Game Day: Rockets at Warriors
Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 102-99 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors
OAKLAND - After basking in the joy brought forth by a blowout win over the Lakers the night before during a game in which nearly everything went their way, perhaps it was only fitting that the Rockets would be forced to fight through a slog of a contest in which next to nothing did.
Houston’s offense, so free-flowing, footloose and fancy free for large stretches of the past few weeks, devolved into a sticky quagmire that swallowed up shot after shot and possession after possession. During the plays that did go as planned, open looks and simple bunnies still frequently found a way to rim out. Early foul trouble didn't help. Nor did a key injury that zapped the mojo from a red-hot James Harden late in the contest.
Yet through it all, the Rockets hung around and found themselves still standing and still clinging to the hope that their winning streak would live to see another day. A dazzling, last second Steph Curry layup had robbed the Rockets of an opportunity to ride Harden’s fourth quarter heroics to a ninth straight win in regulation, but overtime brought with it another opportunity in the form of a baseline cut courtesy of Chandler Parsons that seemed certain to result in a slam to give Houston the lead in the final minute. Instead, Jermaine O’Neal rose up, met Parsons at the rim and cleanly snuffed out both the shot and the Rockets’ win streak as Golden State held on to for a 102-99 overtime victory.
“He timed it well at the rim. It was just perfect timing on his part,” Parsons said of the key play that spoiled a night in which he otherwise shone, scoring 21 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists.
“It was just one of those nights where we couldn’t get much going. Our defense was solid, but we had absolutely nothing go our way all night long. There’s going to be nights like that but we’ve just got to stick together like we did and keep fighting.
“If this game would have happened 20 or 25 games ago, we would have gotten blown out with everything that was going against us. You can take that as a positive moving forward, but this game hurts. We had so many chances to win the game and we just couldn’t close it.”
Indeed, for everything that went wrong for Houston – like its poor shooting from both the field (36.6 percent) and the free throw line (64 percent) – the Rockets’ defense and overall grittiness still put the team in prime position to pull this game out. Harden’s monstrous second half stood as the most significant reason why of course, as 34 of his season-high 39 points came during the final two quarters and OT. But an ill-timed, unlucky collision with Jeremy Lin brought about a hyperextension of his right elbow, forcing Harden to play the vast majority of the extra session in severe pain while robbing him of his uber efficient effectiveness.
“I couldn’t really even grab the ball,” said Harden after the game. “I couldn’t dribble with my right or do anything so it was tough.
“I had it rolling. I was feeling it a little bit, my teammates were feeding me and doing a great job with that, and I couldn’t come through in overtime.”
X-rays taken after the game on Harden’s elbow came back negative and Houston’s All-Star two-guard will likely go in for a precautionary MRI Friday when the team arrives in Phoenix. The good news is that the injury is not expected to be serious. And regardless of whether he’s able to play Sunday against the Suns, Harden says tonight’s defeat should do nothing to detract from all the positive momentum Houston has generated over the past three weeks.
“It’s ok, we’re in a good place right now,” he said. “We didn’t play well but we still had so many opportunities to win that game. They hit a couple tough shots … We’ve got another game on Sunday and just have to get back on a roll.
- As he promised to do pre-game, Warriors head coach Mark Jackson began the contest by putting Klay Thompson, rather than Andre Iguodala, on James Harden. A surprising decision to be sure given Iggy’s success defending Harden last year while with the Nuggets, but Thompson is certainly no slouch on that end of the floor, either. Either way, Jackson’s decision seemed to be a sound one in the first half as Harden struggled, scoring just 5 points on 2-of-7 shooting from the floor. Adding insult to injury, Houston’s All-Star shooting guard also picked up three fouls in the opening two periods of play as well. Of course, the tables turned in a big way during the second half. And by the time Harden had heated up, even Iguodala wasn’t able to do cool him off – only the unfortunate elbow injury could accomplish that trick.
- Making matters worse for Houston in the early going was the fact that the other member of the club’s dynamic duo labored through his worst half of basketball in weeks as well. Dwight Howard, positively scorching throughout the month of February, hit an ice patch in the opening half, connecting on just one of his first seven shots and only one of his six attempts from the charity stripe.
With their superstar pairing struggling to find its form, the Rockets’ offense went off the rails in the second quarter. During one particularly gruesome stretch, Houston went just 1-of-12 from the field while the Warriors went on a 21-5 run. And yet, somehow Golden State held just a four-point edge at halftime, giving the Rockets ample reason to hope for far better in the game’s second half.
- The biggest reason Houston managed to hang around despite the first half doldrums experienced by Harden and Howard: the sparkling play of Chandler Parsons. The third-year forward was far and away his team’s best player in the opening half, stuffing the stat sheet with 14 points, four boards, three assists, a steal and a block. Parsons quite literally did it all for Houston, including the delivery of this picture perfect pass to Howard for a sweet alley-oop – awfully impressive for a guy who dubbed himself the worst lob passer in the NBA earlier this season.
- Omer Asik was another bright spot for the Rockets in the first half, delivering his typically strong board work while playing near perfect positional defense on the other end of the floor. During his opening eight-minute stint, he tallied four points and four rebounds while finishing +6, once again hammering home that, man, life sure is pleasant when your team is able to play with a defensively dominant big man for a full 48 minutes.
- Last season Houston won a hideous, grind-it-out game in this very building. Both teams shot less than 38 percent from the floor that night, and though the Rockets trailed throughout the vast majority of the second and third quarters, they held Golden State to just 12 fourth quarter points on their way to escaping with a gritty 94-88 victory.
Tonight’s contest took on an eerily similar feel sometime around the midway point of the third period when the Warriors again failed to make Houston pay for its myriad mistakes. The opportunity for a knockout punch was there when Golden State began the quarter with a pair of wide-open Steph Curry 3s, and it reared its head once more when the Warriors again snagged a double-digit lead several minutes later. Howard was continuing to struggle through his worst game in weeks. Houston’s free throw shooting was abysmal for the vast majority of the contest, too.
But the beautiful thing about having not one, but two All-Stars is that when one has an off night, there’s an excellent chance the other can pick up the slack. Enter James Harden, who shook off his own slow start by exploding for 15 points in the third quarter to keep his club alive and well in the contest. Harden didn’t do anything outside the ordinary – well, by his lofty standards, anyway – during his torrid stretch; he simply put forth a riveting display of all the things that have sent him to the NBA’s marquee midseason event each of the past two years, knocking down 3s, getting to the line and relentlessly worming his way into the paint.
Harden’s scoring spree continued into the fourth quarter as well, with each team taking turns with the lead. He even had what looked to be his MJ moment in the final minute, swiping the ball away from David Lee in the post – just as Jordan did to Malone in Game 6 of the ’98 Finals – before draining a step-back jumper – complete with a small shove for good measure – to give Houston the lead with six seconds left. That bucket gave Harden 30 points in the second half alone and looked to be the one that would elevate Houston to its ninth straight win.
Steph Curry, however, had other ideas. Golden State’s All-Star responded with a ridiculously high degree of difficulty lefty layup out of a timeout to knot things up seconds later. Harden then had one last opportunity to put his team on top for good, but his buzzer-beating 3 at the end of regulation caromed harmlessly off the rim, sending the contest to overtime.
- The bonus basketball provided all you needed to know if you ever found yourself wondering why close games tend to be coin flips. Andre Iguodala connected on back-to-back miracle buckets that came straight out of the Hail Mary collection. Then Jermaine O’Neal produced his remarkable block, stuffing Chandler Parsons at the rim on a dunk attempt that would have given Houston the lead in the final minute. Those unexpected plays ultimately proved the difference as Golden State escaped with its victory.
- Some final thoughts: Patrick Beverley’s stat line doesn’t even come close to doing him justice. His dogged defense on Steph Curry was terrific throughout the contest, until his aggressiveness got the better of him as he picked up his sixth foul in OT. And while Houston’s offense was scuffling about, the extra possessions he created with his timely offensive rebounds and corralled loose balls allowed his club the additional opportunities it so often needed to put points on the board and hang around.
Lastly, no, Dwight Howard wasn’t the offensive force of nature that he’s been throughout the month of February. But 21 rebounds and terrific rim protection – seriously, it’s incredible to track the number of shots he adversely affects near the basket – showed yet again how he can put his stamp on the game even when his shot’s not falling.
- Next up for Houston: a couple of sorely-needed days off before the club returns to action against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
ROCKETS HEAD COACH KEVIN MCHALE
ON TONIGHT’S GAME:
“We weren’t very efficient offensively. We just kind of grounded it out and tried to keep on finding ways, and we had opportunities to win that game. Steph [Curry] made a hell of a running left-hand layup over Dwight [Howard] and we weren’t very efficient offensively all night long.”
ON JAMES HARDEN’S ELBOW BEING A FACTOR:
“James [Harden] played well for us. He had a great look at the end of that game. He was wide open, he took a dribble, the guy cleared and he had a great look to finish that game off for us with three seconds. Again, we missed tip-ins. We missed layups. We weren’t really good. We did a decent job and they got some rebounds early, offensive rebounds, but after that we did a pretty good job on the boards. It just wasn’t a crisp game for us, but it was the type of game where we had chances. The guys fought hard, that’s one thing. They kept on grinding through it.”
ON CROSSMATCHUPS IN THE GAME:
“We were having problems. David Lee wasn’t guarding anybody so we had to go small and make him guard somebody. That changed the game around for us. We got a little bit of rhythm. We got some run outs. We just played small.”
ON THE OUTCOME OF THE GAME:
“In close games you have to make plays down the stretch. We made a lot of plays but we just didn’t make enough. They hit tough shots too. (Andre) Iguodala hit two really tough shots and you have to give him credit. We weren’t really able to rebound at the net.”
ON THE WARRIORS’ PLAY:
“I thought they played pretty good basketball tonight. They went at all the mismatches. At the end of the game, they gave the ball to their best player and he made plays. That’s what teams do.”
ON DEFENDING STEPHEN CURRY’S LAYUP AT THE END OF THE GAME:
“I was expecting him to come and shoot a floater. That is why I tried to stay back until the last second. He made a tough shot and there is nothing I could do about it. He did an excellent job for his team. That is what all-stars do.”
ON ALL THE HARD FOULS HE IS RECEIVING:
“I’m a big guy and guys have to foul me hard so I won’t get an and-1 or make it to the basket. It’s understandable but it does put a risk on my health. The two times I’ve been injured were because of hard fouls but I can’t control that. I just have to keep playing and hopefully I won’t get injured.”
ON JERMAINE O’NEAL’S BLOCK:
“He timed it well at the rim. It was just perfect timing on his part. I guess that is what he is supposed to do being a center.”
ON THE LOSS:
“It was just one of those nights where we couldn’t really get things going. Our defense was solid and we had absolutely nothing go our way all night long. There are going to be nights like that but we just have to stick together like we did and keep fighting. If this game would have happened 25 games ago, we would have gotten blown out with everything that was going against us so you can take that as a positive moving forward. This game hurts because we had so many chances to win the game and we just couldn’t close it.”
WARRIORS HEAD COACH MARK JACKSON
ON TONIGHT’S GAME:
“There were so many big plays that we made both offensively and defensively. Steph’s (Curry) drive at the end of regulation after (James) Harden made the huge play and took the life out of the building. We executed and got exactly what we wanted. We were patient, we executed and it was just a big time win for us.”
ON JERMAINE O’NEAL:
“You talk about big time plays-Jermaine’s (O’Neal) block on Chandler Parsons. That is a guy a million miles on his body and on the back-9 of his career, but he was a true professional. I didn’t want to play him this many minutes but he said ‘I’m going to give you what I have Coach’. We are fortunate to have him, the way he conducts himself and the way he takes pride. He deserved this night, really deserved it. A great win. I thought he did an outstanding job on Dwight Howard making him work and keeping a body on him.”
ON THE JUXTAPOSITION OF FEEDING CURRY VS. GETTING OTHER PLAYERS INVOLVED:
“You just read it. As a point guard in this league those were decisions I had to make my whole life-when to keep a guy involved and when to stay away from a guy. For me those were decisions that were the easy ones. Steph (Curry) has been great with the basketball and also making plays with other players coming off screens. I thought he hit some big shots playing off the basketball and some where he had the ball in his hands.”
ON THEIR DEFENSE TONIGHT:
“We are a defensive minded team. It’s great to see that we can win ballgames when we are not at our best offensively, when we miss shots and things aren’t going our way. When you take the commitment to defend night in and night out, even against a team that creates a lot of challenges, you give yourself a chance. A chance to win. This was all about our defense. To hold that team to under 40%-just proud of my guys. This was off of a back-to-back. Just a big win.”
ON STEPHEN CURRY GETTING TO THE RIM LATE IN THE GAME:
“He has that and he’s getting better and better. He came into this league as a knockdown shooter and he’ll leave this league as a knockdown shooter. He has added the ability to make plays, put the ball on the floor, and he’s mixing drives and runners into his repertoire. Truth be told the last play of regulation I set it up for him to shoot a three and left it in his hands. It shows you how far he’s come as a basketball player that he didn’t settle. He made a big play for us.”
WARRIORS FORWARD DAVID LEE
ON PLAYING THE ROCKETS AND THIS BEING A POTENTIAL PLAYOFF MATCHUP:
“That’s a good question. That’s something I hadn’t thought about. Two teams that are looking like they’re going to make the playoffs and it’s a possibility. These guys have had our number a little bit and I thought we really competed well as a team. We didn’t shoot the ball overly well tonight so it’s good to get another win when we didn’t play particularly great offensively. We were able to get stops down the stretch and I’m very proud of our team to win this one.”
ON JERMAINE O’NEAL’S DEFENSIVE EFFORT:
“Huge play for him. The block was important but more than that, his defense throughout the entire game on Dwight Howard was incredible. He challenged him for every single play that he made. To take Dwight more or less out of the game made them a little more one dimensional, shooting threes and going to [James] Harden. I’m proud of Jermaine and he’s been ready all season, I’m just glad that he’s healthy enough to give us some minutes.”
WARRIORS CENTER JERMAINE O’NEAL
ON HIS DEFENSE AGAINST HOWARD:
“Obviously Dwight is a tough cover. You try to do your best to keep your body on him, use your length against him. Tonight I was able to bother his shot, get him off the box, make him make some tough moves.”
ON HIS LATE-GAME BLOCK ON CHANDLER PARSONS:
“He (Parsons) made a great play going baseline and when you’re a big you kind of look at it like being a free safety; you see plays develop. A couple plays I got called for blocking; I think one was a goaltend and two blocking fouls, trying to take a charge, I was a second late. I wanted to make sure I go to the rim in time to save the dunk.”
WARRIORS GUARD STEPHEN CURRY
ON HIS GAME-TYING BUCKET AT THE END OF REGULATION:
“We designed a play to get a three off because we tried to read how they were playing our off-ball screens and tried to get Dwight into help-mode basically. Once I caught it and saw Chandler kind of trailing me from behind and the lane was open, at that point it was about getting to the lane as quick as possible to try to get it on the rim. Dwight was there to protect; thankfully I was able to get a little bit of touch on it and spin it in. We got a stop to make that play worth it and it went into overtime.
ON O’NEAL’S BLOCK ON PARSONS:”
“Huge, huge effort. Dwight’s an animal down there, a force, but JO (O’Neal) is as well. JO was up for the challenge. He made it be known before the game that he was ready for it. The only thing you can do is try to make him work all night and try to, for him, make Dwight go through his chest, and that’s hard to do. So he was battling, forcing him into tough hook jump shots and we were rebounding the basketball. And obviously that huge block at the end to come off Dwight’s body and make a play was huge to see that youth come out of him.”