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Game Day: Rockets vs. Hawks

Rockets cruise to 113-84 victory over Hawks for their 3rd straight win

Rockets vs. Hawks - 11/27/2013

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s Wednesday night matchup with the Atlanta Hawks:

POST-GAME

Coming into tonight’s game, the Rockets considered their record an “ugly 10-5.” They knew they hadn’t come anywhere close to playing their best basketball yet and still felt the sting of being a few blown leads away from owning a much more palatable and eye-pleasing mark of 13-2.

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But let’s face it: no championship hopeful enters a new campaign hoping to play its best ball in November (insert ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’ cliché here). And the truth is, ugly or no, Houston has steadily and incrementally improved as the season crawls along as seen by the fact the Rockets are currently just a dud fourth quarter in Dallas away from sporting a seven-game winning streak after tonight’s 113-84 drubbing of the Atlanta Hawks. The Rockets’ point differential during this stretch: an average of +12 per game. Pretty aesthetically pleasing, no?

Speaking of things that are easy on the eyes, have you seen Terrence Jones’ play lately? The second-year stalwart from Kentucky has been nothing short of a revelation this month and he wasted no time adding to his hoops resume tonight, setting the tone right from the opening tip by knocking down his first six shots from the field on his way to leading all scorers with 14 first half points.

The 21-year-old began the game by befuddling the Hawks with a series of pump fakes  - the Hawks’ repeated biting at said fakes had head coach Mike Budenholzer so dismayed that he could be seen begging and pleading with his charges to stop leaping off their feet every time Jones feinted as if to shoot – before getting down to the serious business of highlight generation in the second quarter when he summarily swatted a shot on one end and then raced down the floor to throw down a thunderous flush at the other. The sequence was so eye-popping, in fact, that it even elicited a reaction from the normally serene second-year player; Jones’ punctuated the slam with a primal roar that probably met his emotional expression quota for the rest of the calendar year.

Jones was nothing short of tremendous during the first half, as was Chandler Parsons who just so happened to be the one serving up the alley-oop dish upon which Jones so greedily feasted. Together they combined to rack up 26 points during the opening two periods of play, ensuring that Houston had a comfortable cushion with which to work for the entirety of the first half. Of course, Parsons playing well isn’t exactly an anomaly these days either: Over the course of his past season games the third-year forward is now shooting 61 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. That kind of production is nearly as hot as his grooming habits (cue eye roll). 

If Jones and Parsons were the party starters this Thanksgiving Eve, then Francisco Garcia, Aaron Brooks and the rest of the Rockets’ reserves took it upon themselves to slam the doors shut, usher Atlanta out and ensure that the Toyota Center faithful went home feeling well-fed, happy and wholly satisfied. What a five-day stretch it’s been for Houston’s bench. It began, of course, with the bloodletting Minnesota experienced at the hands of Brooks Saturday night, continued in Memphis with the fourth quarter rally orchestrated in part by Garcia and Omer Asik, and then blew up in about the biggest way imaginable when the bench mob decided it had zero interest in allowing tonight’s festivities to include anything even remotely resembling late-game drama.

There was a moment in the third quarter when it seemed as if that’s where this game might be headed. The Hawks had closed the gap to five points and Houston’s offense was sputtering somewhat with James Harden (foot) in street clothes and Jeremy Lin (right knee bruise; day-to-day) in the locker room after suffering an injury just four minutes into the first quarter. Without its two best perimeter playmakers, Houston needed an offensive boost from somewhere and there were stretches when it appeared as if the Rockets might have to grind out a victory in similar fashion to the way they dispatched the Grizzlies Monday night. Forget that. Brooks and Garcia proceeded to go on a 3-point shooting extravaganza from that point forward, eradicating any thoughts of a tight finish while elevating Houston to a 29-point blowout. The Rockets’ bench combined to score a whopping 67 points this evening. For perspective, they came in averaging nearly 30 points per contest. Need to make up for the absence of Harden and Lin? Yep, doubling your bench production is probably a good way to get the job done.

The Rockets went wire-to-wire in victory; the fourth straight time they’ve done so at home. The last time they trailed at Toyota Center: the first overtime period against Toronto on November 11.  Houston will get a chance to build upon that streak Friday night when the now 4-11 Brooklyn Nets invade Houston.

Until then, happy Thanksgiving, y’all. May you and your loved ones be abundantly blessed.

NOTES AND QUOTES

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On guys stepping up off the bench) ”Aaron (Brooks) had two fantastic games at the Toyota Center. He's playing very well. He stays ready. Francisco (Garcia)...I was telling him, those first few shots go, everything else starts happening. I thought his defense in the Memphis game was fantastic in that 4th quarter. I thought his energy...that usually gets you going. I think it carried over tonight. As always, when you kind of go through a period where you don't shoot the ball very well, the dam finally breaks and water flows.”

(On Francisco Garcia's shooting) “Francisco is a really good three point shooter. We put him in that position a lot. I think layups help. I think anytime you drive and get a layup it makes you feel better. Just him making a couple of those really stretch you out...we run a couple of plays to see if we couldn't shake him up behind the play and got some shots for him, and he knocked them down. That was big.”

(On Chandler Parson's being a facilitator) “Chandler's big. He's 6'9. He can see over the top a lot. The last couple of games he has done a really good job of that. He's always been a pretty good facilitator and a guy who’s willing to move the ball.”

(On Jeremy Lin's status) “He's still hobbling around in there pretty badly. I think we already did the x-rays and they were negative. I think what happened is that he got hit right on the nerve so he pinched a nerve and his leg just kind of went numb and he couldn't push off on it. I don't know. I sure hope he gets a lot better by tomorrow but he said he can walk. I guess we'll see. I really don't know, honestly.”

AARON BROOKS

(On the bench scoring) “It's just the way it is. We are a talented team. A lot of guys are working out and have a lot of energy that are ready to play. When Jeremy (Lin) goes out guys are stepping up and are ready to play.”

(On Francisco Garcia) “At the end of the game (the Memphis game) there is that one driving layup that he had and once he made that layup I knew those next three shots, he was going to make them and he just carried it over into this game. He's feeling it. When he gets going, just watch it fly.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the team win) “It was great. These are the types of wins that we need, especially this month when we play a lot of games. I think it was good for us to come out and jump on them early and then in the second half we did the same thing. We've just got to build off of it.”

(On the Rockets efforts defensively) “That's something that we are trying to get a lot better at, so that we can get out and run. We did that pretty good tonight.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the Rockets taking care of the ball and committing 13 turnovers tonight) “We've got such a balanced team and when we play like that and when we move the ball, when we play unselfish, we're very hard to guard. Tonight we kept much better care of the ball. We kept feeding Dwight (Howard) early and established him early and our bench was huge again, with Omri (Casspi) and Francisco (Garcia) and Aaron (Brooks), Omer (Asik), everyone stepping up and that's what we're going to need the rest of the season.”

(On the Rockets making outside shots) “It always helps to be knocking down shots. It makes the defense keep you honest and it makes them rotate more so that we can start driving and making extra passes. We're a team where we don't really need to make outside shots to win games. We can go inside out and we can get to the foul line. It makes it easier when we are hitting shots but we don't rely on that.”

FRANCISCO GARCIA

(On his game) “My teammates, they give me a lot of confidence. They want me to shoot the ball in the flow of the game. It's good when you play with teammates like that who give you support. We've got a good team here. We've got good chemistry going right now.”

ATLANTA HAWKS COACH MIKE BUDENHOLZER

(On the game) “Obviously, it was a tough game. I think for three quarters we put ourselves in some positions where we had some opportunities and battled. In the fourth quarter, we weren’t able to find the way to sustain that effort and keep it close. You have to give them a lot of credit. They (Rockets) are a very good team. They understand how they want to play and understand their system and we’re still building that identity and building our understanding on how to sustain it for four quarters.”

(On the Rockets) “They (Rockets) have some ‘bigs’ inside with Dwight (Howard) and (Omer) Asik and Terrence Jones. Their defense was good.”

(On the Rockets bench) “I think you can say their bench was the difference in the game. Francisco Garcia hit some really tough shots and he hit some open looks he made also, but the tough ones, there were times we were all over him and he still managed to score. Aaron Brooks was very similar. He had some open looks he made and then he made some tough baskets. They have some depth and they have a good team. All those guys came in and contributed and the bench was the big difference tonight.”

AL HORFORD

(On what Houston did defensively) “They (Rockets) did a good job. I felt like we weren’t being aggressive enough at times on the offensive end and we did get some good looks, but we didn’t knock them down. They have a lot of fire power over there with (Francisco) Garcia and (Chandler) Parsons. I think they made 14 three’s, and that makes a big difference.”

(On what Houston did defensively to keep Atlanta from getting back in the game) “They (Rockets) just turned the intensity up more and we had an opportunity there in the third to really cut it down and we turned the ball over and took a bad shot and they got to scoring and kept finding ways to expand the lead. You have to give them credit.”

(On the Rockets’ bench) “Great, great. (Aaron) Brooks and (Francisco) Garcia, they both played great and we can’t forget Omer (Asik) because he went in there and really impacts the game so well for them and their whole bench did a great job.”

CARTIER MARTIN

(On the game) “They made some great shots tonight and shot the ball well from outside. They just played a great game tonight. They got the ball and played inside, out and we just didn’t execute as well as we should have.”

(On his two early fouls) “It really didn’t disrupt us as a team, but it definitely was a downer for me being that I just started for 36 seconds and got two tough fouls. That’s not an excuse for what happened. That definitely wasn’t a reason why we didn’t win. We just didn’t play up to our ability tonight. We just have to come out the next game and do better.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,051, marking a ninth straight sellout at Toyota Center.

The Rockets racked up a 113-84 triumph over the Hawks tonight, which gave Houston six straight wins over Atlanta (1/15/11-11/27/13). The 29-point win also marked Houston’s largest margin of victory this season.

Houston went a fourth consecutive home game without giving up the lead. The Rockets have not trailed at Toyota Center since the 3:59 mark (-1, 87-88) of the first OT vs. Toronto (11/11/13). Houston also scored the first bucket of the night and went wire-to-wire for a 95-84 win in 2011-12 vs. Atlanta (12/31/11).

The Rockets nailed 43-of-78 (.551) from the floor tonight, which included a 14-of-27 (.519) performance from downtown. Houston has now gone a combined 242-of-455 (.532) from the field over its last six games.

Houston outrebounded Atlanta by a 42-32 (+10) edge tonight. The Rockets have now taken the battle of the boards 12 times this season, including four games by a double-digit margin.

The Houston bench outscored the Atlanta reserves by a 67-32 (+35) margin tonight.

Francisco Garcia came off the bench with a season-high 21 points (9-14 FG, 3-6 3FG) tonight. Garcia went 5-of-9 from beyond the arc en route to his prior best of 19 points (7-13 FG) vs. Charlotte (10/30/13).

Aaron Brooks also helped lead the bench brigade with another 21 points (7-12 FG, 4-6 3FG, 3-3 FT), four assists and two steals tonight. Brooks’ last home outing saw him lead Houston with a season-high 26 points (10-14 FG, 6-7 3FG), five assists, four boards and two steals vs. Minnesota (11/23/13).

Omer Asik added a season-best 10 points (4-7 FG) to go along with a game-high nine rebounds.

Terrence Jones posted 14 points (6-10 FG), six rebounds and one block tonight. Jones is now averaging 14.4 points (115 TP), 7.9 rebounds (63 TR) and 1.63 blocks (13 TB) in his eight starts this season.

Chandler Parsons finished with 14 points (6-11 FG) and four assists tonight. Parsons has now reached double-figuring scoring in 11 consecutive games (11/7/13-11/27/13). He recorded a career-high 13 consecutive double-digit scoring games (2/12/13-3/15/13) last season.

Dwight Howard collected 11 points (4-6 FG), eight rebounds, a team-high-tying four assists, two steals and one block.

Jeremy Lin left tonight’s game with a right knee contusion.

Paul Millsap topped four Hawks in double-digit scoring with 16 points (6-10 FG), five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block tonight.

Al Horford recorded 14 points on 7-of-14 shooting to go with eight boards tonight. Horford is on track to record his sixth straight season of at least a .520 field goal percentage.

Cartier Martin, who attended Aldine Nimitz High School in Houston, recorded 14 points (5-10 FG) off a 4-of-7 outing from 3-point range tonight.

PREVIEW:

The Basics:

Atlanta Hawks (8-7) at Houston Rockets (10-5)  

Point Differential:

Atlanta: +1.3 (NBA rank: 11th)

Houston: +4.5 (NBA rank: 8th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Atlanta: 102.2 (12th)

Houston: 108.1 (3rd)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Atlanta: 101.1 (10th)

Houston: 101.6 (13th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Atlanta: 97.94 (11th)

Houston: 99.54 (5th)

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):

Atlanta: 51.2% (8th)

Houston: 54.6% (2nd)

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

Atlanta: 15.7 (8th)

Houston: 19.0 (30th)

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

Atlanta: 48.5% (26th); offensive rebound rate: 19.6% (29th); defensive rebound rate: 76.7% (3rd)

Houston: 53.1% (1st); offensive rebound rate: 28.5% (5th); defensive rebound rate: 71.8% (28th)

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

Atlanta: .288 (12th)

Houston: .456 (1st)

You’ve got to love the Eastern Conference. The Hawks swoop into town currently occupying the East’s No. 3 seed despite owning an 8-7 record accrued while playing the third easiest schedule in the NBA to date (Related: Atlanta has thus far played only three teams with a record of .500 or better – it’s lost them all). It’s obviously exceedingly early, but right now a break even record may well be good enough to “earn” home-court in the first round.  How much of a free-for-all is the East? Even the last place Milwaukee Bucks, 2-11 and sporting a scintillating point differential of -10.5, find themselves just thee-and-a-half games back of the team currently occupying the 8-spot. What a world.

None of this, by the way, is meant to disparage or diminish the threat posed by the Hawks. Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver … there’s high quality NBA talent on this roster and new head coach Mike Budenholzer’s invaluable experience and indoctrination within the San Antonio Spurs’ unique milieu should help him get the most out of his charges. If he does, Atlanta likely won’t be giving up that three-seed anytime soon.

Know Thy Enemy

- Let’s start with the simple stuff. Take one guess as to the owner of this green-laden shot chart:

The Kyle Korver scouting report practically reads like a Dr. Seuss couplet: You should not leave him here or there/You should not leave him anywhere. Korver is a catch-and-shoot assassin who’s hitting 50 percent of his 3s, the vast majority of which come via spot-up situations. He's not going to beat you off the dribble; a whopping 59 of his 62 made field goals have come via a teammate's assist. To their credit, the Rockets defended Korver exceptionally well last season when they limited him to a mere 1-of-6 shooting combined during their two victories over Atlanta. The same sort of resolve and constant vigilant attention to the sharpshooter’s whereabouts will be required of Houston’s defenders tonight (UPDATE: Accoring to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Korver did not accompany the Hawks to Houston due to a rib contusion suffered last night during Atlanta's loss to the Magic. Lou Williams and Shelvin Mack are also out tonight, leaving the Hawks perilously thin at the point guard position).

- Al Horford is awesome. The two-time All-Star isn’t the kind of guy who makes frequent appearances on highlight reels; instead he just does all the little things that contribute to winning on both sides of the floor. He’s a terrific finisher around the rim, sets solid screens and can be destructive from the elbows. Defensively, he’s smart, disruptive and absolutely vital to his team’s integrity on that end of the court, as seen by the fact Atlanta’s D performs very near a top-5 level when he’s on the floor (defensive rating: 98.8) and then plummets to a bottom of the barrel unit whenever he takes a breather (Atlanta’s D-rating when Horford is off the court (106.1).

- Now in the process of making the mini-leap: Jeff Teague. The fifth-year point guard has steadily improved every season of his pro career and this year looks like it will be no exception. His usage rate has skyrocketed from where it was two years ago but, impressively, so too has his efficiency. He is tied for fifth in the NBA in points created by assists per game (19.9) and ranks third in the league in team points per game derived from his drives to the basket (11.2). As the ball-handler spearheading the pick-and-roll, he currently resides in the league’s 85th percentile according to Synergy Sports. And though his shooting from the field has been icy to start the season, he’s made up for it by getting himself to the free throw line nearly seven times per game – a remarkable and important increase given that his career-best in that category coming into this campaign was just 2.8 free throws per contest.

In the spotlight

Omri Casspi admitted yesterday that he wasn’t even sure he would make the team coming into training camp. Those fears and concerns must feel as if they existed a lifetime ago now. The fifth-year forward has been instrumental to Houston’s success this season in ways great and small. He is the club’s plus/minus leader both from a per game (+6.7) and overall (+94) perspective, and he’s a fixture in many of the Rockets’ most potent and explosive lineup combinations. The shooting, savvy and speed he brings to the four-spot open up so many things within Houston’s pace-and-space offense and his presence has gone a long way (and then some) in helping to fill the Delfino-sized hole the Rockets had prior to his arrival and subsequent ascension.

Injury Update

James Harden (foot) and Ronnie Brewer (calf) will be game-time decisions. Greg Smith (knee) is out.

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