Game Day: Rockets vs. Wizards
Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 113-112 win over the Washington Wizards
HOUSTON - For a few fleeting, fear-filled moments, it appeared for all the world as if the Rockets were on a road to their own personal perdition. Their 19-point lead was gone and it seemed as if their six-game winning streak was sure to follow.
Then James Harden strode forth, saved the day, and Euro-stepped Houston to seventh heaven.
That is the abridged version of what transpired Wednesday night. The actual account of Houston’s heart stopping 113-112 win over Washington could very well fill a tome of biblical proportions, such was the extent of the evening’s showcase of everything from the exhilarating to the downright bizarre. To wit: the Rockets turned the ball over 26 times – and won. The Wizards knocked down 16 triples – 10 of which came courtesy of Trevor Ariza’s out-of-body experience – and lost. And those were actually some of the saner, more easily explainable phenomena that took place during a night that saw Toyota Center play host to a one-night-only return of The Twilight Zone.
Despite dominating for long stretches and building double-digit leads on multiple occasions, Houston never could quite put the Wizards away. The Rockets received monster performances from Harden and Dwight Howard, and Chandler Parsons’ all-around excellence stood out as well. Houston shot 53 percent from the field, better than 45 percent from 3, corralled 43 percent of its missed shots and owned a massive 47-16 advantage in free throw attempts.
Peruse the particulars of those numbers and one would rightfully expect them to add up to a rather convincing Rockets win. To be sure, it certainly seemed at various points as if that would indeed be the ultimate result. And yet every time it appeared as if the Rockets were ready to deliver the knock out punch, the wannabe wallop fizzled amid a flurry of turnovers and missed opportunities.
As is usually the case in such situations, the reasons for Houston’s failure to put the Wizards on the mat once and for all until the last possible second were a mixture of its own misadventures combined with some rather wondrous, umm, wizardry on Washington’s behalf. Yes, the Rockets contributed greatly to their difficulties with some questionable decision making on both ends of the floor, but rare is the day when the basketball deities decide to punish those sins by smiting the guilty party via five Trevor Ariza 3-pointers in the span of two minutes and 18 seconds. As far as wrathful vengeance from above goes, that stunning sequence of events was next level, Revelations style retribution.
Nonetheless, the Rockets recovered, regained their equilibrium and still looked to be in firm control when a Parsons triple and Howard freebie gave the club a 7-point cushion with 4:22 to go. Then again, given the events of the evening up to that point, any such feelings of comfort were ill advised at best and foolishly tempting fate at worst. And sure enough, when Washington responded with a 14-5 spurt to seize a 2-point edge with four seconds remaining, the Rockets’ fate appeared to be trending downward at such a rapid rate that one could be forgiven for thinking the Grim Reaper himself was standing sentry at the edge of the floor, scythe in hand, silently waiting to whisk Houston’s hopes for winning away to the underworld.
But what is the one thing we say to death? James Harden apparently knew the proper reply, though few could have foreseen the way his retort would manifest itself on the floor. It began with an Ariza foul before the inbounds pass, granting Houston a free throw and possession. From there, head coach Kevin McHale made a deft adjustment to the original play call, a subtle maneuver that freed Harden to cleanly receive the ball, slice into the lane and Euro-step himself and his team to salvation.
Prior to that game-saving, last second layup, the death of Houston’s season-best winning streak had beckoned. Perdition was staring the Rockets squarely in the eyes and giving them its most come-hither glance.
James Harden’s final, resounding response: Not today.
NOTES AND QUOTES
HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE
(On the final play) “We were looking for them to foul on the first one and then get a layup on the second one. It worked out perfectly. We had a little bubble screen action trying to get him to come to the ball and then they switched up a little bit on the second time. He (James Harden) just faked the screen and came off. It was a hell of a play. He played down hill all night.”
(On the game) “Twenty-six turnovers and you win, it's pretty amazing. I don't know how we did that. We had a big lead and we just frittered it away. (Trevor) Ariza was making everything but still, we just had some bad, bad turnovers. We got up nineteen (points) and we can't afford to give those leads back. We've done it off and on. We kind of got away from it for awhile but we fell back into it.”
(On importance of winning this game before the All-Star Break) “In the middle of the third (quarter) I thought let's keep winning and walk this thing in and they made a hell of a run at us. It's crazy. We've played some wild games with these (Wizards) guys. We played them there and we had a twenty or twenty-five point lead. I don't know. We've played some crazy games with these guys. It was a hell of a big play by James (Harden) coming down with his euro-step and got to the basket late in the game and that's hard to do.”
(On the last two plays) “The first play was for Jeremy (Lin) to come off then for me to set the screen and come off from the top of the key. Obviously, we didn't get to it. The second one we were wrinkling. Jeremy was going to act like he was going to come off but he didn't but I came off the top. I just needed space and got the ball to the rim.”
(On the win) “They made some tough shots. We're in our principles. In the first half they had some open looks but didn't knock them down. In the second half they did, a couple of ill advised, others were our principles and we did our principles and they made shots. It happened and we just closed it out.”
(On the importance of the win going into All-Star Break) “Very important. Obviously we are on a streak right now and we want to be playing well at the same time. One of the teams were going to give up early. We had an opportunity to close them out in the third quarter. They kept fighting. Like I said, we came away with it.”
(On the Rockets withstanding Washington's second half run) “They fought all the way through. We had a big lead and then Trevor Ariza got hot. He didn't miss any 3's for a long stretch and they got back into the game. They made it tough. They are a really good, young team and they are a team that you have to watch out for in the East.”
(On the physicality of playing against Nene and Marcin Gortat) “I like playing against those guys. It was a very physical game. Me and Marcin and Nene, we go to battle against each other so it's a lot of fun. The thing I wanted to do with those guys was to just move them around and also get them in foul trouble. I know when they get in foul trouble they can't play aggressive as they want to on the defensive end so that was my goal.”
(On the difficulty of beating Washington) “We knew they weren't going to lay down. They have so much shooting. (Trevor) Ariza really caught fire there in the third quarter. It was pretty unbelievable. They can hurt you in many different ways. With him shooting the ball like that, Brad Beal is one of the best shooters in the league, John (Wall) in transition is unbelievable. We knew they weren't going to lay down but we really needed to tighten up defensively because we really snuck out of here with one but at the end of the day, a win is a win. We are done playing with them and we got seven (wins) in a row.”
(On what he was looking for in the Rockets final possession) “It depends. If James (Harden) was supposed to curl off but he was so wide open, I thought he was going to shoot the 3 (pointer) and if he wasn't there he was going to curl and Dwight (Howard) was going to pop and I was going to throw it to Dwight and come off the hand off but it didn't even get to that and James made a heck of a move and a great finish at the rim.”
(On the win) “We got away with our mistakes and our lapses. We were able to make up for it by getting to the line and stuff like that. It wasn't a good one but we definitely fought.”
(On the importance of getting the final win before the All Star break) “Really important. Seven (wins) in a row. Also, we can rest a little easier and enjoy the All Star break. That's important.”
WASHINGTON WIZARDS COACH RANDY WITTMAN
(On his team’s play) “We battled all night. We got off to a tough start at the beginning of the game. We were two for ten or two for eleven to stat the game and it wasn’t about our effort, we just missed shots and we stayed with it. We got down by nine at the half, but we kept battling. That’s the effort that we have to have. I got more “my bads” and “my miss” tonight than I’ve ever seen. To have a difference of thirty free throws is hard, it’s hard. I’m done talking about that.”
(On Trevor Ariza’s play) “He got hot, he got it going and we found him and that’s the kind of thing you have to do. Get the ball to the guy that’s hot. We got in foul trouble and that hurt us with the “bigs”, with (Martin) Gortat and Nene. That took away a little bit of our aggression. It’s too bad, these guys deserved to win that game. To have it taken from them like that, it’s sad. The next thirty games is what we have to battle in all thirty games like we did tonight. There are no games to waste now.”
(On the game) “We lost another game. We fought hard to get back in the game and we gave ourselves a chance at the end of the game we did not get to decide the outcome.”
(On the play where he fouled out) “We were both battling and he was trying to get the ball and I was trying to stop him from getting the ball. We both made contact and it just so happened that they called a foul. (Did James Harden embellish?) That’s not for me to decide.”
(On his three point shooting) “I’ve shot the ball well before. Tonight I was open and there were good looks and I was just letting them fly.”
(On how tough it was to lose) “It’s the toughest way to lose. Opponents shoot thirty more free throws and unless you’re having an incredible shooting night, you think you’d lose by twenty. We fought hard and ended up losing by one. The bounces and calls didn’t go our way towards the end, but they made the biggest plays and James (Harden) got it going to the basket.”
(On the James Harden foul at the end) “I saw the play. It was basically what I’ve seen the whole game. Those guys were doing a great job of getting fouls called and they sell it. I saw him hook Trevor (Ariza) and then he fell. In that situation, I’ve had two double fouls this season and in that situation I think you call a double foul or not call anything if you’re not sure. The ref made the call he thought he had seen and it ended up costing us the game.”
(On the tough loss) “This one probably hurt the most of our losses. Just because we came back from being twenty down and then the tremendous performance Trevor had in the third quarter. This was a great game team wise because we all played together. We weren’t making a lot of shots in the beginning, but we stuck with it and they began to fall and we were getting stops. There was just a bunch of controversy at the end of the game that we wish we could have back.”
(On what he saw on the final play) “Honestly, I didn’t see it. I was guarding Jeremy (Lin) and Jeremy was cutting through and I was trying my best to not let him catch and I turned around and I saw James (Harden) on the ground. They were just tangled up. We wish they would just let them play at that moment, but it is what it is and we can’t take that back.”
(On free throw difference of 47 to 15 attempts) “There it is. Some of that you have to credit them for being aggressive and us for not being as aggressive. You can always blame refs or whatever, but just because they call it or don’t call it, they don’t change their minds. So we just had to continue to play and stay aggressive. Do we wish we could of got some (calls) but that’s just basketball.”
Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,314 tonight, giving the Rockets 26 sellouts on the season.
The Rockets once again held off a surging Wizards team to grab a 113-112 win tonight. Houston also withstood a second-half rally by the Wizards to escape with a 114-107 win at Washington (1/11/14). The Rockets have now won their last 14 games when scoring at least 100 points (1/3/14-2/12/14).
Houston is currently on a season-best, seven-game winning streak (1/28/14-2/12/14). The only other times in team annals that the Rockets entered the All-Star Break with an active winning streak of at least seven games were back in 2004-05 (eight-game streak) and 2007-08 (eight-game run).
The Rockets turned the ball over a season-high 26 times tonight. The previous high was 24 giveaways in a 112-101 win vs. Minnesota (11/23/13). The last time prior to this season that Houston gave the ball away 24 or more times and still won was back in 2006-07 (24 TO in 96-71 win on 12/27/06 at New Jersey). The Rockets have won both such game this season.
Houston took the battle off the glass by a 51-35 (+16) edge tonight. The Rockets are now 13-2 on the season when they grab 50 or more rebounds.
The Wizards set Houston’s opponent season high of 14 steals tonight, while matching the opponent best for 3-pointers made (.500, 16-32 3FG).
Houston went 34-of-64 (.531) from the field and made 35-of-47 (.745) free throws tonight. The Rockets have now won their last eight games when reaching .500 from the floor and upped their record to 18-3 on the season when they attempt 35 or more free throws in a game.
The Rockets netted 63 first-half points on 21-of-37 (.568) from the field. Houston has now posted 60-plus points in the opening half five times over the last six games. The Rockets have had quick starts in each of the last six games (1/29/14-2/12/14), averaging 33.2 first-quarter points (199 points) on a combined 77-of-136 (.566) from the floor.
James Harden, who scored the deciding bucket with seven-tenths of a second left, finished with 35 points (8-14 FG, 3-6 3FG), six boards and six assists tonight. He also matched his career best for most free throws made without a miss (16-16 FT). Harden has now scored at least 25 points in all four of his games with the Rockets against the Wizards.
Dwight Howard posted 24 points (7-9 FG, 10-16 FT), 16 rebounds and three blocks tonight. Howard now has another four straight double-doubles.
Chandler Parsons recorded 18 points (7-15 FG), a season-high-tying 12 boards and six assists tonight, which marked his seventh double-double of the season.
Jeremy Lin got his 25th start of the season tonight for an injured Pat Beverley (abdominal strain). Lin had 16 points (5-8 FG, 3-6 3FG) and five assists tonight.
Trevor Ariza topped the Wizards with 32 points (11-20 FG) behind a career-best 10-of-14 from beyond the arc (prev. high: 7 3FGM at LAL on 3/22/13) to go with 11 rebounds and three steals. Ariza set the Rockets all-time opponent record for 3-pointers made, topping nine by Michael Redd at Milwaukee (2/20/02).
John Wall collected 19 points (6-19 FG, 5-6 FT), 14 assists and three steals tonight. It marked Wall’s 20th 10-plus assist game of the season and his 19th double-double.
Nenê had 21 points (9-12 FG) and Bradley Beal added 20 points (8-24 FG, 4-10 3FG) tonight, giving three Wizards starters 20-plus points.