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Game Day: Rockets at Wizards

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 114-107 win over the Washington Wizards

  • Rockets vs. Wizards
    James Harden scores 25 points and Dwight Howard goes for 23 as the Rockets take the 114-107 win over the Wizards.
  • Lin to Howard
    Jeremy Lin drives and throws the alley-oop to Dwight Howard for the flush.
  • Rockets vs. Wizards: First half
    Dwight Howard has 15 points in the first half as the Rockets have a 63-46 halftime lead on the Wizards.
  • Rain Delay
    The Rockets and Wizards game is delayed by a leak in the roof.
  • Harden to the Hole
    James Harden takes the ball the length of the floor and finishes with the layup at the rim.

WASHINGTON D.C. - A leaky roof responsible for nearly an hour’s worth of delays. Dwight Howard swatting shots and dunking on a 10-year-old. A 25-point third quarter lead erased in a matter of mere minutes.

Welcome to the Rockets’ wild, weird and rather terrifying Saturday night spent in the nation’s capital. Venture down the rabbit hole – if you dare.

Immediately following the on-court chaos that had occurred over the course of the three-hour-and-18-minute monument to the bizarre and surreal, Dwight Howard appropriately called it the craziest game of his life. To be sure, this was not a game of winning and losing, but rather one of survival. In that sense, Houston's 114-107 victory was a rousing success. They benefited from Howard's dominance early, James Harden's heroics late, and in between a heaping helping of big plays provided by the likes of Jeremy Lin, Terrence Jones and Omri Casspi. 

At times it was beautiful - a basketball masterpiece wondrously and meticulously woven with the threads of intricate and impeccable spacing and ball-movement. At others it was downright deplorable and difficult to watch as Houston's players lifted their foot off the gas pedal too early and very nearly paid dearly for their premature relaxation.

But the Rockets survived. They emerged victorious and avoided the inevitable night terrors that would have accompanied such an agonizing defeat. On a night when weird was the new normal, the Rockets played right along and served up their fair share of zany hoops mayhem. The end result ultimately made it all worthwhile. But one has a hunch Houston's coaches will be hoping for their future wins to be perhaps just a wee bit saner going forward.

OBSERVATIONS

- Prior to the game, Houston head coach Kevin McHale spoke at length and in-depth about the difficulties his club has at times experienced while attempting to get the ball down low to Dwight Howard on the block. Those issues were front and center the night before in Atlanta when the Rockets struggled mightily in hitting Howard, with many of those failed attempts resulting in turnovers that allowed the Hawks to race out in transition.

Then the game began and that conversation was rendered at least temporarily moot when Washington allowed Houston to feed its big man early and often. The Wizards didn’t try to deny the ball; they simply seemed content to watch Howard isolate against his former teammate Marcin Gortat and the results were, not surprisingly, much to the Rockets’ liking. The seven-time All-Star repeatedly outmuscled and overpowered the Polish Hammer, finishing the first quarter with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, nearly all of which came via one-on-one isos that Howard won with ease.

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"I just wanted to attack his chest," said Howard of his early success against Gortat. "That's the best way to attack guys sometimes; when the big, strong guys go at their chest and try to take the wind out of them, later on in the quarter they're not able to battle as much and that's what I tried to do.

"I just tried to do whatever I could to be aggressive and play inside-out."

Then again, “with ease” was a pretty good way to describe both teams’ scoring prowess in the opening period as each club connected on more than 61 percent of its field goal attempts effectively making tonight’s first quarter the polar opposite of the offensively-challenged slugfest witnessed the night before in Atlanta.

The only thing that could put a damper on all the scoring: a leaky roof that caused a 35-minute delay that put a halt to the proceedings just nine seconds into the second quarter. Rain delays are rarely enjoyable, but the sight of Howard playing some lighthearted one-on-one with a young boy for a good 10 minutes or so made the wait much more palatable.

- When play resumed, the Rockets got their first look at the Wizards’ offense sans John Wall (who was on the bench getting a breather after pouring in 10 first quarter points) and it was as advertised. Washington’s offense has absolutely cratered this season when Wall sits, producing at a rate well below the league-worst offense owned by the Milwaukee Bucks. Sure enough, the Wizards’ scoring punch produced about as much pop as the 10-year-old who battled Howard mano-a-niño during the delay.

Meanwhile, Houston’s offense just kept whizzing along as the club’s outside shooting touch returned at long last. The Rockets came into the game having posted the league’s worst 3-point shooting percentage since December 1, connecting from downtown at just a shade better than 30 percent. But a bench quartet of Casspi, Brooks, Garcia and Smith teamed up with Jeremy Lin to spearhead a sparkling start to the second quarter that helped Houston build a big lead. Casspi especially caught fire, scoring 12 points in the period on 4-of-5 shooting from the field while knocking down both of this triples.

And wouldn’t you know it, the sight of those 3s falling through the hoop – the Rockets hit 6-of-10 from beyond the arc through the first two periods of play – also served to open up the squishy soft middle of the Wizards’ defense, something Jeremy Lin was only too happy to exploit. Lin relentlessly attacked the hoop on his way to finishing the half with 12 points, joining three other Houston players who had double-digit scoring totals at the break.

"I think today we had a lot better spacing," Lin said after finishing the game with 18 points and 8 assists. "We were in a lot of different positions where we had guys rolling down the middle, playing pick-and-roll with space, a stretched floor. That's kind of what I'm most comfortable with obviously and today we got back to doing that a little bit more. It freed up some lanes.

"Anytime you have that going, the defense is essentially at your mercy as long as you keep hitting some shots and guys hit a lot of shots today."

Injuries have depleted the Rockets’ depth in a big way of late (Chandler Parsons missed his third straight game tonight) and those ailments have taken their toll on a bench that has struggled to positively impact games of late. But the Rockets’ reserves delivered 22 points in the second period alone, keying a dominant 34-17 quarter that gave Houston quite the cushion heading into the second half. All the stagnation and stickiness that had served as a blight upon the Rockets’ offense of late? Gone amid a refreshing ocean breeze of ball movement, unselfishness and sublime shot-making as Houston hit halftime with a field goal percentage still hovering above 60 percent.

"Our identity has got to be what you saw when we pushed, attacked and moved the ball," McHale said afterward. "Our identity can’t be walk it up; we’re just not that type of team – we’re not built that way. (General Manager) Daryl Morey put together a team that’s going to push and play and we’ve got to do that."

- And then the rain returned. Another delay ensued - this one 22 minutes (in addition to the regular halftime break). Fun was had by all (sorry, the sarcasm font function on my computer is currently broken).

- Speaking of making it rain, do yourself a favor and check out this beautiful alley-oop dish from Lin to a soaring Dwight Howard who delivered an absolutely devastating dunk upon the resumption of play.

- Rough as the Rockets' offense may have appeared last night against Atlanta, it could hardly have looked better while laying waste to the Wizards’ feeble attempts to stop them through the first three periods. Case in point, with 7:09 left in the third quarter, Houston had equaled its point total (80) from the night before. And even when the Rockets’ D sprang a few leaks here and there – as it did during the latter stages of the third quarter – Houston was having little trouble holding on to its sizable bulge given the myriad holes the Rockets frequently found within Washington’s defense.

That is, until the final frame began, Wall took over, and the Rockets obvious relaxation came back to bite them in the most brutal way possible. With 8:12 left to go in the third period, Houston owned a 25-point advantage. A Washington team that was playing its fourth game in five nights figured to be minutes away from waving a white flag. With two minutes left in the period, that lead was still 21. Then the Wizards closed the quarter with an 8-2 run, ominously hinting at the carnage that was about to ensue.

Washington opened the final period with a stunning 23-3 blitz that primarily consisted of Wall wrecking havoc by transforming himself into a human blur that bifurcated Houston’s defense whenever he so desired. With 5:26 remaining in the game, the Wizards owned a 102-97 lead and looked to be well on their way to having orchestrated the second-biggest comeback the Rockets had ever allowed.

Then, faster than a Wall-led coast-to-coast foray, the Wizards forgot how to put the ball in the basket, even if they were granted layups. They took terrible shots. They slowed the pace down to a crawl, blunting the speed advantage Wall has used to orchestrate the Wizards' blitzkrieg. Subsequently, Washington wouldn't hit a field goal the rest of the contest.

And during that span, Harden seized the opportunity presented and rescued his team from the jaws of what would have been a nightmarish defeat far too terrifying to even contemplate the consequences. His personal 8-0 run began with four made free throws, then included a fast break layup to tie things up before he came through with a step-back, and-1 jumper to give the Rockets a lead they would not relinquish (this time).

Credit, too, belongs to Terrence Jones whose remarkable block of Bradley Beal at one end and baby hook finish at the other helped to solidify Houston’s status as victors. The final numbers on Jones' monster night: 19 points, 17 rebounds and three bodacious blocks.

"(Jones) was tremendous on both ends of the floor," said Harden, who himself was pretty darn good en route to recording 25 points, 8 boards and 5 assists. "He blocked some shots, rebounded the basketball, scored and found his spots."

What a wild, wild game. Turns out the rain delays weren’t even close to the strangest turn this night would take. It’s not often a team falls behind by 25 points only to walk away feeling as if it had blown a golden opportunity to emerge victorious. But Washington will certainly feel that way.

Whatever the case, the Rockets escaped with a win they absolutely, positively had to have. They return to 10 games over .500 for the season and now move on to Boston where they’ll have a much-needed rest day before taking on the Celtics Monday night. Chandler Parsons is hoping to return that evening. We’ll see what the next 48 hours bring. Goodness knows his presence has been missed.

QUOTES

ROCKETS HEAD COACH KEVIN MCHALE

On tonight’s game.

“Yes it was crazy. A lot of momentum switches. We fought back. I told the guys five minute game, let’s go for it.”

 On what changed for them in the first 7 minutes of the 4th quarter.

“Well we missed about five layups. Usually that does it.  We missed free throws, we missed many free throws, and we missed layups like I said, and when you do that, bad things happen.”

On Jeremy Lin’s performance and playing longer than usual.

“Yes 43 minutes is too long for anybody, but Jeremy was playing well, he was pushing it, he had a good flow going, and we just needed to get some pace back in the game.  We played the game last night with no pace, no push, and we just have to push the ball.  Get it up and down, and Jeremy is very good at pushing it. We just have guys running with him so that he doesn’t get hung up there by himself. ”

On the delaying the game.

“Never had something like this. That was crazy. It was different. Everyone sat around. Greg [Smith] got so stiff. He couldn’t play.”

JAMES HARDEN

On the game:

“It seemed like it took forever, like a three or four hour game with two big delays, but we got through with the win.”

On the delays:

“Getting cold, getting into a rhythm.  Luckily we got into the rhythm.  After the first delay, went up big. It was a good win, took the lead late in the game and finished it off.”

On the end of the game:

“Guys showed great resilience at the end of the game.  The last four, five minutes got some big defensive stops and kind of got some offensive to go at the end of the game.”

On the game (continued):

“The second unit started off with it and after the first stoppage went up big and we closed the half with a bigger lead.  Then at half time we kind of slowed it down a little bit.  Then fourth quarter they went on their run and took their lead.  We just buckled down and got some stops and got buckets at the end.”

On the delays:

“It was a long game.  With the leakage on the court, I’ve never been a part of something like that before.  It felt like it was a long time but guys played well.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

On the win:

“We could have folded, but we found a way to stick together. We got some stops when we needed it and hit some big shots.  I think Terrence Jones did an excellent job coming over changing and blocking shots late in the game, and I think that’s the reason why we got a good win.”

On the delays in the game:

“I think it was crazy.  I just tried to stay loose, which is very hard to do, play one on one with the little kid, which got my mojo going, and tried to get a good win.”

On if this was the “craziest” game ever:

“I would say that.  I just didn’t like it for the fans.  I know they wanted to see a good show.  They had to wait for a while so I didn’t like that.  I was glad I was able to get out there and finish the game, because a lot of people paid some good money to come watch us play.  My whole concern was the fans and wanted to put on a good show for them.”

On his game:

“I did Ok.  I think in the second half I didn’t finish like I needed to and I wasn’t aggressive as I was in the first half.  I have to play hard for four quarters.”

WIZARDS HEAD COACH RANDY WITTMAN

On tonight's game:

"Disappointment. You guys that know me well enough to know that they hey, if we lose, and we played that way for 48 minutes and we got beat, you know what we just got beat by a better team tonight.  They played better than us, I can't fault their effort, we went out, we laid it on the line and we came up empty.  I can't say that tonight.  Seventeen minutes we laid it on the line.  It takes more than that."

On the Wizards intensity on the bench:

"If that's what it takes, that's what it takes.  I want guys to help each other, correct each other and that's got to be done sometimes on the fly, that's got to be sometimes in the locker room before a game:  ‘Are we taking the right approach before the game here?’ We got to look at all the things, but we're coming out and not performing here at home. And yea, there was an episode where guys got after each other.  You know what?  It helped.  It turned things around from an effort standpoint and from going out and not taking a shortcut and doing it the right way.  That happens in every good team where if you’re not doing your job and I'm not doing my job, it's time for you to start doing your job.  By a coach, by a teammate, by a family member and then you have to do it.”

On being a part of a game like that before:

"Well now I wish they would have just cancelled it. No I have not been, and I've played in some old buildings that didn't have a leaky roof or whatever it was. For it to happen twice then too. But they had to sit, we had to sit but it was a little bit of a distraction but that had nothing to do with the game."

TREVOR ARIZA

On the delays:

“I can’t say that I’ve been a part of a game that had delays for rain because we play indoors.  Length of game, probably playing on TNT, that’s how the mind frame has to go, like we’re playing on TNT.”

On learning from the loss:

“I don’t know.  But we do have to figure it out.  And if we want to win these games, especially at home, we’ve been struggling at home, we can’t do that.  We have to play like it’s the last five minutes of the game. We figure out how to do that, and I think we give ourselves a pretty good chance to win more games at home.”

BRADLEY BEAL

On the game:

“It was definitely tough.  I mean, you can’t fight our effort.  The group that was out there the last quarter plus, they did a tremendous job.  We were supporting them and we knew the game wasn’t over.  We were down 25, whatever it was with five minutes to go in the third, and we came back to go up five and then they ended up scoring 10-0 at the end of the game.  It’s always hard because we always get ourselves in those positions where we fight our butt off to get back in the game and at the end of the game we are drained and have no energy to finish the game off.”

On the delays in the game:

“That was terrible.  It is what it is.  We had to stay focused as much as we can and try to stay warm and try not to get tired as much as we can.  I’ve never been a part of that and that’s hopefully something we can avoid in the future.  It’s a big distraction.  You can get too complacent and sometimes even forget that you are playing a game when you are waiting so long, I mean it is what it is.”

JOHN WALL

On the craziness of the night:

“It was a big night. We didn’t come out and play after those two delays and that’s how we kinda got down, but we fought back and gave ourselves a chance to win the game.  It’s just those last two minutes we got to be able to make plays. Our star players didn’t make plays tonight.”

On the delays and keeping their rhythm:

“It was kinda tough because you can still be out there shooting, but we didn’t go back in. Our second group was in, and you’re still sitting on the bench still warming up, trying to keep yourself warm, that was tough.  In the start of the third quarter, we got warm and then they we didn’t know what was going to happen and they just gave us a minute to get ourselves ready and the time went by that quick.  You don’t put that on delays.  We didn’t come out to compete and play basketball and they (Houston) just kept building the lead.”