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Game Day: Rockets vs. Pistons

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 118-110 win over the Detroit Pistons

Rockets vs. Pistons - 03/01/2014

  • Pistons vs. Rockets
    Terrence Jones scores 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds with James Harden adding 20 points and dishing out 12 assists as the Rockets beat the Pistons 118-110.
  • Big To Big
    James Harden steals the ball and gets it to Dwight Howard before falling in the crowd and Howard lobs it to Terrence Jones who catches the alley-oop and spikes it emphatically.
  • James Harden: 3/1 Postgame
    James Harden speaks to the media following the 118-110 victory over the Detroit Pistons
  • Dwight Howard: 3/1 Postgame
    Dwight Howard speaks to the media following the 118-110 victory over the Detroit Pistons
  • Terrence Jones: 3/1 Postgame
    Terrence Jones speaks to the media following the 118-110 victory over the Detroit Pistons
  • Kevin McHale: 3/1 Postgame
    Kevin McHale speaks to the media following the 118-110 victory over the Detroit Pistons
  • Pistons vs. Rockets: First Half
    Dwight Howard scores 15 points with James Harden adding 14 points as the Rockets lead the Pistons at the half 69-46.
  • Superman Takes Flight
    James Harden runs the break and lobs it to Dwight Howard who gets two hands and flushes it home.
  • Circus Shot
    James Harden is fouled by Kyle Singler and somehow still manages to hit the heave shot and gets it to go.
  • Harden Hustle
    Greg Monroe gets the rebound and James Harden intercepts the pass then lobs it to Terrence Jones who flushes it home.

HOUSTON - 

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

- About 90 minutes before tonight’s tip-off, the Rockets announced that Chandler Parsons was heading home since he was still dealing with the continued effects of an illness that has dogged him for several days and brought with it migraine headaches and a subsequent sensitivity to bright lights. Parsons’ unavailability meant Jordan Hamilton, who’s been on the Houston roster for fewer than 10 days, received his first start as a member of the Rockets.

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But any fear Parsons’ absence may have prompted fans to feel entering the contest was rapidly and unequivocally allayed after seeing the Rockets put on a dunking clinic during a first quarter that saw Houston demonstrate its superiority right from the opening tip. The period began with Dwight Howard blowing past Andre Drummond for a baseline slam and, with that, the tone was set and the rout seemed to be on.

The Rockets rang up 41 points in the opening period – just one off the season-high they set less than a week ago in Sacramento – on 70 percent shooting; a mark that was made possible in large part by the fact that Houston absolutely feasted upon Detroit’s nonexistent interior defense. The Rockets produced 30 paint points in the first quarter alone as Houston’s players spent the period throwing down one slam after another.

- Related to the previous bullet point: Good movement will beat most defenses but, holy cow, it absolutely rips the Pistons' D to shreds. Not only did the Rockets get to put on a dunking competition, but nearly every time they decided to mix things up with a shot from the perimeter, the lucky shooter frequently found himself all by his lonesome, such was the calamitous state of confusion that represented Detroit’s feeble attempts at defense in the first half.

- Mentioned this in our latest edition of RTV, but I came into tonight’s game harboring a hunch that all Terrence Jones needed to snap out of his slump was a first quarter played within the friendly confines of Toyota Center. Throughout the season, Jones has had a knack for getting off to sparkling starts inside his home gym and, sure enough, tonight’s game was no different. TJ delivered eight points in the first quarter – all scored via dunk, natch – and hit halftime with 12 points, five boards and one block that was reminiscent of the halcyon days of Karch Kiraly. Seriously, the sound of Jones’ hand hitting leather on that shot attempt was just that jarring.

By the break Jones, Howard and James Harden had combined to hit 17 of their 24 shots from the field while scoring 41 points. Houston led 69-46. And believe it or not, the game wasn’t even that close. Apparently the Rockets scored on something other than a dunk at various points during the first half, but for the life of me I can’t remember it happening. I mean, Howard capped the half by throwing (and completing) an alley-oop to Jones. That alone should tell you all you need to know about the essence of what took place during tonight’s first half.

Jones, by the way, finished with a team-leading 22 points while leading the club with 10 boards as well, putting a rather emphatic end to his post-All Star funk. Suffice to say, Houston is going to need more of the same from its second-year power forward with Miami coming to town Tuesday night.

"He just needs to do what he does," said Harden of his young teammate after the game. "Offensive rebound, get into open spots and attack his man off the dribble. Tonight he kind of got back into a groove and we're going to need him to play big, especially down the stretch."

- An interesting defensive wrinkle we’ve seen more of in recent weeks: James Harden defending bigger opponents in the post. Houston’s All-Star shooting guard spent a significant chunk of the opening period guarding Detroit’s Josh Smith, and he’s received similar assignments of late as the Rockets mix and match lineups and experiment with various looks during the season’s stretch run. For whatever he concedes in height, Harden’s heft and lower-body heft make him difficult to back down, and overeager opponents have displayed a tendency to underestimate his defensive chops when down low, hoisting shots they probably wouldn’t otherwise attempt.

Of course, we first got a glimpse of this strategy during the playoffs last year when Houston shook things up versus OKC by going super small and sliding Harden over to the power forward spot defensively where he matched up with Serge Ibaka. The Rockets gained some traction with that lineup against the Thunder and it’s worked in certain spots this season, too (including tonight). In fact, the numbers he's posted in those situations thus far have been off the charts. Per Synergy, Harden came into the game having faced 81 post-up possessions this season and opponents are averaging a scant .481 points per possession (good for a ranking in the 97th percentile) and shooting an anemic 24 percent from the field. 

"James is strong," said Houston head coach Kevin McHale when asked about Harden's increased role defending bigger opponents. "He puts his body on guys and makes it hard for them to score. He’s been really good in that role guarding big men. Then there’s a cross-match and he can go downhill on a big man and beat his guy.

"He’s a very good post defender. He positions himself well and does a nice job of getting people off the box."

- Omri Casspi has seen his playing time dwindle of late due to the emergence of Donatas Motiejunas and acquisition of Hamilton. But with Parsons out an opportunity emerged and the 25-year-old took full advantage by posting his highest scoring total since he put up 20 against the Kings more on January 22. Casspi’s efficiency tonight was downright Harden-esque, as he tallied 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field, including a 3-of-4 mark from beyond the arc. That he accomplished all of that in just 15 minutes of play made his final stat line all the more impressive.

- As good as Houston was in the first half, it must be said that the club could not have appeared more lackluster in the second. The Rockets’ poor perimeter shooting (Houston finished just 11-33 from 3) didn’t help matters, especially with the Pistons packing the paint and employing a zone defense in an effort to put the breaks on Houston’s first half dunk-a-thon. Then, of course, there was the obvious fact that the Rockets quite clearly did not enter the final two periods with the same level of focus and attention to detail that they had utilized while building a 25-point first half lead.

That’s not a terribly unusual occurrence – and, unfortunately, it’s been a characteristic of this Rockets team to allow big leads to dangerously dissipate – but it certainly doesn’t lead to the most aesthetically pleasing or emotionally buoyant basketball. Detroit did manage to trim Houston’s lead to seven at the 1:34 mark, though the Pistons never seriously threatened the Rockets’ likelihood of emerging victorious. More than anything, the second half just seemed like a letdown after the 24-minute party Houston enjoyed at the start of the contest. Nonetheless, the Rockets wrapped up win No. 40 after Patrick Beverley knocked down a pair of big 3s down the stretch on a night when he hit a career-high tying five from distance overall.

"I didn’t like the way we came out in the second half," Howard said immediately after the game. "I thought we really should have kept the foot on the gas but we didn’t; we allowed them to get back in the game. That’s not what we need to do if we want to be a championship team.

"We let them get confidence, we let them get rolling and we can’t allow that. For us to be a great team we need to put teams away."

Next up: a date with the two-time defending champs from Miami, kicking off what may very well be the Rockets’ toughest two-week stretch of the season to date.

QUOTES

HOUSTON HEAD COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On the Rockets' energy to start the game) “It was great. We came out and we were really clicking. We got a big lead going into halftime and didn't play very well in the second half. We came out and really moved the ball. We had it going up and down and just did a nice job of doing what we've been talking about doing, which is attacking early, getting inside to Dwight (Howard) and making some nice passes and the offense was clicking. Terrence (Jones) had a good high energy night tonight which was good to see.

(On the importance of Terrence Jones and Omri Casspi's play) “I was glad that Omri made a few shots and Terrence had a good high-energy game, that was good. I liked our ball movement and then we stopped. James (Harden) had twelve assists, he was really moving the ball early and then we kind of got stagnant and with that big lead, I got scared that we would get complacent and that happens.”

(On Jordan Hamilton's play) “I like the way Jordan has been playing. He fits in well with how we play. I think he's going to be good.”

(On the team clicking and working together) “I thought we played really well. I thought we came out and had good ball movement, body movement, good spacing, everybody made the extra pass and we were making shots. We were in the flow and attacking before they got set.”

(On James defending bigger players) “James is strong. It makes it hard for them to score. He's been really good in that role of guarding bigger guys.”

TERRENCE JONES

(On the Rockets' play against the Pistons) “Just to bring a lot of energy. We haven't played here (Toyota Center) in a while. We just had a long road trip and I think we played well on (it). We wanted to get back to being focused, being at home, and just making sure we took care of responsibilities tonight.”

(On the difference between the first and second halves) “I think guys just stopped playing a little bit because of the lead. We just tried to make sure we got back to it on the defensive end and make sure we got the win. I think that's what we did late in the fourth (quarter).

(On how important it was to get the win tonight) “(It was) real important. We just wanted to stay locked in and make this deep push in the second part of the season.”

 JAMES HARDEN

(On the 41-point first quarter) “We did a good job of coming out with some aggression and get some defensive stops and getting out in transition.”

(On letting the Pistons get back into the game) “It's tough when you're up twenty-something points and trying to contain it and hold it, but we found a way to win the game.”

(On the importance of the win with Miami coming up on Tuesday) “It's good for us. We're back at home. We have a good team coming in here in Miami. This is a good statement for us. It's a good game for us to test and see where we are, especially in a season like this.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the importance of the win before a tough stretch of games) “It was very important, but I didn't like the way we came out in the second half. I thought we really should have put the foot on the gas and we let them get back into the game and that's not what we need to do if we want to be a great championship team.”

(On whether or not the tone of the 41-point first quarter setting the pace for the rest of the game) “It can, but you can also let a team back into the game, which we did tonight. We let them get confidence, we let them get rolling and like I said we can't allow that. In order for us to be a great team, we've got to put teams away.”

PAT BEVERLEY

(On the key to the win) “We got off to a great start. We made a lot of shots at the beginning and we played together and we defended. We came out kind of sluggish after halftime, but we picked it up in the fourth quarter and were able to finish the game.”

(On the challenge of playing against Detroit) “They have great bigs. This is one of the few teams in the NBA that has great wings with (Kyle) Singler and Jonas Jerebko and you can go down the line, Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe. They have a lot of length. With that length, they are hard to beat. We tried our best to keep them off the boards and I think we did well today.”

DETROIT PISTONS COACH JOHN LOYER

(On the first half deficit) “In the first half, we didn’t play with the energy, enthusiasm, or desire you have to play at to play against any NBA tem let alone a high level team like Houston. We came in here and I told our guys we played harder in practice than the first twenty four minutes. We had more juice, energy running a three man weave (at practice) than we did in the first half. There are two halves to a game and fortunately we played a much better second half.”

(On if there was an answer to their first half play) “If there was a simple answer, it wouldn’t have happened. Sometimes there’s no simple answer. You have the same preparation and I thought we had a very good shoot around this morning, a very good pregame and sometimes you just go out and you don’t play. Against a high level team, the playoff teams, you have to find a way to do it more consistently every night and we need to get to that level.”

(On the second half play) “Our energy was much better. We shared the ball and we got out on the break. We didn’t get stops early. They (Rockets) had nineteen layups or dunks in the first half and only seven in the second half. You give a team layups and dunks and they are going to make them. If you make a team move the ball a little bit and we played a little zone which I thought was effective and we played a little zone defensively which gives you a chance.”

ANDRE DRUMMOND

(On the team’s recent play and their shot at the playoffs) “We know the more games we lose, the bigger the hole we dig ourselves into. Its going to be hard to dig our way out of this and it’s tough, tough. The games that we needed and we should’ve won, we lost them and that is going to bite us at the end of the season. We have to really try hard and make a run in the twenty three games we have left.”

(On the team’s comeback in the second half) “We showed fight at the end, but it shouldn’t have to get to where we work that hard because when you make a run to come back, sometimes it doesn’t work and that’s an example today. We were sleep the first half and we let them walk all over us. They were doing whatever they wanted to do. They were laughing and smiling and doing all the little hand gestures they were doing. That’s frustrating to watch and it hurts. We take that to heart and we came out there the second half and played as a team and played a lot better, but it wasn’t enough to come out with a win.”

(On if they feel like they have time left to make the playoffs) “Well, we have twenty three games left, what do you think? We have enough time to do anything and we’re four games out, so it comes to what we do as a team. It can’t be one person or two people, we have to be as a collective group to want to buckle down and try to win games.”

JOSH SMITH

(On the teams play in the first half) “I think it was just our inability to get back in transition. The floor spacing should’ve been a little better and we gave them some easy buckets. When you give any team opportunities where they can lay the ball up, the basket begins to look like the ocean and that’s what happened in the first half.”

(On what the team needs to make adjustment wise) “We have to see what we’re doing and make adjustments as a team. We have to figure out ways to tweak things. For us to be young and athletic, our defense needs to be way better than it was tonight. It was embarrassing in the first half just because of the fact coming into the game. The day before we had a great practice that was very competitive and we didn’t validate it. That was the most disheartening thing in the first half, but we came out in the second half and fought. When you dig yourself a hole that deep, it was hard to overcome it.”

(On the Rockets) “They play well together. They feed off of the guys that get majority of the shots and everybody else contributes on their team.”

GREG MONROE

(On the first half game inside the paint) “It’s something that we have to find a way to control. The last game in the first quarter, the team came out and blitzed us. We were fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the game. It’s always going to be tough when you give up points in the paint. It was a combination of a number of things, some bad bounces, some turnovers and it was a mixture of a few different things.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,330 (largest of season), giving the Rockets 27 sellouts on the season.

The Rockets went wire-to-wire for a 118-110 win over the Pistons tonight. Houston has now recorded eight games this season where it has not surrender the lead.

Houston move to 40-19 on the season to set the second fastest to 40 wins in team history behind only a 40-15 mark by the 1993-94 Rockets.

Coming off a five-game road trip where they averaged 55.6 points in the paint, the Rockets added another 58 in the paint tonight. The Pistons, who rank first in the NBA in points in the paint, set Houston’s opponent season high with 68 in the lane. The two teams also combined for 124 points in the paint (Houston 62, Detroit 62) earlier this season at Detroit (12/21/13).

Entering the 2013-14 campaign, the Rockets had not scored 40 points over the opening 12 minutes since 2007-08 (41 on 2/21/08 vs. Miami). Houston has now accomplished this feat five times on the season: 40 first-quarter points in consecutive games vs. Boston (11/19/13) and at Dallas (11/20/13), 40 at San Antonio (12/25/13), a season-best 42 at Sacramento (2/25/14) and 41 tonight.

The Rockets went on to score 69 first-half points on 27-of-44 (.614) from the field tonight. Houston has now posted 60-plus points in the opening half nine times over the last 12 games.

Houston now owns a record of 13-2 this season when all five starters net 10-plus points. The Rockets have also won each of the last 12 games when they shoot .500 or better from the field.

Terrence Jones led the Rockets with 22 points (10-15 FG), 10 rebounds and one block tonight. Jones has now reached 20-plus points on seven occasions this season (Rockets record: 7-0) and has 14 double-doubles in 2013-14.

James Harden finished with 20 points (7-16 FG), a game-high 12 assists and three steals tonight. Harden now owns nine 20-point, 10-assist games in his career (Rockets record: 9-0).

Pat Beverley collected 19 points (6-15 FG) behind a 5-of-9 performance from beyond the arc tonight, which matched his career high for 3-pointers made (5-8 3FG on11/23/13 vs. Minnesota).

Jordan Hamilton made his first start with the Rockets tonight, replacing Chandler Parsons (illness) at small forward. Hamilton netted 13 points (6-12 FG) and four boards.

Omri Casspi added 16 points (4-5 FG, 5-6 FT) and also matched his season high in treys made (3-4 3FG).

Rodney Stuckey came off the bench with a game-high 23 points (10-17 FG) tonight, marking his 12th 20-point game of the season. Josh Smith also had 21 points (8-24 FG, 5-6 FT) for his 19th 20-point outing in 2013-14.

Andre Drummond posted 16 points (8-11 FG), 17 boards and two blocks tonight. Drummond, who ranks first in the Eastern Conference in double-doubles, now has 43 double-doubles on the season.

Greg Monroe notched 10 points (3-11 FG, 4-4 FT), 14 rebounds and two blocks tonight. Monroe entered tonight’s game averaging 18.5 points and 11.3 rebounds over his prior four games.