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Game Day: Rockets vs. Cavaliers

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 106-92 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

HOUSTON - True to form, the Rockets leaned on a dynamic duo to knock off the Cleveland Cavaliers. Only this time, it wasn’t the club’s All-Star combo that carried Houston, but rather a pair of dazzling performances from its one-two punch at the point guard position.

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Oh sure, James Harden and Dwight did their usual thing, combining to deliver 54 points on 20-of-29 shooting from the field. And the significance of their dominance was as unmistakable as it was expected. But it was Jeremy Lin’s first career triple-double and Patrick Beverley’s similarly remarkable stat line that stole the spotlight as the Rockets rolled to a 106-92 win over the Cavs. They were the twin turbo engine that elevated Houston to its highest highs Saturday night, and it was the strength of their combined horsepower that made sure the Rockets squashed any upset hopes Cleveland might have harbored coming into the contest.

“They were fantastic,” raved Houston head coach Kevin McHale after the game. “Jeremy had a really good game. We really needed it. He came out and brought good juice. Jeremy just had a good positive vibe going.”

Lin’s stat-stuffing numbers – 15 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and a pair of steals – certainly speak to that as he became the first Rockets bench player since Cedric Maxwell in 1988 to record a triple-double while coming off the bench. But as is so often the case when Houston’s hot-button point guard gets on a roll, it was the hyper aggressive mindset manifesting itself in his on-court play that truly spoke volumes. Lin’s frequent forays to the rim left his defenders in the dust and the Cavaliers’ scrambling defense in tatters on several occasions, sparking the Rockets’ inside-out attack while simultaneously spearheading the club’s transition game which rang up a whopping 29 fast break points.

And though Beverley didn’t score a single point, the smorgasbord of smudges from his fingerprints could be found all over the end result as well. The 25-year-old corralled 10 rebounds, dished out 8 assists and piled up a career-high 5 steals, all while serving up the infectious energy upon which his team so frequently feasts. His defense was as dogged and disruptive as ever, often allowing him to be a one-man transition trigger for Houston's high-caliber fast break weaponry.

And when paired together, the Rockets' two point guards quite simply laid waste to the Cavs' defenses. The Rockets were +20 during the 22 minutes when Lin and Beverley shared the floor - the highest mark of any two-man pairing Houston used Saturday night.

“I like those two,” McHale said. “I thought earlier in the year they were our best combination on the floor. Those two guys together, they have a nice symmetry between them. They both enjoy playing with each other. They like each other. They're very respectful for each other and they work to help each other.”

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

- With Anderson Varejao out due to injury and Cleveland head coach Mike Brown trying out a new starting backcourt combo of Jarrett Jack and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs chose to begin the game by defending Houston’s two All-Stars, Dwight Howard and James Harden, with Tyler Zeller and Jack, respectively. Let’s just say the odds of those two enjoying much success in that endeavor were not exactly in Cleveland’s favor.

And sure enough, the Rockets’ New Orleans-bound duo wasted little time torching their counterparts as Houston used a 16-4 first quarter run to seize control of the contest in the early going. Howard simply overpowered Zeller more often than not on his way to racking up nine points, three rebounds and a pair of blocks in the opening period. Harden, meanwhile, made his mark by picking his spots while methodically picking apart the Cavs’ D. Throw in another monster first quarter from Terrence Jones (10 points on 5-of-6 shooting; the second time in the last three games that he’s reached double-digit scoring in the first quarter) and all the ingredients were in place for the expected Rockets’ rout.

- Think Patrick Beverley relishes going head-to-head against an All-Star like Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving? Houston’s starting point guard was on fire right from the opening tip-off tonight, flying all over the floor at a rate that was even more boundless and rambunctious than usual. Make no mistake, Irving got his in the first half, scoring 14 points while dishing 5 helpers, but Beverley’s endless energy was supremely impactful as well; the second-year guard was tied for team-highs in both rebounds (5) and assists (4) at halftime, and he’d also registered a game-high 3 thefts during that time as well.

"He impacts the game in so many different ways than scoring," Lin said of his teammate after the game. "He was so valuable for us tonight. Maybe people might look at zero points and be like, ‘whatever,’ but he’s so much more valuable than just scoring points.”

- In fact, if the first quarter was all about the dominance of Houston’s frontcourt, the story of the second was the sparkling play of the Rockets’ dual point guard pairing along the perimeter. While Beverley was busy reprising his energizer bunny routine, Jeremy Lin brought the same aggression and verve that had proven so valuable during Houston’s back-to-back wins over Dallas and San Antonio. Lin needed little more than nine minutes of floor time to put himself on triple-double watch, tallying 8 points, five boards and four dimes during that time as the Rockets’ lead ballooned to 19. Game over, right?

Not exactly, although it seemed for a spell as if Houston’s defense thought it might be. Cleveland’s backcourt proved it could put points on the board in a hurry, too, as Irving and Dion Waiters took full advantage of a relaxing Rockets’ D to haul Cleveland back into the contest. By halftime, that duo had combined for 31 points as Waiters poured in 15 in the second quarter alone, slicing Houston’s advantage to nine by the break.

And halftime apparently did little to extinguish the malaise that had seemingly overcome the Rockets at the end of the first half. The Cavs rolled off 11 straight points to begin the third period, shockingly climbing all the way back to momentarily seize a 2-point advantage for themselves.

"The reason why they came back is because we stopped playing the way we played to get the lead," Howard replied when asked about Houston's lackluster stretch after the game. "Once we (got back to playing how we were before), it was over. We came back out, played inside-out and got into a lot of pick-and-rolls, shared the ball, and that’s how we won the game.”

Indeed, it was precisely at that point that Houston’s slumber came to an end. Kevin McHale quickly brought Lin and Donatas Motiejunas back into the game and the Rockets immediately responded with a 9-0 blitz of their own. Houston quickly resumed its mastery of the paint (the Rockets finished with a massive 62-32 edge in paint points) and as the team’s defense returned, so too did its lead and fast break flair. Once again, Lin and Beverley proved formidable in that regard, with the former ripping Cleveland’s transition D to shreds while the latter frequently triggered those breaks thanks to his career-high 5-steal night.

From that point forward, Houston never again lost its grip on the game. The Cavs hovered within striking distance here and there, but never seriously threatened. And when Irving missed a transition 3 near the 3:30 mark and the Rockets flew up the floor to get Harden an uncontested layup, the only intrigue remaining was whether Lin would get the remaining rebound and two assists needed for his first career triple-double. Less than three minutes later, a pocket pass to Howard - the result of a pick-and-roll called by 'coach' James Harden, no less- helped Lin reach the benchmark.

"James (called that play)," Lin revealed after the game. "He was being really unselfish. At the end of the game he was trying to get everyone involved: he was trying to get Pat a 3 and me an assist and doing things like that, so he facilitated it.

"I'm Just thankful. It’s humbling to think about the whole journey and now this – just another cool thing.

"I’m just trying to find a rhythm and keep it going. Just three games ago I was in a pretty bad slump, so right now I’m just trying to stay aggressive, stay confident and try to make the right basketball play.”

- With the win, the Rockets improved their record to 32-17, moving a season-high 15 games over .500. They’ll now enjoy three full days off and won’t play again until Wednesday night when Goran Dragic and the surprising Phoenix Suns pay a visit to Toyota Center.

NOTES AND QUOTES

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On second-quarter play) “We had no concentration or focus. Break down? I think you have to have something before it breaks down. Our first unit wasn't very good tonight. We started off the game okay, but we got them back in there at the end of the second (quarter) and start of the third (quarter). They had no juice, they had nothing.”

(On Jeremy Lin's performance) “I thought Jeremy and D-Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) came in the third quarter and changed the game. They came in and gave us energy and gave us just good plays, but also, they gave us (defensively) what we were looking for. They actually did our schemes and were diligent. We weren't getting any of that earlier.”

(On Jeremy Lin and Pat Beverley's play) “We had 18 assists between Jeremy and Patrick. They were fantastic. Jeremy had a really good game. We really needed it. He came out and brought good juice. Jeremy just had a good positive vibe going, playing hard, wasn't losing his mind if something happened. He played and had a nice vibe going. That group (starters) out there that we had was traumatic. It was just too much of that, so Jeremy came in and did a good job. D-Mo stats may not look like their great , but I thought D-Mo had really good minutes with that group.”

(On not going back to Chandler Parson in the second half) “The other guys I thought played very well. We were looking for some combinations that would click.”

(On Pat Beverley and Jeremy Lin complementing each other) “I like those two. I thought earlier in the year they were our best combination on the floor. Those two guys together, they have a nice symmetry between them. They both enjoy playing with each other. They like each other. They're very respectful for each other and they work to help each other.”

JEREMY LIN

(On his triple-double) “I'm just thankful. I never really thought about that (triple-double) until everyone was telling me it was about to happen, so I didn't know. I'm just thankful. I am really thankful to God. It's just humbling to think about the whole journey and now this. It's another cool thing.”

(On his accomplishing this within the Rockets offense) “I think anytime you get on the floor, you have a chance to do it, just make an impact. I was just trying to be aggressive and thankfully it happened, but it's not really something, I mean it can always be done. Once you get on the floor and once you get a chance to play, it's just basketball.”

(On the Rockets getting contributions tonight from many players) “Today, different people, D-Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) and Omri (Casspi) gave great minutes off the bench, They played really well and Dwight (Howard) and James (Harden). A lot of different guys contributed.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On Jeremy Lin’s play) “He was making the right play and I told him at the end of the fourth quarter with about five minutes to go, ‘Its like you’re searching for a triple-double, just go out there and do what you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing all night. Just play and the ball will find people in the right spot to score.’ Once we relaxed and did that, he got his last two assists and he got a big rebound so I’m very happy for him.”

(On his play in the post) “I was just trying to be aggressive. I knew that when I caught the ball that they were going to double team on the throw in, so I tried to catch it deep and tried to make a quick move to get to a hook shot, but they came down. I just tried to pass up to guys open for threes and I know that Patrick (Beverly) missed a couple, but those shots will fall the more we do that.”

Well we talked about it. We talked about what we were doing wrong, how we were coming down, jacking up shots and not using the shot clock and that worked to their advantage. You know we don’t have a break, we have to learn how to execute in the half court no matter if it’s a post up or if it’s a pick-and-roll we gotta to be able to execute in the half court to be a successful playoff team and that’s something that we’re working on.”

JAMES HARDEN

(The play of Pat Beverly) “Unbelievable. That’s what we need, that’s the type of effort we need from guys throughout this entire team. He (Beverly) didn’t score any points, he went 0-of-5 from the field, he had 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals. He just played well.”

(On how his thumb is feeling) ”It’s alright. It didn’t get any worse and that’s the good part about it. Guys did a good job tonight; I think a lot of guys contributed in a positive way. Obviously Jeremy (Lin) came off the bench and did a tremendous job and played an overall good game and got a triple-double. It’s a good accomplishment”

(If Jeremy Lin knew about his stats) He knew, he knew. It sounds good. No I’m just playing, I don’t know if he knew. But like I said, it’s just a great individual accomplishment for you to be able to get a triple-double, that means that you are doing everything well and I’m just happy for him.”

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS COACH MIKE BROWN

(On the game) “Houston played a very good basketball game and you have to give them credit. One of the things we talked about was we had to try and slow them down in their transition game, but with the way at times when we turned the ball over, with the poor floor balance, Houston was able to get out and get some easy baskets in transition. Twenty-nine points in transition and the fast-break points were too high and that was one of the biggest disadvantages that we had tonight. You have to give credit to their two guards, Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin. They played a heck of a game between the two of those guys, twenty-one rebounds is phenomenal. They just kind of got after it and went after every loose ball and rebounded and you have to give those guys credit for what they did. Also, give them credit for the eighteen assists for the two of them. A guy like Patrick Beverley effected the game, although he did not score. Jeremy Lin’s triple-double was big for those guys because you know your hands are full with Dwight (Howard) and James (Harden). For those guys to step up the way they did, you have to give them credit.”

(On Dwight Howard and his play) “He’s playing very well. He’s obviously an all-star and he might be one of the all-time greatest to play the game and when you have a guy like that that you can just throw the ball into the post and command a double-team or know you’re going to get a decent look, that is a bug time luxury.”

LUOL DENG

(On the Cavaliers’ play) “One thing I felt is that we were communicating better and we weren’t just out there watching each other. I thought the guys did a better job of communicating and talking to each other. We gave ourselves a chance, we competed today. I don’t think we did that in the other games. The biggest thing is just staying positive. Sometimes, a guy might mess up out there, but as a leader, you have to somehow highlight what he’s doing better. We talked about that in the locker room and sometimes, you’d be surprised when you talk to your teammate how far that goes.”

(On the Cavaliers transition defense) “We have to do a better job of balancing the floor. I thought on the one, two, and three, we didn’t do a great job in running back to make sure they played half-court basketball. They pushed the ball and got easy baskets.”

KYRIE IRVING

(On starting at the two position rather than the point position) “We’ve done that before this season and having J-Jack (Jarrett Jack) out there and having his positive energy at the beginning. We put ourselves in a hole, but going into the second quarter, our sense of urgency the rest of the game. Once we started getting stops, we got back into the game. They were just making bug plays and the game got away from us. Coming into the game playing off the ball was something I’m used to already so it wasn’t really to big of a change.”

(On the Rockets’ guard play) “Patrick Beverley is a tremendous on-ball defender and he hits the boards. There were two plays in the beginning of the game when I was like, ‘He flew right by me’ and I was like ‘I have to box this guy out.’ He’s a great player and Jeremy (Lin) puts them into transition and is very aggressive on the offensive end and he definitely makes them deadly.”

DION WAITERS

(On his play in the second quarter) “I just took what they gave me. I took what the defense gave me and I made shots and tried to get my teammates involved. I was just trying to make the extra pass. At the end  of the day, tough times don’t last, people do. We have to stick with each other and when we’re going through things like this mentally, you have to be on your toes. We are going to get out of this. We have to bring the same intensity that we brought tonight. We looked totally different out there, the ball was moving, we were talking. Houston just made shots and they had a little momentum swing. They made their run, and we made our run, but ours was just not good enough to win tonight. I’m happy with how we came out, talked, and we have to keep taking steps. Nothings going to change over night.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,309 tonight, giving the Rockets 24 sellouts on the season.

The Rockets rolled to a 106-92 victory over the Cavaliers tonight. Houston now owns a seven-game home winning streak over Cleveland (12/2/06-2/1/14).

Houston hit another 41-of-80 (.513) shots tonight. The Rockets are now a combined 82-of-154 (.532) from the field over the last two games (1/29/14-2/1/14).

The Rockets took the battle in the paint by a 62-32 count and matched their season high of 29 fast-break points tonight. Houston now has 10 games this season of 60-plus points in the paint (Rockets record: 7-3).

With another 61 points in the first half tonight, the Rockets marked their 15th time this season to open a game with 60-plus points over the first two quarters. Houston now holds a 12-3 mark this season when going for 60-plus in the first half.

The Cavaliers went on an 11-0 run to start the second half to go ahead 63-61 in the third quarter, erasing Houston’s lead of as much as 19 points in the first half. The Rockets responded with a 9-0 run of their own.

The Rockets have now won the last 10 games in which at least one player has scored in double-figures in the first quarter. Houston is 16-3 overall in such games this season. Terrence Jones now has a team-high 10 first-quarter points in two of the last three games.

James Harden returned to the lineup tonight after missing the past two games with a bruised left thumb. Harden finished with a game-high 28 points (10-17 FG, 3-8 3FG, 5-6 FT) to go with four assists tonight.

Dwight Howard recorded 26 points (10-12 FG, 6-8 FT), six rebounds and three blocks tonight. It is his team-leading 15th game this season with three or more blocks. Howard is also 15-of-19 (.789) from the free throw line over the last two games.

Jeremy Lin posted the first triple-double of his career tonight, collecting 15 points (6-12 FG), a career-high 11 rebounds and 10 assists tonight. Lin stands as the first Rockets player to come off the bench and register a triple-double since Cedric Maxwell on Mar. 31, 1988 at Indiana (23 pts., 15 rebs., 10 assts.).

Pat Beverley recorded 10 rebounds, eight assists and a career-high five steals, but failed to register any points. He becomes the first NBA player with at least 10 rebounds, eight assists, five thefts and no points in a game since steals became official in 1973-74.

Luol Deng led the Cavaliers with 24 points (10-19 FG, 3-8 3FG) tonight. Deng’s second 3-pointer in the second quarter tonight marked the 400th trey of his career.

Kyrie Irving finished with 21 points (8-19 FG), seven assists, four boards and three steals tonight. Irving has now topped 20 points in eight of the last nine games.

Dion Waiters added 19 points (8-14 FG, 2-3 3FG) tonight. Waiters is now shooting .595 (25-42 FG) from the field and .636 (7-11 3FG) from beyond the 3-point line over the last three games