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Game Day: Rockets vs. Raptors

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 110-104 double-OT win over the Toronto Raptors

HOUSTON- Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s Monday night matchup with the Raptors at Toyota Center:

Post-game: 

- To start, a little something from the causation-equals-correlation category: The first half of tonight’s game saw the Rockets deliver their finest defensive effort since the second half of their win in Salt Lake City nearly 10 days ago. Not surprisingly, the first two quarters also doubled as Houston’s best half of basketball since that contest as well. Dwight Howard set the tone by dominating early, shutting off the paint to any Toronto player who attempted to make a name for himself while attacking the rim. The Raptors began the game hitting just 3 of their first 10 shots from within five feet of the hoop, and the efforts of Howard and Omer Asik went a long way in wreaking havoc with Toronto’s attempts to get easy buckets.

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In fact nearly all of the numbers from the first half must have been a sight for sore eyes for a Houston coaching staff that’s been desperate to see their team flex its defensive muscle: The Raptors shot only slightly better than 25 percent from the field in the first half after hitting just 18 percent of their shots in the second quarter. The Rockets, meanwhile, racked up six blocked shots in the period and had eight overall in the half. And though Toronto’s roster might not appear terribly imposing from a scoring standpoint, keep in mind the Raptors came into tonight’s game ranked 7th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. For the Rockets to get where they want to be, this is the kind of defensive effort and intensity they’ll need to showcase far more often.

- Back to that Howard guy for a moment. He wasn’t just a defensive dynamo in the first half. In addition to his three blocks and 11 boards, he also poured in 17 points by the halftime break and was largely responsible for getting Toronto’s best two bigs, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, in early foul trouble. Howard was dominant on both ends – something Houston had to have with so many players nursing injuries and/or feeling under the weather.

- Speaking of the bug that’s hit the Rockets’ locker room, Francisco Garcia has thus far been bitten the hardest and, as a result, he was unable to play tonight. That prompted Head Coach Kevin McHale to mix up his rotation by inserting Terrence Jones into Garcia’s spot. Jones came through with 3 points, 5 boards and 2 blocks in 10 first half minutes of play, and 7 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks for the game. The second-year forward still gets lost defensively from time to time, but he’s able to partly make up for that with the energy and rangy athleticism he brings to the table.

And Jones clearly made a positive impression because McHale inserted him into the club’s lineup to start the third quarter in place of Asik. It didn’t last long since Jones picked up his third and fourth fouls of the game less than three minutes into the period, but his presence to start the half could indicate that Houston’s coaches may well be close to making at least a temporary change to their starting lineup in the days to come. Stay tuned.

- The Rockets are still struggling to find the range from beyond the arc this season. They came into the game having hit just 31.8 percent of their 3s to date, and that percentage won’t be going up after the club connected on only 7 of their 26 shots from downtown tonight. The team is consistently getting good looks from deep, so they have to keep firing. They’ll start falling eventually and, when they do, this squad is going to look sooo much better.

- One of the many bonuses to employing a stout defense: It helps you survive the nights when those outside shots aren’t falling. Houston’s strong defensive effort provided the team with plenty of opportunities to push the pace against the plodding Raptors and the easy buckets the Rockets scored in transition were just what the (shot) doctor ordered.

- Where would the Rockets have been tonight without the scoring punch Jeremy Lin provided off the bench tonight? Lin is one of a half-dozen Houston players feeling under the weather, but his offensive game was plenty healthy in the second half this evening. Lin tallied a game-high 31 points, 26 of which came during the final two periods of play, and occasionally carried a Rockets offense that still looked out of sync for extended stretches. And if seven games into the campaign was too early to discuss end-of-the-season awards, what are the rules regarding the eighth? Lin is now averaging more than 16 points per game and better than 45 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

- Have to give Chandler Parsons a ton of credit for his gutty performance tonight, too. Despite dealing with back spasms for the past week, Parsons led the Rockets in minutes played with 50 and was even trying to take charges in overtime. He also managed to be productive in spite of the pain, scoring 18 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists.

- What a wild, ugly, grind of a game. The Rockets’ offense floundered in the fourth quarter. After his dominant offensive first half, Dwight Howard scored just a single point the rest of the game (though he did finish with a monstrous 24 rebounds and 5 blocks while altering at least twice that number). Rudy Gay was mostly very bad for the vast majority of the night, only to momentarily shake off his shooting woes with .6 seconds left in the first overtime by knocking in an improbable game-tying 3 with Parsons draped all over him. And just as we all expected before the night began, Terrence Jones delivered the bucket that finally put Houston ahead for good, scoring off a Howard dish with 1:13 to go in double-overtime.

But through all the grit, grime and everything else that detracted from this contest’s aesthetic appeal, the Rockets emerged with the win they so badly needed in order to salvage something from an otherwise disappointing three-game homestand. Over the course of the marathon that doubles as the NBA’s regular season, there are going to be plenty of nights when players aren’t feeling anywhere close to 100 percent, teams are out of sync and little, if anything, is working. Anyone remember that rancid seven-game losing streak Houston languished through last year? Everything seemed broken at the time, but the Rockets still managed to recover, find themselves and emerge from the abyss to play some pretty darn good basketball at the end of the season.

The last five days haven’t been nearly that bad, but there’s no question the Rockets are dealing with some issues – both physically and from an execution standpoint – that they need to resolve. But being able to fight through those issues and emerge victorious? In this league, you happily and graciously accept nights like these. Not every win is going to be a Picasso. Sometimes something as simple as dogs sitting around playing poker will do. It will put a smile on some faces while providing ample motivation to get back to work and acquire the skills necessary to ensure that the big picture canvas doesn't just elicit smiles but rather eventually becomes something so altogether powerful and awe-inspiring as to take one’s breath away.

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On the Rockets team play) “(This game) was something. We still are a little bit in mud, but the guys came out defensively and did a really good job. We were grinding.  We just found a way to win. That’s just kind of what we had to do. James (Harden) had 10 assists; he moved the ball really well. Jeremy (Lin) was in attack mode going in, Jeremy is one of the few guys right now that is shooting the ball with a little bit of confidence and he made some shots. We've just got to keep on grinding. I told our guys, it will come along. It will come along for us. We have not hit a stride yet as a team, but we'll keep looking at it.”

(On Jeremy Lin's play) “(Jeremy and I) talked about him coming off the bench. I just said you've got to go out there and just play, you've worked hard all summer, I've said it all training camp that the first part of the season, I think he's got more bounce in his leg. He's got more juice. He's been playing very, very well for us. He's just got to go out there and play. He made some big shots for us.”

(On Terrence Jones' play) “Coming into the year I really thought that Terrence (Jones) or D-Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) was going to have to play that side of the ball and really take that thing. It just seemed through training camp, it just seemed up and down, up and down, but Terrence worked hard and he's been doing all his work. For Terrence to not play and go out and play 32 minutes, that’s hard to do. He kept running. I was proud of him. He's a second-year player. I told him when you get a chance, just stick with it. I thought he did a really good job.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the win) “Rudy Gay took 37 shots, which is kind of crazy, but he hit some big ones and we had to keep playing. We didn’t want to give up. We definitely needed this win after dropping two. So, this is a big win for us. James (Harden) played so unselfish, Jeremy Lin came up huge.”

(On the Raptors) “They’re a great offensive rebounding team. They really put pressure on us. We need to clean up some things, but it was definitely a big win for us.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On Toronto’s run in the second half) “Their zone (defense) kind of slowed us up. We have to find a way to play at the zone. Teams are going to start to try to capitalize on that. It threw all of us off. It took us out of rhythm. They (Raptors) were able to get out and run and they made it a tough game. Rudy Gay hit some big shots, Kyle Lowry hit some big shots, and they just stuck with their game plan and came back. We have to put four quarters together. That is our next step. We will play good for two quarters but it stops there. We have to get better at that.”

(On whether or not tonight’s win was about perseverance) “We just have to stick with it. Second half we didn’t play as good as we wanted to, but we got a good win. We needed on especially at home, and I’m glad we got it.”

JEREMY LIN

(On whether or not there was a point that he knew he had it going tonight) “I would say probably mid way through the third (quarter). I started feeling pretty good and got into a rhythm. Once I got a couple of shots to go down, everything just slowed down for me.”

(On his teammates getting him open shots) “I can remember off the top of my head James (Harden) and Chandler (Parsons) got me a few shots, swinging the ball and getting me the ball and I’m thankful to them. I didn’t really do a great job of getting everybody involved today. I had zero assists but they did a great job of finding me.”

TORONTO RAPTORS COACH DWAYNE CASEY

(On his teams play in the game) “I love the way we fought. Anybody that didn’t appreciate that, we had 30 more attempts. How many times have you seen that? We just have to make shots. We only shot 25% the first half and we got back in the game with our defense. We just have just got to make easy buckets and we had so many opportunities to score and we have to convert on them. Defensively, we did as good a job as we could on (James) Harden and we knew we had to give up something and it was Jeremy Lin who took up the slack. There are no moral victories in this league, but I see our team growing, fighting through things and a totally different feel from last year. We knew this month was going to be tough and like I told our guys a few minutes ago, I was proud of the way they fought, scrapped, and got back in the game. Everybody that walked on the floor contributed.”

(On Rudy Gay’s play) “We had to give the ball to Rudy because he had it going and DeMar (DeRozan) had struggled. I think he was 2 for 15 in the first half and Rudy was the only one that had something rolling with the rhythm. It was one of those nights. Tonight it was Rudy and he did a great job of carrying us and getting us into overtime making big plays. As a coach, you can draw up as many plays as you want, but you have to make the shots and he did. The disastrous start really put us in a hole.”

KYLE LOWRY

(On the game and what it tells him about his team) “We played pretty good defense and against a team that can score the ball, we did a good job on them. We did a good job holding them to some shots they didn’t want to take. We have to watch film and get back to sticking to our principles.”

(On the teams’ mood after the loss) “The guys are really tired. Guys are still spirited and guys are still up and were not going to put our heads down and were going to learn from the game. We fight and that’s all we can do, just keep fighting. There are no moral victories in this league, but as long as we fight and play as long as we can then the basketball gods will help us a little bit and we’ll win some games.”

(On the Rockets…on Jeremy Lin) “He is a good player and an alpha scorer and he made some tough shots, some big 3’s, and he got it going. Once he got it going, he’s one of those guys you have to make uncomfortable. He (Dwight Howard) makes them an instant contender. He is a guy who can patrol the boards, the paint defensively and he knows how to play the game. He does a good job of doing his job.”

RUDY GAY

(On the game) “We fought with them obviously through two overtimes and shots that we usually hit, weren’t falling, you could say fatigue or a lot of different things but they are a great team and they played well. I just wish I would’ve hit the easy ones (shots) and maybe things would’ve worked out differently.”

(On the Rockets) “They (Harden and Howard) are a dynamic duo and of course everybody knows who they are. Individually and how good they are, but when you put the two together, they are great, they’re playing well together right now and I think the sky is the limit when they learn how to play with each other.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,134, marking a fifth straight sellout at Toyota Center.

The Rockets captured a 110-104 victory over the Raptors in double-overtime tonight. Dating back 2011-12, the Rockets had dropped their prior six consecutive OT games. Houston’s last multiple-overtime game was on 1/13/10 vs. Minnesota (W-3OT, 120-114).

Houston (59) and Toronto (51) combined for 110 rebounds tonight. It was the sixth time this season that two NBA teams have each totaled 50 boards in a game.

The Rockets held the Raptors to 38-of-114 (.333) from the field tonight. It marked the fourth time already this season that Houston has held its opponent under 40% shooting (record: 3-1).

Houston also limited Toronto to just 33 points (.256, 11-43 FG) in the first half, including a 13-point second quarter. Both mark opponent season lows for points in a half and a quarter.

Jeremy Lin came off the bench to lead the Rockets with 31 points (10-17 FG, 3-6 3FG, 8-9 FT) tonight. Lin becomes the first Rockets reserve to net 30-plus points in a game since Chase Budinger netted 30 points off the bench at Cleveland (2/23/11).

James Harden finished with 26 points (7-19 FG, 9-11 FT), 10 assists and three steals tonight. His 10 assists matched the entire team total for the Raptors (10). Harden tonight picked up the sixth 20-point, 10-assist game of his career (Rockets record: 6-0).

Dwight Howard totaled 18 points (7-12 FG), 24 rebounds and five blocked shots tonight, including 17 points (7-11 FG), 11 boards and three blocks in the first half alone. He and Chandler Parsons are the only two Rockets this season to have at least 17 points and 11 rebounds in a game, which Howard accomplished in the first half tonight.

Chandler Parsons, who topped the Rockets with 23 points (9-15 FG, 2-5 3FG) and eight rebounds last game vs. the L.A. Clippers, had 17 points (7-16 FG), five rebounds and five assists. It was his 13th career 15-5-5 game (Rockets record: 10-3).

Terrence Jones racked up 10 boards and four blocked shots tonight, which marked the third double-figure rebounding game of his career. Jones recorded a career-high six blocks last season at Phoenix (4/15/13).

Rudy Gay topped the Raptors with 29 points (11-37 FG, career-high FGA), 10 rebounds and four steals tonight. Gay, who hit a 3-pointer to force tonight’s second OT, is the only Raptor to reach double-figure scoring in all eight games this season.

DeMar DeRozan registered 22 points (6-25 FG, 10-11 FT) and another four steals, helping Toronto register a total of 12 thefts on the night.

Jonas Valanciunas had 10 (4-9 FG) and 13 boards tonight. Valanciunas, who has now scored in double figures in four of the last five games (Nov. 5-11), picked up his second double-double of the season.

Amir Johnson added a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double tonight. The Raptors become the first opponent with three players to post a double-double since 4/1/13 vs. Orlando – Tobias Harris (18 points, 11 rebounds), Beno Udrih (17 points, 10 assists), Nikola Vucevic (12 points, 13 rebounds). 

Pre-game:

The most important part of today’s preview: checking in on the Rockets’ walking wounded. Following today’s shootaround, James Harden said he will be playing despite the fact he is dealing with two sore feet and is one of several Houston players feeling under the weather with a bug that has recently been making its way through the club’s locker room. Omri Casspi also expects to play, though admitted he is still struggling with a strained left knee. As for Chandler Parsons, he too said he believes he’ll be able to play in spite of the back spasms he’s been experiencing ever since the team returned from its west coast road trip.

In other words: Don’t expect to hear anything official on the status of all three of the aforementioned players until much closer to game time.

Toronto comes into the game burdened with a key injury of its own: Point guard Kyle Lowry is nursing a sprained right ankle, but is listed as probable for tonight’s matchup against his former team.

Now that we’ve tackled the veritable M.A.S.H. unit that’s taken up residence at Toyota Center, let’s move on to a discourse centered upon some of the key facts and figures that make up each club’s statistical profile. To that end, at first blush one finds there’s a great deal of statistical similarity between these two teams. The Raptors and Rockets are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the NBA in rebound rate, respectively, with both clubs especially posing a major threat to opponents on the offensive glass where Toronto again tops the league while Houston is 7th overall in offensive rebound rate. Each team possesses at least three regular rotation players who must be accounted for at all times when their squad’s shots miss the mark – The Raptors’ Tyler Hansbrough and Jonas Valanciunas reside in the league’s top-20 in terms of individual offensive rebound rate while Amir Johnson isn’t far behind. For Houston, of course, Dwight Howard, Omer Asik and Patrick Beverley are always a threat to snag those precious extra possessions.

One key difference between the two clubs at this early juncture, however: While the Raptors rank fourth overall in defensive rebound rate, the Rockets enter tonight’s contest sitting 17th in that category. Given the fact Houston boasts two of the top glass-cleaners in the game in Howard and Asik, it would be shocking if that ranking doesn’t improve as the season moves along.

More statistical similarities: The Raptors rank 12th in terms of defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) while Houston is 13th. And the two clubs are nearly neck-and-neck on the offensive end as well, with the Rockets ranking 5th and Toronto 7th. The Rockets and Raptors are even strikingly similar in assist rate (the percentage of a team’s field goals that are the byproduct of an assist) as well, coming into tonight’s game at 27th and 28th, respectively.

The style of play employed by each team, however, couldn’t be much more different: While Houston’s up-tempo approach ranks them 6th overall in terms of pace, the Raptors prefer a slow grind which is why they currently sit dead last in the league in that category. And when it comes to shooting proficiency, there’s no contest here: The Rockets reside in the league’s top-5 in both effective and true shooting percentage while Toronto is near the bottom third in both categories.

A few more things to keep in mind heading into tonight:

- According to Synergy Sports, the Rockets are the top team in the league in terms of scoring efficiency via pick-and-rolls. The Raptors, meanwhile, are ranked 24th in pick-and-roll defense.

- You likely won’t be surprised to find out that the Rockets absolutely live on the line. Houston enters tonight’s contest leading the league by a mile in terms of free throw attempts per game, averaging a whopping 38 trips to the charity stripe per contest.

- While the Raptors’ 3-4 record is just a game off the Rockets’ mark and their point differential (+1.7) just barely lags behind Houston’s +2.0, Toronto has yet to knock off a team possessing a record of .500 or better while the Rockets own three such wins (Charlotte, Dallas and Portland).

- Lastly, keep an eye on what happens anytime Amir Johnson takes a breather as he’s been Toronto’s talisman through the team’s first seven games. When he’s on the floor, the Raptors have largely dominated while both scoring and defending at a top-5 rate. When he’s on the bench, however, that top-5 production transforms into bottom-5. Little wonder, then, that Toronto’s net rating when Johnson plays is +13.2 and -13.1 when he sits. The 9th year forward averages about 30 minutes of playing time per game. He can be foul prone, so Houston would be wise to use its prodigious foul-drawing ability against him. Either way, however, the Rockets must take full advantage of every minute Johnson sits.