offensive) during his awe-inspiring scoring spree which allowed him to finish the half with a career-high tying 25 points and an arena full of dropped jaws, such was the totality of his offensive domination.

Jones’ excellence capped an opening 24 minutes that saw Houston outscore Milwaukee in the paint by a 40-22 margin as the Rockets hit halftime with a 10-point bulge.

- Houston’s ownership of the interior continued in the third quarter as Dwight Howard went to work laying waste to whatever remained of the Bucks’ paint protection. The 7-time All-Star didn’t produce the eye-popping numbers his teammate did in quarter No. 2, but his stats in the period were plenty good as he racked up 10 points and four boards while helping Houston increase its lead on the way to the final frame.

And just for good measure, Howard swished a corner 3 as well, elevating his percentage from distance this season to a sweltering 40 percent (OK, so he’s only taken five triples this season). That trey also means that Howard has doubled his career total of made 3s this season, as he’s now 4-of-44 from beyond the arc as a pro.

- Speaking of noteworthy 3-pointers, Jones showed just how scorching he was tonight by draining a corner trey of his own in the fourth quarter, snapping a dubious streak of 14 consecutive misses from downtown. “If (Howard and Jones) keep hitting 3s, the paint is going to be wide-open,” quipped Harden afterward.

But that particular play paled in comparison to Jones’ signature moment that just so happened to seal the game in Houston’s favor. With Milwaukee hanging around thanks to its own torrid shooting from deep, Jones swatted an O.J. Mayo 3-point attempt, corralled the loose ball and then began a full-court foray to the rim that included a spin-o-rama on the way there. The former Kentucky Wildcat finished with a flourish, putting the perfect exclamation point on his 36-point, 11-rebound performance.

Jones became the second youngest player in Rockets history to post a 30-point game at 22 years and nine days. Hakeem Olajuwon first netted 30 points vs. the L.A. Clippers (12/4/84) at 21 years and 318 days, before adding two more 30-point outings that season prior to his 22nd birthday (42 points on 21 years and 320 days, 34 points on 21 years and 364 days).

But perhaps most impressive of all are the second-year forward’s averages from the past three games: 25.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3 blocks per game while shooting 61.2 percent from the field. If it weren't for some dude with the last name of Durant, Jones' exploits would likely have given him a legit shot at taking home Western Conference Player of the Week honors. 

- With the win, the Rockets improved to 27-15 on the season. Next up: a primetime showdown on TNT with the Portland Trailblazers. The two teams have split the season series so far, as both games have been high-scoring affairs in Rip City. Expect more of the same, not to mention a highly motivated Blazers team, especially given the fact Portland will enter the contest with a rare opportunity to complete a sweep of the Texas triangle after knocking off the Spurs last night and issuing a 127-111 spanking of Dallas tonight. 

NOTES AND QUOTES

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On Terrence Jones' play and consistency) “He's been comfortable. He's been rebounding well. He's been active. There's big things for Terrence if he just keeps his activity level up. He's got enough skill that he can put the ball on the floor, he can make shots, he can drive, he can finish, he can pass. He's a very versatile player and tonight he had it going.”

(On Terrence Jones' effect on team offense) “Everything he got was inside. He got offensive rebounds, put backs, rebounds, dives. He just kind of played inside the offense. The ball found him and he made nice play after nice play. He went out and played with energy and effort, and that's what he's got to do. I think Terrence has had a really good year. He's really come on, he's playing really well, he just turned 22 a week ago, he's got a really bright future. He's just got to keep playing and improving which he will. It was nice to see him go out there and play as well as he can. He's going to get better once he starts understanding the game a little bit better. He's such a young guy, now he's got to play with activity and energy and then you start combining that with experience. That's when you become really efficient. He was very good tonight.”

(On inside play) “They (Bucks) have a lot of length, but we had a little bit more girth out there than they did. That’s usually the other way around for us. I thought Dwight was unbelievably efficient. (He) eight for eleven from the field, twenty points, fourteen rebounds, got the ball in, passed it out and I thought...we had thirteen offensive rebounds and twenty two second chance points. I thought that was huge for us.”

(On 3-point shooting opportunities) “We had a couple (three's). I assume they didn't take, but we had a couple that we turned down too. We got an offensive rebound, threw it out, made a three (James did). We're one of the top five in points in the paint. There are three things we try to get a lot of, points in the paint, free throws and hopefully open threes.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the play of Terrence Jones tonight) “The game was great. I just think that T-Jones (Terrence Jones) played really, really well tonight. He did an excellent job on both ends. He defended, he ran the floor and got some easy buckets early. He played with a lot of confidence tonight and I was happy to see the young fellow do that. I've been talking about him all summer once I got here and how good I think he could be as a player. He's been playing excellent basketball. He has no pressure out there. He can just go out there and be Terrence and he is doing an excellent job.”

(On the Rockets bouncing back after the Oklahoma City loss) “We just stayed composed. That Thunder game was a terrible game for us in the second half. We were highly upset after the game, but we have to put that one behind us, but that is a team that we are going to have to beat in order for us to make it to the finals. That's the main reason why we were really upset because you want to do well against those great teams. But, we will get better. We are going to continue to grow as a team and as individuals.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On Terrence Jones's play) “(He played) Tremendous. He played harder than the other team, getting offensive rebounds, running the floor. He played phenomenal.”

(On the Rockets' offensive rhythm) “Our rhythm wasn't even that great. It was just us playing a lot harder, us getting to the ball and just trying to take it upon myself and press up and take it full court and try to create some energy within our team. Like I said, it was a variety of things all night that made us win this game.”

TERRENCE JONES

(On scoring play on turnover in the second half) “I was trying to create a transition play. I seen him step up and I just wanted to continue to go. No one stepped in front of me, so I kept going. My team was excited for me. I was just happy.”

(On being aggressive at the rim tonight) “No, it was just through our offense. Guys were just finding me on cuts. I was trying to offensive rebound and do all the little things I've been doing. It was just coming to me tonight.”

MILWAUKEE BUCKS HEAD COACH LARRY DREW

(On Terrence Jones) “We just couldn’t contain him. He was very aggressive early and we just did not do a good job from the physical standpoint against this kid (Jones) He just manhandled us on hustle plays, on second effort plays, he just totally from a physical standpoint, he out muscled us. Its one thing to go into a game with a game plan and we knew we had to slow down Dwight (Howard) and slow down James Harden and defend those guys at the three point line but you don’t factor in a guy like that having that type of game. You have to give credit where credit is due, he played a much more physical game, he beasted us. He had a phenomenal game.”

(On the Bucks play in second half)  “We had cut it to seven and I’m trying to remember what happened after that, but I think there was a breakdown defensively where James Harden drove the lane and the score went from seven to nine and then we took two bad shots and the score goes up to 15 and there goes the game.”

(On the team’s turnover problem) “You will not win a game on the road turning the ball over 20 times, you will not. Against a team like Houston, you can’t turn that basketball over. I know in the first quarter, we had five or six turnovers and I know at least three or four of them lead to easy baskets and you are not going to be successful turning the ball over on the road against a good ball club.”

LUKE RIDNOUR

(On the team hanging in the game in the second half) “It seems like every time we did make a run, they hit a big three or Terrence Jones got a dunk. We hung in for as long as we could, but we couldn’t quite get over the hump.”

(On Terrence Jones’ play) “I heard about him because he’s from the Northwest and I’m from up there. He looked really good tonight. Really good.”

(On his play and the team) “I don’t really worry about myself. Not winning has been tough. All season it’s been a tough process for us. I know there are a lot of games left and hopefully we can get something going, but it’s been real tough.”

BRANDON KNIGHT

(On his team’s play) “We did a good job of trying to fight back, but we could never get over the seven point deficit. They did a good job making plays once it got to that point.”

(On Terrence Jones’ play) “That’s like my brother. I’m extremely happy for him and I have joy for him because I know the type of player he is and how talented he is and the things that he has been through. He really just inspires me because I love him to death and to just see how his game has evolved and how he’s grown and how he’s fitting in here with a championship caliber team, it’s a special thing and I’m just proud of him. He paid his dues there (Kentucky) and when he first got here, he paid his dues and so like I said, because of the things he’s been through it’s encouraging to see how well he’s doing and fitting in and I pray he just continues to do those things. I talked to him a little bit in the heat of the moment because it’s been a while and I just like to encourage him and to keep it going and to keep playing well. H’s had an opportunity and along with the guidance and encouragement can mean a lot to certain players that are very talented. He’s definitely a talented player. My year with him at Kentucky, he’s a very talented guy and if he continues to work, he’ll be fine. He’s physical, that’s really something he’s worked on. He’s very long and a lot of people underestimate his length and that’s something he brings to the table. Length, physicality, athleticism, a pretty good skill set for a guy his size.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,082 tonight, giving the Rockets 21 sellouts on the season.

The Rockets netted the first six points of the game and never relinquished the lead the rest of the night en route to a 114-104 win over the Bucks. The closest Milwaukee got was at 15-15 midway through the first quarter.

Houston handed out an even 20 assists tonight, which ran its record to 15-6 this season when dishing out 20 or more assists.

The Rockets netted another 62 first-half points on 22-of-44 (.500) from the floor tonight. Houston was coming off a season-high 73 first-half points on 26-of-46 (.565) shooting vs. Oklahoma City (1/16/14).

Houston tied its season high of 66 points in the paint tonight, including 40 paint points in the first half alone. Milwaukee came into this game giving up the seventh fewest points in the paint in the NBA (39.6 ppg).

The Rockets outscored the Bucks by 22-9 on second-chance points, which set Houston’s season high in second-chance scoring.

In addition to running their record to 8-1 this season on Saturday nights, the Rockets won for the first time this season when allowing an opponent to shoot .500 or better from the field (record: 1-6). The Bucks hit 40-of-80 (.500) from the field, including 11-of-23 (.478) from beyond the arc.

Terrence Jones finished with a career-high 36 points (14-20 FG, 7-10 FT), 11 rebounds and two blocks tonight. Jones actually matched his career high in points in the first half alone, totaling 25 points (9-11 FG, 7-8 FT), six boards and one block over the opening two quarters. He set his previous career best in points with 25 points (10-17 FG, 5-10 FT) in a 103-100 comeback win this past Wednesday at New Orleans (1/15/14). Jones actually scored 21 of his points on a perfect 7-of-7 from the field (7-8 FT) in the second quarter, marking the best scoring quarter by a Rockets player this season.

James Harden recorded 22 points (7-16 FG, 7-10 FT) and matched his season high of five steals. Harden led the Rockets to an 11-theft night against the Bucks.

Dwight Howard posted 20 points (8-11 FG) and 14 rebounds tonight, including his second 3-pointer of the season. He had made only two treys his entire career coming into this season with the Rockets. Howard now owns 27 career double-doubles against Milwaukee, which ranks as the most among all active players against the Bucks (#2 Kevin Garnett with 21).

Brandon Knight topped five Bucks in double-figure scoring with 26 points (9-16 FG, 3-6 3FG) and seven assists tonight. Knight notched his ninth 20-point game of the season.

John Henson added 20 points (8-12 FG) and 15 rebounds tonight, which marked his seventh double-double of the season. Henson also posted 11 points (5-10 FG) and 15 boards last season against the Rockets at Milwaukee (1/4/13).