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Game Day: Rockets vs. Knicks

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 102-100 win over the New York Knicks

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s 102-100 win over the New York Knicks:


Because they are the Knicks and bizarre, inexplicable things seem to gravitate toward them like crazy attaches itself to a pop princess, perhaps this ending should have been expected.

Leave a scorching hot James Harden all by his lonesome for a wide-open 3 in crunch time? Why not?

Lose track of the score, eschew an opportunity to play for the last shot and instead launch a hasty triple in a tie game with the shot clock turned off? Don't mind if I do!

These were gifts, pure and simple – ones the Rockets greedily and happily accepted. This was not the breakout game Houston came in search of when the evening began. But it was a win, and you know what they say about beggars and choosers.

“We still didn’t play very well,” admitted Chandler Parsons after the game. “But after the last two bad losses, this was definitely very important for us to not go into a three-game skid and to get this one at home.”

That they did, thanks to Harden’s latest heroics and more than a little assistance from the oh-so generous Knicks. For the second consecutive game, Houston’s All-Star shooting guard erupted in the second half, this time pouring in 27 of his game-high 37 points during the final two periods of play.

“That’s what superstars do,” said Jeremy Lin of his teammate’s offensive explosion. “They take over and put their team on their back and that’s what he did for us tonight. We’re lucky to have him.”

Indeed, Harden did his thing, and the Knicks, in the end, did theirs. The end result may not have been Masterpiece Theater, but it sure as heck was entertaining - sort of like those big budget action films that require you to shut off your brain so you can better enjoy the nonsensical plot and all its accompanying spills, thrills and special effects.

In that respect, the fans most definitely got their money's worth Friday night. Harden's second half scoring spree alone was worth the price of admission. As for the Knicks, well, let's just say they came in like a wrecking ball before ultimately crashing in a blazing fall. 

Yes, it was that kind of night at Toyota Center. The highbrow stuff can come later when Houston finds itself healthier and better rested. In the interim, the Rockets simply needed a win in the worst way. And for the ninth consecutive time, the Knicks handed Houston the kind of elixir that leaves its imbiber feeling all warm and fuzzy afterward. The delivery of said concoction was at times suspect; there were moments, in fact, when it seemed as if it might not arrive at all. But when it finally reached the Rockets' hands, suffice to say they were only too happy to guzzle it down and express their appreciation and gratitude for all of the many splendored gifts their guests had so generously bestowed upon them during a wild, wacky and otherwise unforgettable Friday night.    


- The Rockets came into tonight’s game saying all the right things about the need to bring far more energy, pace and zip to the contest right from the outset. There are words, however, and there are actions and no Houston player better embodied the Rockets’ pre-game call to arms than did Jeremy Lin, who wasted no time showing that he was bound and determined to be as aggressive as possible. Lin pushed the tempo seemingly every time he touched the ball in the opening minutes and the end result was a hot start that saw him score seven quick points while the Rockets laid claim to an early 11-4 edge.


And though Houston’s collective energy still seemed to wax and wane as the first half unfolded, Lin’s never wavered. He hit halftime with a game-high 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting – nearly all of which were the byproduct of his relentless rim attacks.

“I just wanted to play really aggressive,” he said after the game. “Push the ball and try to get back to playing with a lot of pace. That was kind of our game plan today.”

- The Rockets trailed 24-20 after the first quarter as they were undone by too many turnovers and poor 3-point shooting once again. The Knicks, meanwhile, brushed aside an ice-cold start by scoring on 8-of-9 possessions at one point while finishing the quarter on a 20-9 run. That rapidly pulsating tempo and energy Houston had at the start of the period? It largely dissipated when the Rockets couldn’t get stops at the other end.

Given recent developments, none of that could be considered too terribly surprising. What was somewhat shocking, however, was the fact Houston finished the period with just two free throw attempts to their credit while the Knicks had four – a reality that surely wouldn’t hold given the fact New York came into the contest ranked dead last in both free throw rate and opponent free throw rate (note: it didn't - the Rockets didn't dominate the free throw battle, but they did end up with 28 trips to the charity stripe to New York's 24).

- When Carmelo Anthony sat to start the second quarter, the Knicks’ offense sans ‘Melo was as advertized; namely, it seemed allergic to scoring. But the Rockets didn’t take advantage as they could have, primarily due its continued ball control issues and that old, familiar bugaboo: defensive rebounding. The Knicks corralled more than 32 percent of their misses in the first half while Houston had racked up 10 turnovers by the break. As a result, even though the Rockets held a 48-47 edge at halftime, it still felt a bit like they had missed out on an opportunity to build a bigger gap between themselves and the Knicks.

- Gosh, the Knicks sure are a much better team ever since they traded Iman Shumpert for Steph Curry. How else to explain that flame throwing two-guard sporting a Knicks uni who’s been raining in triples over the last 24 hours? Just one night after draining six of his eight 3s during New York’s upset of the Spurs, Shumpert topped himself by knocking down all six of his 3-point attempts tonight. New York’s third-year wing finished with 26 points and played a massive role in the Knicks’ near sweep of San Antonio and Houston. He also served as example No. 1,324 of how the addition of a little bit of floor spacing can go a long way in today’s NBA. 

- With Shumpert feeling it and Anthony pouring in his usual point total, New York carried an 81-73 lead into the final frame. Even James Harden’s 16 third quarter points weren’t enough to prevent Houston from falling behind, since the rest of his teammates combined to hit just 4 of their 13 shots in the period.

- Given the dire circumstances, the Rockets had little choice but to make a run to start the fourth quarter, especially since the Knicks chose to simultaneously rest ‘Melo, Shump and Tyson Chandler to begin the period. And this time Houston took full advantage of the opportunity, ripping off a 10-1 run in less than three minutes to rapidly reclaim the lead.

Obviously Knicks Head Coach Mike Woodson had to rest his big guns at some point, but having all three of them on the bench at the same time sure seemed like a near certain way to ensure the Rockets would get back in the game in a hurry - and that they did on the strength of back-to-back 3s courtesy of Aaron Brooks and Francisco Garcia. Houston’s rally came so decisively, in fact, that head coach Kevin McHale decided to stick with Brooks manning the point guard position for the entire fourth quarter.

“We were down eight and we tied the game up pretty quickly so I was like, hey, I’ll let than unit (go) and ride them pretty hard,” he said. “That group got us back in the game and I just felt that I would let them go. AB had some decent looks; he makes those running hook shots and he missed them, but he got in the paint and it was just one of those things where I decided to let him go.”

- How does one even begin to describe the wackiness that ensued down the stretch of tonight’s zany affair? Perhaps we should have known the game was about to enter the twilight zone when New York’s defenders somehow decided to leave James Harden all by his lonesome for a wide-open 3 that would break the deadlock and put Houston back in front. Keep in mind, this is the same James Harden who was in the process of finishing with 37 points while shooting 5-of-10 from beyond the arc – numbers right in line with his monstrous per-game averages against the Knicks ever since he began donning a Rockets jersey.

Turns out, however, that sequence was mere child’s play compared to what was to come. With the game once again tied and less than a minute remaining, the Knicks found themselves with the ball and a chance to seize the lead, perhaps for good. Beno Udrih missed a 3-point attempt with 24 seconds left on the game clock, but Tyson Chandler collected the rebound (the Knicks would finish the game with a robust offensive rebound rate of 32.7 percent), giving New York an opportunity to play for the final shot.

But these are the Knicks we’re talking about here – of course it couldn’t be that cut and dry. The ball found J.R. Smith all alone at the top of the key, and the NBA’s foremost practitioner of chaos theory threw caution to the wind, unleashed a triple of his own at the 19-second mark, and then watched as the ball caromed off the rim and Udrih unintentionally fouled Brooks, sending Houston’s point guard to the free throw line for what would prove to be the game-deciding points. The best part: After the game, Smith admitted that he thought his team was trailing by two when he went up for the shot and that it was “just bad basketball IQ by me.” Only in New York.

- With the win, the Rockets improve to 22-13 and now will get to enjoy some sorely needed time off. Houston doesn’t play again until next Wednesday when the Lakers come to town. 



 (On the Rockets play tonight) “We had good defense (on possession before Knicks' last possession). AB (Aaron Brooks) ended up with the rebound and got fouled by Beno Udrih and went down and made the two free throws. After that, it was kind of a scramble. The ball was flying all over the place. They got an offensive rebound and kicked it out. We kind of scrambled our way around and ended up with Udrih taking a tough runner there. We just found a way to win the game tonight again. I thought our effort was better. I thought that we went out there...we still didn't play a clean game. We did have five turnovers in the second half which was a huge point of emphasis. For us, it was a point of emphasis at halftime. We had ten turnovers and they nine offensive rebounds. We were shooting a decent percentage; they just got so many more shots than we did with our turnovers. We had five turnovers in the second half. We found a way to win the game. We're still not clicking on all cylinders, but we just have to find a way to win some games.”

(On defensive play on the final Knicks possession) “A couple of those guys pump faked and dribbled. I thought they were going to load it up and shoot it. Iman Shumpert shot the lights out tonight. He was six of six from the three point line. I'm just glad the ball didn't get around to him when he was open. We were trying to take away the three and made an adjustment when James (Harden) was guarding (Beno) Udrih and was trying to switch some stuff with he and Chandler (Parsons) if Udrih got in the pick and roll with (Carmelo) Anthony and that seemed to slow him down a little bit.”

(On going with Aaron Brooks the entire fourth quarter) “That group got us back in the game. I just felt that we were going to let them go. AB had some decent looks and some hard drives. He makes those little running hook shots, but he missed it. He got in the paint. I just decided to let AB go.”

(On James Harden's play the last two games) “He had 37 (points) and 38 (points against Sacramento). We needed them all too. He made some big three's in that second half. He's our guy who's going to have the ball tonight and we're going to give him the ball, especially in late game situations. He made a big step back tonight that gave us a five-point lead. We were able to kind of nurse that thing in.”

(On the Rockets effort) “We tried to get out and get the wings running more. We pushed them a little bit more. I thought we got three and four efforts on the defensive end. I thought guys guarded their guys a little bit better individually. There weren't as many blow bys. In the Sacramento game, we had about sixteen or seventeen blow bys where guys just got the ball and straight line dribbled. There weren't a lot of blow byes (tonight).”


(On the win) “That was crazy. It was one of those games where it wasn't pretty again. We're scratching and we are fighting right now and not a lot is going our way, but that's a good tough win with a great home crowd. A lot of guys stepped up tonight. I'm happy to come out of there with a win, but we can definitely learn from this and get better because it wasn't pretty.”

(On the challenge of defending Carmelo Anthony) “He is one of the best scorers in the NBA. I Iike to get up for those games and I love taking on those challenges. He's one of those guys where he is going to hit very difficult shots. I've got to keep playing and I have to stay confident and just give him credit when he hits shots like that. I thought tonight I was physical with him. I didn't let him get the ball where he wanted to get it a lot of times and just try to make it as difficult as possible for him and keep contesting his long two point (jump) shots. He is going to hit some, but he missed a lot, too. So, I was happy with the way I played and my help defense was also great.”


(On the importance of the win) “It's a good thing anytime you get a win, especially for us. After a losing two in a row, we really needed this one. I think for us, we are capable of playing in the half court. We prefer to have our transition be our first option, but not every game you're going to be able to play in transition.”

(On the Rockets effort tonight) “I thought we just played harder. They (Knicks) played an awesome game. They had guys who hit big shots. 'Melo (Carmelo Anthony) always hits big shots and they played a great game, but I felt we played much harder than we did the last couple of home games.”


(On J.R. Smith’s shot) ”I was surprised. Probably, had he made it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I don’t know. We had our shots and I think we compounded it too by fouling instead of making them go through our defense. We gave (Aaron) Brooks two free throws. We had opportunities too. We scrambled and the ball moved and we had a draw-and-kick and we came up short. Beno (Udrih) had a nice little leaner that went in and out. We had our chances.”

(On the loss) “We were playing well. We’re playing a lot better now and that’s promising and a good sign. I like the way we’re competing and if we stay at this level, we’ll be in a lot of games and we just have to figure out how to win them down the stretch, if they’re close.”


(On the fourth quarter) “We had our shots. It seemed like we kind of had the game at a good place and made a minimum of mistakes and it ended it up costing. On the one shot, when I got the offensive rebound, we probably should have held the ball, but didn’t. We shot and we missed it and we gave them a chance on the next offensive play. We had a couple of good looks that we didn’t take and we got a little too cluttered. We didn’t get quite the separation we wanted and from there, were out of the rhythm.”


(On how tough the loss was) “I thought we played pretty well down the stretch. We just have to make shots. I don’t think anything broke down. We had a lot of good looks at the end and we just have to knock them down at the end of the game. If we make one of those shots, the game is going to go our way. (Udrih) Beno tried to run the ball down hard and fouls the guy and he was aggressive, but it didn’t work out.”

(On hot 3-point shooting; has made 12 of last 13 threes) “I’ve just been in the gym working. I was in the gym working and they weren’t falling last month, but now the works paying off.”


(On fourth quarter 3-point attempt) “Honestly, I thought we were down two. I shot the ball and I started hearing Tyson (Chandler) saying ‘no, no don’t take it’, but by that time, it was already released. It was just a bad shot, or a good shot, but bad timing. I realized as soon as we got the foul that the score was 100 to 100 and it was just bad basketball IQ on me.”


(On the last possession) “The way that thing was playing, they were trying to pressure to maybe get me into the paint. Then, I saw Beno (Udrih) on my left in the corner and I saw Shump (Iman Shumpert) coming off a semi-pin down with (Andrea) Bargnani. I thought Shump (Iman Shumpert) had a great look at it with the one dribble pull up. I thought Beno (Udrih) was wide open on the corner and I thought he should have took that shot and then from there, we were scrambling at that point.”

(On J.R. Smith’s 3-point attempt) “We had a great opportunity. I think (Andrea) Bargnani got the rebound or Tyson (Chandler) and kicked it back out to Beno (Udrih) and swung it to J.R. (Smith). At that point, we could have just held the ball and waited for the last shot. But, he said he (J.R. Smith) thought we were down two when he took that shot.” 


Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,304 tonight, giving the Rockets 18 sellouts on the season.

The Rockets recorded a thrilling 102-100 victory over New York tonight to give them a nine-game winning streak over the Knicks (1/9/10-1/3/14), which sets Houston’s longest winning streak ever over New York (prev. best: eight games from 1/21/05-1/10/09). Houston also owns nine straight home wins over New York (2/12/06-1/3/14).

Houston has now won three times (3-9 mark) this season when trailing after three quarters, with the first two victories coming against Memphis.

The Rockets moved to a perfect 8-0 at home this season against Eastern Conference foes and kept their home winning streak on Fridays alive at 4-0.

Houston went 10-of-26 (.385) from downtown tonight. The Rockets had gone a combined 25-of-106 (.236) from 3-point range over the prior four games (12/26/13-12/31/13).

James Harden racked up 37 points (10-19 FG, 5-10 3FG, 12-12 FT), seven rebounds and six assists tonight, including another 16-point (4-8 FG, 3-6 3FG, 5-5 FT) third quarter. Harden also scored 16 points (4-6 FG, 2-2 3FG, 6-7 FT) in the third quarter en route to 38 points last game vs. Sacramento (12/31/13).

Chandler Parsons posted 17 points (6-13 FG), 11 rebounds and three steals tonight, marking the 14th double-double of his career. Parsons has double-figuring scoring in a career-high 14 consecutive games (12/8/13-1/3/14).

Dwight Howard finished with 15 points (6-11 FG), seven rebounds and three blocks tonight. It was his 11th game this season with three or more blocks (Rockets record: 7-4).

Iman Shumpert led the Knicks in scoring with 26 points (9-14 FG, 6-6 3FG, 2-2 FT) to go with five assists and four rebounds tonight. He also posted a career-high 27 points (10-13 FG, 6-8 3FG) and six boards last night at San Antonio (1/2/14). Shumpert was the first Rockets opponent to go perfect beyond arc (min. 5 attempts) since Kevin Love (5-5 3FG) at Minnesota (1/23/12).

Carmelo Anthony added 25 points (10-23 FG) and eight boards tonight. Anthony registered 45 points (17-30 FG) and 10 rebounds in the last meeting at New York (11/14/13), marking the most points ever scored by a Knicks player against the Rockets (prev. high: 43 by Walt Frazier on 10/30/69).

Tyson Chandler picked up his second double-double of 2013-14 with 13 points (4-5 FG, 5-7 FT) and 11 rebounds tonight.


The Basics:

New York Knicks (10-21) at Houston Rockets (21-13)

Point Differential:

New York: -4.3 (NBA rank: 24th)

Houston: +3.1 (NBA rank: 9th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

New York: 101.6 (19th)

Houston: 107.4 (3rd)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

New York: 106.0 (25th)

Houston: 102.7 (14th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

New York: 92.65 (29th)

Houston: 98.20 (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):

New York: 48.5% (21st)

Houston: 53.1% (3rd)

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

New York: 13.4 (1st)

Houston: 16.8 (27th)

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

New York: 47.7% (27th); offensive rebound rate: 24.0% (20th); defensive rebound rate: 74.7% (13th)

Houston: 52.0% (5th); offensive rebound rate: 27.0% (9th); defensive rebound rate: 73.7% (21st)

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

New York: .221 (30th)

Houston: .394 (1st)

There was an approximately zero percent chance that the Rockets would dare look past the New York Knicks tonight given the fact Houston comes into this contest having dropped two games in a row and already far too many to inferior competition this season. But if any such temptation to do so did in fact exist, surely it was unceremoniously eradicated last night after watching the Knicks march into San Antonio and knock off the mighty Spurs.

To be sure, New York has been one of the league’s bigger disappointments this season, having fallen far from the standard it set while winning 54 games a year ago. Injuries, in particular the one that forced Tyson Chandler to the sidelines for 20 games, have left the Knicks in a perpetual scramble to plug holes, and little has gone according to plan in Gotham. But Chandler is back and so, too, is Carmelo Anthony after a sprained ankle kept him off the court for more than a week, and their presence alone gives New York a puncher’s chance in any contest – as the Spurs painfully learned last night. 

So look for Houston to have its guard up going into this evening’s tilt and to show an urgency and focus that have too often been lacking during the early portion of its recent contests – a reality revealed within the Rockets’ unsightly defensive rating of 115.8 during the first half of their last four games. Houston has four full days off following tonight’s matchup; suffice to say a ninth consecutive win over the Knicks would make that much-needed break feel far more restful and relaxing than the fitful turbulence that would surely ensue from another home defeat.

Know Thy Enemy

- It may not be the most interesting aspect of the game, but few things figure to loom larger tonight than the free throw battle. The Knicks are not only dead last in free throw rate but also in opponent free throw rate as well, meaning Houston’s playmakers should be licking their lips in preparation for a potential parade to the charity stripe this evening. No team goes to the line more than the Rockets do, with James Harden and Dwight Howard both tied for second in the league in free throw attempts per game.

- Few NBA teams were happier than the Rockets to put December in the rearview mirror given the fact Houston finished the month as the only club in the league to hit fewer than 30 percent of its attempts from beyond the 3-point line. New York ought to offer a prime opportunity for the Rockets to rediscover their shooting stroke, seeing as the Knicks rank in the NBA’s bottom-five in terms of opponent 3-point percentage. For what it’s worth, Houston rang up 131 points while hitting 14 triples the last time New York paid a visit to Toyota Center and the Rockets have drained more than 40 percent of its shots from behind the arc during its last three games against the Knicks. 

- By now it’s probably become obvious that defense has not exactly been a strong suit for the Knicks this season. Not only does New York struggle to defend the 3-ball and keep opponents off the free throw line, the Knicks simply haven’t had much success keeping the ball out of their own hoop, period. New York resides in the league’s bottom-three in opponent field goal percentage inside the restricted area and, according to Synergy Sports, is also ranked 28th on a points per possession basis in defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers and dead last in transition (caveat: Chandler’s absence unquestionably had a painfully adverse effect on the Knicks’ rim protection and pick-and-roll D). The Rockets’ offense ranks first and fourth overall in those latter two categories, respectively, and is top-5 in the NBA in both attempts and field goal percentage within the restricted area. In other words, even if Houston’s outside shots continue to miss the mark, the Rockets should still find plenty of joy by pushing the pace and relentlessly bullying their way to the rim.  

- On the offensive end of the floor, there’s little mystery regarding the fulcrum of the Knicks’ attack. Carmelo Anthony is tied for second in the league in scoring, averaging 26.3 points per game and he’s been particularly monstrous during his last two meetings with Houston, during which he’s averaged 41 points per game on 57 percent shooting. How integral is he to New York’s scoring prowess? The Knicks’ offense goes from a level akin to Golden State’s borderline top-10 attack when he plays to the depths of Milwaukee’s last-in-the-league misery whenever he’s on the bench.

- The last time these two teams faced off, New York’s Andrea Bargnani enjoyed one of his finer games of the season, scoring 24 points while employing some effective low-post defense against Dwight Howard as well. Bargnani is a capable catch-and-shoot artist – only three players in the entire league average more catch-and-shoot attempts per game – so it’s imperative that Houston’s defenders force him to put the ball on the ground if he’s feeling inclined to look for his own offense. On the other end, meanwhile, he has the heft to hold his ground in the post, but quickly becomes vulnerable when made to move his feet.

In the spotlight

A huge part of the Rockets’ recent success against the Knicks has been derived from the potent combination of Houston’s drive-and-kick game and New York’s inability to handle dribble penetration. No Houston player has benefitted more from that formula than has James Harden, who’s averaged 32.3 points and more than 14 free throw attempts per game against the Knicks during his time as a member of the Rockets. Harden has hit exactly 50 percent of his field goal attempts and is a combined +43 during his time on the floor in those three meetings against New York.

Injury Update

Greg Smith will return to action tonight after missing the last six games due to a knee injury. Omer Asik (thigh/knee) and Patrick Beverley (hand) are out.

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