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Game Day: Rockets vs. Grizzlies

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 88-87 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies:

Chandler Parsons was drowning in an ocean of 3-pointers.

One after another, the ball left his hands and acquiesced to his will, splashing through the net while the surrounding cacophony grew with every swish. Ten straight times he rose and released; ten straight times he hit nothing but net.

With his body numb and his stroke unconscious, the budding star set a franchise record for 3s in a single quarter and game, and tied the team mark for consecutive made treys without a miss.

And somehow it wasn’t enough.

To be sure, Parsons’ career night gave Houston a chance to swipe victory from the Grizzlies’ jaws on an evening when Memphis’ grit-and-grind style dominated for large portions of the proceedings. Without it, the Rockets likely would have come nowhere close to even sniffing a win. But while his heroics brought Houston to the cusp of yet another comeback win over Memphis, they could not quite carry the club to the finish line. Parsons’ magic ran out in the final minute, and so, too, did the Rockets’ rally as the Grizzlies held on for a heart stopping  88-87 victory.

“It’s really frustrating,” said Parsons after his career-high 34 points were tainted by the stain of defeat. “At the end of the day you want to win the game. No matter how good or bad you play, it’s really irrelevant if you lose the game.”

His performance was hardly irrelevant and it certainly won't be forgotten anytime soon. But Parsons' larger point still stands. A night so wondrous and so filled with shotmaking wizardry lost some of its shine and luster when Houston couldn't conjure one last bucket in crunch time. The stage was set for a storybook finish. But among many other things, the Rockets' loss offered this sobering reminder: Not all fairy tales deliver happy endings.  

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

- The first half was straight out of the grit-and-grind bible. Memphis milked most every possession, mucked up the middle by packing the paint, and reaped the benefits of the Rockets’ ice cold shooting. Houston hit just 33 percent of its shots during the opening two quarters of play, but that percentage seemed positively scorching in comparison to the Rockets’ ghastly 1-of-14 mark from behind the 3-point line.

The Grizzlies certainly executed their game plan to perfection, of that there is no doubt. They controlled the tempo and the battle of the boards, and kept Houston’s high flying offense in check. But this, too, must be mentioned: the Rockets got good looks. Many of their missed 3s were of the wide-open variety. And the club’s first 12 attempts from distance went awry until Omri Casspi finally found the bottom of the net near the end of the second quarter.

The Rockets received active, productive minutes off the bench from both Jeremy Lin and Donatas Motiejunas, and James Harden’s playmaking was on point as he collected seven assists in the opening half. But with its touch both from outside and inside having abandoned them, one had to wonder how long it would be until Harden began employing the bull-his-way-to-the-free-throw-line routine. Houston’s All-Star shooting guard, you’ll recall, scored 27 points on just two made field goals the last time he faced the Grizzlies thanks to the fact he made it to the charity stripe 25 times that night. Such memories surely were front and center in his mind while contemplating where his team stood at halftime.

That said, this was certainly not unfamiliar territory for Houston; in each of the Rockets two previous meetings against Memphis this season they had fallen behind by double-digits only to roar back and emerge victorious thanks to a huge fourth quarter charge.

- For all that did not work, the Harden-Dwight Howard combination teamed up for their now nightly alley-oop session in the first quarter, proving yet again that while Houston’s entry passing may need help, that particular play between those two All-Stars has pretty much been perfected.

- And then the second half got underway and Chandler Parsons transformed into the human torch. He began the third quarter with a triple, then hit another less that two minutes later to cap a 10-0 Rockets blitz that allowed Houston to swiftly and completely lay waste to the Grizzlies’ halftime lead.

How frustrating it must have been for Memphis to see all its good work undone in the blink of an eye. Such is the nature of the Rockets beast: its players can collectively catch fire in an instant, and double-digit leads can disappear with a suddenness that delivers a staggering blow.

For Houston, the ability to actually, you know, put the ball in the net was obviously key to its comeback, but as is so often the case with this club, the Rockets’ offense really took off tonight when it began feeding off the strong play of the team’s effort on the other end of the floor. Houston began the half by generating turnovers and stops which allowed its players to push the pace and attack the Grizzlies’ defense before it could get set and lock in. After hitting halftime with a mere eight fast break points scored against Memphis’ 28th-ranked transition defense, the Rockets rang up 12 fast break points in the third quarter alone.

It’s not a newsflash to hear that Houston is at its best when it’s making noise out of its early offense and attacking in transition. But against a team like Memphis, those attributes are not optional, they are required.

- The funny thing about Parsons’ second-half supernova act: at halftime his coaches apparently told him to take the ball to the rim more. Good thing he didn’t listen. Parsons knocked down six triples in the period – keep in mind, this came after he was 0-for-3 from deep in the first half – including a 3 that tied the game heading into the final frame.

“I was pretty much unconscious,” he said afterward. “My body went numb. I’d never felt that feeling on a basketball court before. It felt like anything I threw up there was going in.

“(Houston’s coaches) were actually telling me to drive the ball in the second half, especially when I was at the four with one of those big guys on me, but I hit an early 3 in the second half from the corner and then hit two more right after that. I felt really good after that and they did a good job getting me open. With dribble hand-offs, quick passes and pin-downs I was able to get free and knock it down. But after the third one I knew I was feeling good.”

- As you know by now, that good feeling continued well into the fourth quarter during which he would hit four more 3s before finally missing a heat check 30-footer with 1:13 left in the game and Memphis up 88-87.

Savvy readers will note that also doubled as the final score. You can divine, then, that the final minute of tonight’s contest was not exactly a masterpiece of late-game execution. Memphis missed a layup, was forced into an unanswered prayer to beat the shot clock and uncorked an offensive foul during its last three possessions of the game. Unfortunately, Houston wasn’t much better. The Rockets ran two plays with Parsons initiating the action, and came up empty each time as neither possession yielded anything even remotely resembling a quality shot.

But while the last minute will be lamented by many, the fact of the matter is that the Rockets were rather fortunate to even have an opportunity to steal this one. Memphis owned the first half and anytime Houston’s starting backcourt of James Harden and Patrick Beverley combine to shoot 3-of-22 from the field, as they did tonight, the Rockets will be hard pressed to emerge victorious.

“Chandler kept us in the game, otherwise it would have been an 88-70 game,” lamented Houston head coach Kevin McHale. We just, for whatever reason, weren’t sharp today. We didn’t attack; we only had 14 free throws – we’ve had 14 free throws in a quarter before. We just weren’t sharp. We battled around for a while but we just couldn’t get anything going and couldn’t sustain anything.”

The pewter lining in all of this: the Rockets won’t have much time to mope about after this loss since a rematch between the two teams will take place less than 24 hours later in Memphis. Parsons believes it will be imperative for his team to match the Grizzlies’ intensity if they’re to gain a measure of revenge tomorrow night.

“We’ve got to player harder, we’ve got to play tougher,” he said. “That’s what they’re known for. They’re junkyard dogs, they’re physical, they bang on the glass, and we’ve got to bring that effort. We can score on them but we need to get out and get in transition; we weren’t doing that at all. We’ve got to prepare the rebound the ball a lot better tomorrow night.”

And-1’s: Two last notes in the wake of Parsons' monster night. Firstly, he's now averaging 28 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists per game during his last three contests while shooting around 59 percent from the field and better than 61 percent from distance - numbers that most definitely put him smack dab in the middle of the Player of the Week conversation heading into tomorrow night's rematch with the Grizzlies. 

And after the game, the University of Florida product made no secret of the disappointment he felt about not being included on the Team USA player pool roster for the upcoming World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

“I’m going to use that the rest of my career,” he said. “I’m not surprised; I’ve been overshadowed and overlooked my whole life so I’m used to that whole part of it. But I was very frustrated. A life dream of mine is to play on that team and I think I deserve to be on that team. I played well in the camp and with my game and my versatility I feel like I’d be perfect for that system. So I was upset, still am upset – I mean it’s a joke that I’m not on there – but life goes on and maybe next time.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN MCHALE

(On the final possession) “It was a pick and roll. They put two on him (Chandler Parsons). Dwight (Howard) rolled and we didn't come back and replace behind. Chandler was hot so we tried getting him the ball on a little action with the pick and roll with Dwight. They (Grizzlies) put two on the ball and we didn't fill in behind.”

(On game play) “We didn't put much pressure on them in the paint and when we did get in there we kind of threw floaters up there and missed shots and played like...we were just throwing it around the basket for awhile. We couldn't get anything going. Chandler got something going offensively but other than that, we couldn't get much going.”

(On shooting) “We didn't make a lot of shots. Chandler kept us in the game. Otherwise, it would have been an 88 to 70 game. For whatever reason, we weren't sharp today. We didn't attack. We had fourteen free throws. We've had fourteen free throws in a quarter before. We just weren't very sharp the whole game. We started off that way. Guys were running for awhile. We couldn't get anything going. We couldn't sustain anything. We tried to get to Dwight but he got in foul trouble and it was an in and out thing again which seems to throw us off our rhythm.”

(On the back-to-back on Memphis) “They (Grizzlies) had confidence. They played well against us. We got to go there tomorrow night and we have to play a lot better. We have to play a lot more efficient. We have to have better ball movement and better body movement and come out with more energy. It felt like tonight we didn't have good energy.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On his second half hot streak) “It's frustrating. At the end of the day, you want to win the game no matter how good or bad you play. It's really irrelevant if you lose the game. It's frustrating. I feel like it was a game that we struggled all game long. We knew that they were going to crash the offensive glass and we still couldn't stop them. We were fouling a lot. They were getting easy buckets. We really just couldn't get stops down the stretch.”

(On the last play of the game) “They (Grizzlies) came out and trapped and I was going to throw it back to James (Harden) and James cut and I guess he was denied and I couldn't really give it to Dwight (Howard) so I just kind of got stuck and I picked my dribble up. I should have kept my dribble alive.”

(On whether or not he knew he broke an all-time record on 3 point shooting) “No. I had no idea. I just saw it (now). I had no idea at the end of the game.”

(On his shooting in the second half) “I was pretty much unconscious. My body went numb. I've never felt that feeling on a  basketball court before. It felt extremely good.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On the loss) “A tough one. A tough, hard fought game. We knew it was going to be tough coming into it. They kind of played at a slower pace and they won the battle tonight as far as how they wanted to play.”

(On the last play of the game) “Chandler was coming off a ball screen and for him to make a play and for him to basically read the defense. They did a good job of trapping him and it was kind of tough to get a pass off.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the Rockets having difficulty trying to stop Memphis) “They (Grizzlies) played rough which is how they play all the time. Rough team. They played inside out and they did a good job at it.”

(On the last play) “It was supposed to be a pick and roll with me and Chandler (Parsons) and he was supposed to come off and hit me on the roll or take a shot and he didn't get what he wanted. It happens.”

(On the Rockets playing Memphis again tomorrow) “We get a chance to make up for this loss. Every game we've had against them this year has been down to the wire so we need to come out there and finish better.”

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES QUOTES COACH DAVE JOERGER

(On the game): “They are the number one team in scoring in the third quarter and you knew they were coming. Obviously, we had opportunities and had the lead at half time before, but they started running downhill and making shots and whatever they made in the second half was fantastic. It was a very physical game by both teams. I thought we did a really nice job on the three point line in the firs half. So, I was getting ready to say that after the game whether we won or lost. Chandler (Parsons) was fantastic, what can you say about him. Zach (Randolph) got it going a little bit in the second half, Mark (Gasol) was coming on and made a great defensive play. It was a good team win. Everybody played well. I thought Courtney Lee was really good and did a good job of staying in front of (James) Harden. He is an elite player and to just try and stay in front of him as much as possible and I thought by and large we did that.”

(On playing the Rockets tomorrow): “This is going to be another good game. They (the Rockets) made a ton of threes, but they only scored 87 points, so you know what they’re talking about down there. We have to run, we have to run, we have to run. We have to get out and we have to run. That’s going to be a big keyt for us and get back in transition. They had six or eight fast break points in the first half, but the second half, they got a lot more. We have to get back on defense and let them see the back of our jerseys.”

NICK CALATHES

(On Chandler Parsons): “He had a great game. Obviously, he’s a great player and he got hot. It was pretty impressive, ten threes in the second half. I’m happy for him and I’m glad we got the W. I thought he should have made it (the USA team) for sure. He has that type of game and he’s had that type of year this year. I think he would have been a great fit. He’s played well this year, and I wish him the best.”

COURTNEY LEE

(On defending James Harden): “That was the key, just trying to stay in front of him and trying not to foul as much as possible. James (Harden) is a great offensive player and some nights they (the Rockets) have it going, and some nights they don’t. It could be due to defense, or it could be due to him, but we had to make plays off the ball and my focus was just to stay in front of him.“

ZACH RANDOLPH

(On the game): “They (the Rockets) are one of the best teams in scoring in the third and when we came out, they made a run. We kept fighting and our guys played together and it was a team win. Mike (Conley) had a great game, Courtney (Lee) had a great game, and (James) Johnson had a great game. It was a team win.”

(On the Rockets’ come back in the second half): “That Chandler, he is something else. The kid has improved so much and he works on his game and there’s not enough I can say about the young guy. He keeps working and he’s getting better and better. It was a 48-minute game and we needed everybody. We knew it was going to be a tough game and we just kept fighting and fighting.”

MIKE CONLEY

(On the Rockets third quarter run): “We needed to weather the storm. They are a very good third quarter team. They get out to quick starts there and they made their run and we had to weather that, but we had to get back to playing defense, controlling the boards, making them take tough shots and then executing offensively.”

(On Parsons’s three point shooting): “It was unbelievable. Everything he put up was going in and it got scary there for a little bit and we couldn’t stop him. When somebody is shooting like that, what can you do? Luckily, we got the win.”

NOTES

The Rockets returned from a 13-point deficit tonight to take a five-point lead, but the Grizzles battled back to take a hard-fought 88-87 victory. Memphis picked up its first win over a Southwest Division opponent. The Grizzlies were the last NBA team this season to registered a win within its own division (1-10). Houston dropped to 7-3 against divisional foes in 2013-14, as well as snapping a four-game winning streak within the division.

Houston finished 14-of-34 (.412) from beyond the arc tonight after starting out 1-of-14 (.071) in the first half.

Memphis again posted a 42-31 rebounding edge tonight The Grizzlies also took the battle of the boards by 49-41 in the last meeting at Houston (12/26/13).

The Rockets have now outscored the Grizzlies by a combined 62-17 off the break in the three games this season.

Houston was held to just 30 paint points tonight. The Rockets had 35-plus points in the paint in each of their first 44 games this season, setting its longest single-season streak of scoring at least 35 points in the paint over the last 10 seasons (prev. high: 36-game streak in 2012-13).

Chandler Parsons finished with a career-high 34 points (11-17 FG) and set the franchise record for 3-pointers made in a game with a 10-of-14 performance from downtown. His 10 straight makes also matched the Rockets individual mark for most consecutive 3-pointers made without a miss originally set by Kenny Smith (1/22/91-2/6/91). Parsons also became the first player in Rockets history to hit six treys in a quarter en route to 18 points (6-6 3FG) in tonight’s third quarter. The last time this happened in the NBA was Brooklyn guard Joe Johnson with eight in the third quarter (10 in game) vs. Philadelphia (12/16/13). Parsons has averaged 25.0 points (.559, 19-34FG), 10 rebounds and 5.5 assists over the prior two outings, while hitting 6-of-12 (.500) from beyond the arc.

James Harden recorded 10 points (5-6 FT) and a career-high 13 assists tonight. Harden had reached a previous career-high 12 dimes twice before (last on 11/27/12 vs. Toronto).

Dwight Howard posted 11 points (5-10 FG), 12 boards and two blocks tonight. Howard has racked up four consecutive double-doubles.

Courtney Lee led the Grizzlies with 19 points (6-9 FG, 6-6 FT) tonight. Lee had averaged 16.8 points on .571 shooting (.421 3FG shooting) in five prior games as a starter with the Grizzlies. He has also not missed a free throw since joining Memphis (22-22 FT).

Zach Randolph recorded 15 points (6-17 FG) and eight rebounds tonight. Randolph still needs just one more double-double to tie Pau Gasol (189) for the Grizzlies franchise double-double record.

Mike Conley collected 14 points (6-11 FG) and three assists tonight. Conley has now scored 10-plus points in all but two games this season.

PREVIEW

The Basics:

Memphis Grizzlies (20-20) at Houston Rockets (29-15)

Point Differential:

Memphis: -0.7 (NBA rank: 16th)

Houston: +4.0 (NBA rank: 9th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Memphis: 102.5 (18th)

Houston: 107.8 (4th)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Memphis: 104.1 (17th)

Houston: 102.2 (T-10th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Memphis: 92.4 (30th)

Houston: 98.31 (7th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Memphis: 48.2% (T-21st)

Houston: 53.0% (3rd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Memphis: 14.4 (8th)

Houston: 16.5 (T-26th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Memphis: 51.9% (T-4th); offensive rebound rate: 28.7% (4th); defensive rebound rate: 75.9% (T-6th)

Houston: 51.8% (T-6th); offensive rebound rate: 27.2% (T-9th); defensive rebound rate: 73.3% (T-23rd)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Memphis: .257 (T-23rd)

Houston: .401 (1st)

- Harden 27 points on 2 makes last time

- Rox have gone 6-24 and 5-24 from 3 in those two games

If Austin Powers were into NBA hoops, odds are he wouldn’t be a big fan of the Memphis Grizzlies given that scoring just ain’t their bag, baby. Then again, perhaps he might fancy their penchant for the grit-and-grind (one suspects he’d be especially fond of the latter half of that equation).

What does any of that have to do with tonight’s game? Absolutely nothing, of course, outside of the fact that sometimes – say, for instance, when one finds oneself stuck in a two-and-a-half-hour commute to work while the city of Houston is paralyzed by a bit of freezing rain – picturing the bromance that would surely ensue between Powers and Grizzlies’ minority owner Justin Timberlake is just the sort of temporary diversion one needs in order to survive the real world. Or maybe that’s just me.

Speaking of survival (and actual, you know, basketball stuff), one of the more intriguing aspects of tonight’s matchup figures to lie in finding out how the Rockets’ currently rip-roaring offense will cope with the plodding pace and uber-physical approach that has come to define Memphis over the years. The contrast of styles employed by these two Southwest Division foes is always front and center when they face off, and this evening’s tilt will be no exception.

Houston has been on a scoring spree during its last three games, averaging nearly 120 points per contest while generating a mind-bending offensive rating of 118.3 during that time. That said, each of those games featured one of the 10 worst defenses in the league on the other side of the floor. And though the Grizzlies’ D has not been up to its usual standards this year, it has started to show far more bite recently with the return of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and the addition of former Rocket Courtney Lee. Throw in the fact that all-around defensive menace Tony Allen might be ready to return tonight after missing more than two weeks with a hand injury, and nearly all the ingredients are in place for Memphis to resume its nightly suffocation of opponents on the offensive side of the floor.

Even without Gasol, the Grizzlies gave the Rockets all they could handle during their two previous meetings this season. Now that he’s back, Houston’s players and coaches know they’ll have to be even better tonight if they’re to put Memphis on ice – cryogenically or otherwise.

Know Thy Enemy

- A word or two about the resurgent Grizzlies’ defense: Memphis owns the fourth-best defense in the league for the month of January, having produced a defensive rating of 100.0 during their ten games this month. And as one might expect, the Grizz defense has been even better of late due to the boost received by the return of Gasol. The sample size is small, but Memphis has defended at a Pacers-esque level in the four games since Gasol’s arrival, limiting opponents to just 94.5 points per 100 possessions during that time. 

- Given their girth, size and reputation, it’s hardly a surprise that, after adjusting for pace, the Grizzlies reside in the NBA’s top-5 in both second chance points and points scored in the paint per game. The former category promises to be especially huge tonight, as Memphis has absolutely dominated the Rockets on the offensive glass in both meetings this season. The Grizzlies have totaled a whopping 34 offensive rebounds in those two contests, allowing them to outscore Houston 37-24 in terms of second chance points.

On the other end of the floor, Memphis has been exceedingly effective in that category as well: The Grizzlies allow the fewest second chance points per game (pace adjusted) of any team in the league.

- Another reason why it would behoove Houston to take especially good care of the defensive glass tonight: every rebound the Rockets get will provide them with a precious opportunity to push the pace against a Grizzlies team that has endured a season-long struggle with its transition defense. According to Synergy Sports, Memphis ranks a lowly 28th in transition D and Houston has taken full advantage of that glaring weakness in both meetings this year, owning a 39-9 edge in fast break points during that time.

The Rockets, of course, are coming off a game that saw them ring up 29 fast break points against Sacramento’s league-worst transition defense.

- Memphis is last in the league in 3-pointers attempted per game, though with Courtney Lee’s 43 percent hit rate from downtown now in the mix, the Grizzlies have been taking a couple more long-range shots per game.

Lee, by the way, has thus far been a massive boon for the Memphis lineup. The Grizzlies’ net rating during his 215 minutes of action so far is a team-high +11.3. And though the sample size for Memphis’ new-look starting lineup (featuring Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Tayshaun Prince) is still small, the early results demand one’s attention: In their 77 minutes of shared floor time, the Grizzlies have outscored the opposition by more than 14 points per 100 possessions.

- Memphis is the only team in the NBA that has yet to win a game within its division. Against Southwest Division foes in 2013-14, the Grizzlies are 0-10.

In the spotlight

Two things to keep an eye on tonight: First and foremost, with Terrence Jones listed as a game-time decision due to a thigh injury and sickness, Houston faces the prospect of facing the big, burly Grizzlies while perilously thin at the power forward spot. Donatas Motiejunas has been solid of late, but also foul prone, leaving Chandler Parsons and Omri Casspi as the only other potential fill-ins at the position. Both players possess the potential to give the Grizzlies’ bigs fits on the offensive end, but defensively their distinct lack of heft could prove similarly problematic for the Rockets.

Lastly, it’s likely a safe bet that Dwight Howard’s two-game streak of not playing a single fourth quarter second against the Grizzlies will come to an end tonight. And call it a hunch, but something tells me the seven-time All-Star might be fueled by a few other motivating factors as well.  

Injury Update

Terrence Jones (thigh) is a game-time decision. Francisco Garcia (knee), Greg Smith (knee) and Omer Asik (knee) are out.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.