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Game Day: Rockets vs. Pelicans

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 107-98 win over the New Orleans Pelicans

HOUSTON - The Rockets were desperate. Down four with fewer than five minutes left to play against the unrelenting Pelicans, Houston found itself in dire need of some sort of spark to assist in its efforts to rally and win for the third straight game.

Funny how desperation can serve one so well form time to time.

With 4:16 remaining, a loose ball situation emerged beneath the New Orleans basket. Terrence Jones and Tyreke Evans converged. A battle ensued. Evans hit the floor empty-handed. Jones raced off full tilt in the opposite direction. Seconds later, he scored, got fouled and would hit the accompanying free throw. The crowd erupted. The Rockets were back within one. The missing spark had officially been found.

Jones’ and-1 bucket marked the beginning of Houston’s full-throttle finishing kick that saw the club close out the game on a 19-6 run. Moments after his hoop, Jeremy Lin and James Harden would drain back-to-back 3s to give the Rockets the lead for good.  

Rockets/Pelicans

“That’s what he can do,” gushed Chandler Parsons after the game when asked about Jones’ game-changing full-court foray. “He’s so versatile and he’s such a mismatch at the four. Not a lot of fours can get a rebound and dribble the ball coast-to-coast to finish with their opposite hand for an and-1. He’s been doing that all year long, and he keeps getting better and better every single game.”

Indeed, Jones' signature play put an exclamation point on another big night for the second-year forward who finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds. His ability to both start and finish the fast break has been nothing short of a godsend for a team that thrives in transition. And on a night like tonight when Houston found itself suffering through a team-wide outside shooting shortage (the Rockets hit just 6-of-26 from 3-point land), the easy points Jones generates can frequently be the difference between victory and defeat.

"I want to push it when I get the rebound because Coach (McHale) has really emphasized that's what he wants me to do," said Jones after the game. "He wants me to start breaks and start early transition opportunities to help get easy points for us."

To be clear: There was nothing easy about Jones' layup, just as little came easily for Houston for much of the night. The Rockets were forced to grind out another win for the second consecutive game and, just as they did against the Grizzlies Thursday night, they found the wherewithal to do so. Their resilience could be seen in Lin's ability to shake off a scoreless first three quarters of play by responding with 10 points in the fourth. It was there in Harden hitting nothing but the bottom of the net on the 3 that gave his team a lead it would not relinquish after misfiring on his previous six attempts from distance. And it most definitely was there when Parsons corraled his own miss in the game's final minute and then converted near the rim amid a host of Pelican arms and hands all aching to foil his plans.

None of those things may have materialized, however, if not for the singular, scintilating play of a desperate man providing his desperate team the jolt it so desperately needed.    

OBSERVATIONS

- In 4 games against the Rockets last year, Ryan Anderson shot 14.8 percent from 3. Keep in mind, this is a guy who’s a career 39 percent shooter from beyond the arc and he’s been hitting 3s at a 43 percent clip this season.  So it couldn’t have come as much of a surprise that he began the game by hitting a 3. But then he proceeded to brick his next four attempts, the vast majority of which came while he was wide-open. Such statistical anomalies are obviously more fluke than anything that ought to be taken too terribly seriously, but it’s still weird, all the same. And as if to hammer that point home: Anderson did end up finishing the game 3-of-8 from 3.

- Not weird, however: the fact that Anderson had no chance defending Dwight Howard, who racked up a quick 8 points and 5 rebounds (4 of which came on the offensive end) in the first quarter while primarily being defended by the Pelicans’ power forward. In fact, given the dearth of healthy bigs New Orleans brought to tonight’s contest, a monster performance from Howard certainly seemed like a solid bet before the game even began. What’s more, it took the 7-time All-Star a mere 2:13 to top his point total (2) from Thursday night’s foul-plagued matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies. By halftime, Howard had a double-double (12 points, 10 boards), but also an unsightly six turnovers.

- Speaking of the less than aesthetically pleasing aspects of Saturday’s first half, Houston missed its first 10 3-point attempts before a good hustle play from Donatas Motiejunas, who apparently earned a bit more playing time after his solid performance on Thursday, resulted in a wide-open triple for Omri Casspi to get Houston off the schneid in that category.

That shot did not exactly open the floodgates, however. The Rockets reached halftime having hit just 2-of-16 from deep, with James Harden and Jeremy Lin combining for a 0-for-8 mark.

Such errant marksmanship, combined with the fact Houston registered just eight paint points in the second quarter after bullying their way to 22 paint points in the opening period, will obviously derail the Rockets’ offense more often than not given that the team’s DNA is built upon rim attacks and 3-point bombs. It also played a huge role in the Pelicans’ ability to tie the game before the two teams headed to halftime.

- Tonight’s ‘Man, the Rockets really miss Omer Asik’ reminder: The Pelicans, especially Tyreke Evans, opened the second quarter by running a layup drill while Howard got a breather on the bench. When Howard returned, four of New Orleans’ next five makes came from 18-feet away. Funny how that works.

- Also from the ‘There are no coincidences’ files (alternative title for that folder: ‘No duh’): With the Pelicans beginning the third quarter by again checking Howard with Anderson, the Rockets returned to their paint pounding ways, scoring their first 17 points of the period either in the paint of from the free throw line as a result of their relentless rim attacks.

“I just tried to read the defense,” said Howard, who finished the game with 24 points, 18 rebounds but also eight turnovers. “They gave me different looks: they came baseline a couple times; they came from the middle; they jabbed a lot. So I was just trying to do my best to find my teammates – get them open, get them free so that now they have to (be aware of) both the post and the guys cutting.”

By the end of the quarter, Houston owned a big edge in paint points (46-32) and a massive one from the charity stripe (15-of-22 as opposed to the Pelicans’ 4-of-5 mark), but New Orleans’ advantage from the 3-point line kept them within a single point of Houston on the scoreboard.

- For the second straight game, we’ve seen a completely different Jeremy Lin in the final frame than the one witnessed during the first three quarters of the game. Heading to the fourth period tonight, Lin was 0-for-6 from the field with no points and two turnovers. So naturally he poured in 10 pivotal fourth quarter points to help his club overcome its late-game deficit.

"It's definitely not the ideal plan or ideal strategy," Lin said of his slow starts that somehow transform into fantastic finishes. "I'm thankful that Coach McHale let me keep going. I was able to finally get a little bit of rhythm in the last two games. I have to do a much, much better job and be more aggressive in the first three quarters."

- Hard as it might be to imagine given his current cover boy status, Chandler Parsons often gets overlooked on the basketball court. Then at the end of the night you check out his stat line at the end of the game and he's got 19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and two huge plays in the final two minutes to help his team hold on for a sorely-needed win.

In addition to providing his usual Swiss Army Knife excellence, Parsons came through with a steal on one end and a huge put-back hoop (off his own miss, no less) at the other to help stave off a feisty New Orleans squad that gave Houston all it could handle for much of the evening.

- With the win, Houston improves to 21-11. There will be no rest for the weary, however. Immediately after the game the Rockets will jet off to Oklahoma City for tomorrow night’s nationally televised showdown with the Thunder. That contest will cap Houston’s four-in-five-nights stretch, and though motivation certainly will be easy to come by, ample energy might not. Howard, Harden and Parsons each had to put in 40-plus minutes tonight to ensure the Rockets captured their third win in a row.

“You can’t think about it,” Howard said after the game. “To win a championship it’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have battles, we’re going to have tough nights, we’re going to have four-games-in-five-nights and stretches like that. Now’s the time when we’ve got to learn how to play through all that stuff because once the playoffs come, the higher we go, the tougher it’s going to get. We’re going to play a lot of games, we’re going to play big minutes, and we’ve got to get used to that.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS ROCKETS COACH KEVIN MCHALE

(On the game) “We didn't shoot it well. I know at one time, I looked up, I thought we were 2 for 19 from the three point line. It felt like they made every three. They were 10 for 22. It was just a game...Chandler (Parsons) got a big offensive rebound and Jeremy (Lin) hit a big three. James (Harden) hit a big three. We found a way to win but it was another in a long line of games that feel like you are pulling teeth.”

(On confidence shooting the ball) “What we do is we either pump fake and pump fake ourself covered or pump fake and travel. We started turning down shots and traveling. That's the worst thing. If you throw it up we might get an offensive rebound. Chandler got one late (an offensive rebound) that was huge for us. We got to shoot those shots. If we were open we don't want to take contested 3s but we want to take open 3s. We want to take good 3s with ball movement.”

(On the team making plays) “Terrence (Jones) had a huge play on the rebound coast to coast that kind of got the crowd back into it. Jeremy (Lin) hit a three after that. We started getting some mojo going after that. I felt like all game, honestly from the first half, we chart deflections and usually our deflections... if we are really active, we had five deflections at the half. That's a season low for us. We weren't getting any hands on any balls. The ball was going where it wanted to go. Our defense felt like we weren't dictating at all. They (Pelicans) were dictating to us.”

(On James Harden's fourth quarter play) “He had that big 3 on the left slot. That was a big 3 for us. We ran a little play that we run and he set a really good pick and came off hard and got open and I was really glad. That's what seemed to bust the lid for everybody.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the win) “We just kept playing. Guys didn't get frustrated. Guys didn't get down on each other. We just kept moving the ball and we really stepped up on the defensive end because in the last four minutes we needed to get stops and we locked in and we got it done. It was another game kind of like Memphis. It wasn't pretty and it was a grind out kind of game and we pulled it out at the end.”

(On the point he started to feel the momentum go in the Rockets direction) “Throughout the whole game there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to win the game. In the first half it seemed like we had no energy. We weren't making good plays. We weren't doing anything hustle wise to get us going. We were so stagnant they (Pelicans) are the type of team where if you let them hang around they are capable of beating you. We knew that in the back of our mind. We knew they were going to go on runs.”

JEREMY LIN

(On the play of first three quarters) “It's definitely not the ideal plan or ideal strategy. I'm thankful that Coach McHale let me keep going. I was able to finally get a little bit of rhythm in the last two games. I have to do a much, much better job and be more aggressive in the first three quarters. “

(On the Rockets finishing games) “The last two games have been really ugly games, really tough games for us. I do think these are character wins but I wouldn't want to play like we did the first three quarters but some nights it is going to be like that. We just need to make sure it's not like that every night.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On New Orleans defense on him in the post) “We talked about it earlier at shoot around, what they were going to do on defense. Really, I just tried to play out of the double team. When they doubled I tried to make the good play and when they didn't double I tried to make the better play for myself. I just tried to read the defense. They gave me different looks. They came baseline a couple of times. They jabbed a lot so I just tried to do my best to find my teammates to get them open.”

(On the Rockets making plays to get the win) “I thought we did an excellent job. We knew coming into this game that  they ( Pelicans) were going to play extremely hard. That's one thing we talked about at shoot around and at half time, how hard this team plays. We pulled out a close one.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On the fourth quarter) “It was winning time. I was struggling the first three quarters and couldn't find the rhythm when my teammates needed me the most. We got the ball moving and Jeremy made a couple of good threes. Chandler (had) a good put-back and then Dwight got an and-1. Everybody picked up the intensity a little bit.”

(On his mentality on the way he played in the fourth quarter) “That's what I'm here for, just to be a playmaker and finish games off. Obviously they (shots) are not going to go in every time but take the big shots and make them and have confidence in my abilities.”

TERRENCE JONES

(On the win) “We fought in the fourth quarter. We hung in there and we focused in on defense and got stops when we needed to to get the win.”

(On the Rockets playing better as a team) “I think we are just finding the right chemistry and guys having the will to win and just doing the little things to help down the stretch, no matter how they are playing the rest of the quarter. That win is so important and I think guys did that today.”

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS MONTY WILLIAMS

(On the game) “We couldn’t say we had it. They took it, so those are the games where you’re watching and you can’t blame that on youth. That’s basketball. To give up some of the buckets we gave up down the stretch was tough because coming off a back to back and playing against a team like that, you were feeling like we had a chance to win the game. You look at some of your mistakes and it just sticks with you for a while. Our guys fought their tails off and I’m proud of that”

(On the free throw difference) “Anything I say is going to get me in trouble. Ok, so, let’s just leave it at that. Thirty two to eight.”

(On if he sees the Rockets developing) “I don’t care about the Rockets. The Rockets are a good team. They’re not developing. They’re one of the best teams in the NBA. They have everything they want for a team. I’m more worried about these young guys I have trying to beat a team like the Rockets because they have a chance to win a championship. They have post up players, they shot three’s, they have a bench, a good coach and that’s not developing. That is what it is. They are a really, really good team.”

ANTHONY DAVIS

(On the game) “We were in it the whole game and we were giving ourselves a chance to win the game. We tried to send a couple of guys at Dwight and give him different looks. He found Jeremy Lin in the corner for a three and then James came down and hit a three. They just made big shots and we didn’t execute at the end. We have to come out and know what we’re running and execute.”

(On his play against Dwight Howard) “We just tried to fight him. He’s big down there and had a lot of moves. We tried to fight him and throw different looks at him, send different guys at him. He’s going to make shots, but we had to try to stop their three point shots. We needed at the end to try to give up two’s and not three’s. The last two shots they hit were three’s, so it was tough.”

(On Terrence Jones’ play) “He’s improved. He’s starting to know his role and he’s playing really well. I’m happy for him.”

RYAN ANDERSON

(On what happened down the stretch) “They just attacked us. Coach was talking about their ability to get to the free throw line and they just attacked and drew fouls and knocked them down from the free throw line. They were really aggressive down the stretch. They made a few big plays to kind of take our lead down. It was a tough end of the game.”

(On the game tempo) “It was exactly where we wanted it. We knew how to play this game tonight and we did what we wanted to. They just made better plays than us down the stretch. That’s just what happened. I think we had a great game plan and came out and played pretty well, but we didn’t play well for 48 minutes.”

TYREKE EVANS

(On where the game turned in the fourth quarter) “I think we really didn’t execute down the stretch. It happens in games. It was a tough loss. I think we played hard, and fought, but in the fourth quarter our execution wasn’t that good. They hit some big shots, Lin hit a couple of three’s and they7 have good three point shooters. They were shooting it from far out and it was kind of tough, but they made their shots and we can’t do anything about that.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,233 tonight, giving the Rockets 16 sellouts on the season.

The Rockets rallied back in the fourth quarter to take a 107-98 win over the Pelicans tonight. For the first time since Dec. 2009, the Rockets have won three straight games within the division. Houston started this current run with a 111-98 victory at San Antonio (12/25/13) and followed that up with a 100-92 win vs. Memphis (12/26/13).

The Pelican erased an 11-point deficit in the first half to even the game at 52-52 through two quarters and held a four-point lead with 4:54 left to play.

Houston outscored New Orleans by a 58-40 count in the paint and limited the Pelicans to just four points off the break. New Orleans came into this contest sixth in the NBA in fast-break scoring (16.1 ppg).

The Rockets had all five starters in double-figure scoring for the second time in the last three games.

Dwight Howard recorded game highs of 24 points (10-12 FG, 4-6 FT) and 18 rebounds tonight. Howard actually posted 12 points (6-7 FG) and 10 rebounds over the opening two quarters, marking the eighth time this season he has recorded a double-double by halftime.

James Harden added 21 points (7-16 FG, 6-7 FT) tonight for his team-leading 18th 20-point game of the season.

Chandler Parsons finished with 19 points (6-10 FG, 6-6 FT), seven rebounds and four assists tonight, coming up just one point shy of 20. Parsons, who had a career-best 22 20-point outings in 2012-13, has already reached 20-plus points on 12 occasions this season.

Terrence Jones collected 17 points (6-8 FG), eight rebounds and three blocks tonight. Jones entered this game with two consecutive 20-point performances.

Jeremy Lin scored all 10 of his points tonight in the fourth quarter. Lin also scored 14 of his 18 points (5-13 FG, 2-4 3FG, 6-6 FT) in the fourth quarter of a 100-92 comeback win vs. Memphis (12/26/13). It marked the first time a Rockets player has netted 10-plus points in consecutive fourth quarters since James Harden did it earlier this season with 16 in the fourth at San Antonio (11/30/13) and 15 at Utah (12/2/13).

Ryan Anderson had 22 points (8-15 FG, 3-8 3FG) and 12 rebounds tonight. Anderson has now scored 20-plus points eight times this season in just 19 games played.

Anthony Davis registered 18 points (8-14 FG), 16 rebounds and one blocked shot. Davis ranks fourth in the league with total blocks at 65.

Tyreke Evans totaled 16 points (5-15 FG) and nine assists tonight. Evans now has 47 assists over the last five games (9.4 apg) with three double-doubles in the five outings.