Grizzlies' Grind Too Much For Rockets
Memphis muscle too tough to handle, lifts Grizzles to 103-94 win over Rockets
HOUSTON - There’s a reason this has been dubbed “hell week” for Houston. Starting with Sunday’s thrilling, last-second win over San Antonio, the Rockets began a stretch that would force them to face the NBA’s top three defensive teams in succession. Houston snuck past the third-ranked Spurs, but No. 1 Indiana shut them down Wednesday. And Friday night the Rockets fared little better against the NBA’s second best defensive unit as Memphis outmuscled and overmatched them on its way to recording a 103-94 victory.
Yet for everything the Grizzlies did to stymie and slow Houston’s explosive offense – and their efforts and accomplishments in that regard were considerable – it may have been Memphis’ offense that truly turned the tide in their favor. Through the first three quarters the Grizzlies made mincemeat of Houston’s D, repeatedly beating the Rockets on backdoor cuts, break-outs and the offensive boards. At one point Memphis had made 54 percent of its field goal attempts while grabbing 43 percent of their misses, rendering whatever remained of the Rockets’ pace-and-space attack effectively neutered since the team was constantly having to take the ball out of its own basket.
The Grizzlies’ lead grew as high as 17 points late in the third quarter. By the time the Rockets finally found a unit capable of getting consecutive stops – a lineup that consisted of nothing but bench players interestingly enough – the hill left to climb had simply become too steep. Houston cut its deficit to nine but could get no closer, leaving its players to head home licking their wounds after suffering through a second straight defeat in which theynnever led for even a second.
“We made a lot of mistakes tonight,” lamented Houston head coach Kevin McHale. “We made more mistakes defensively than we have been doing. Guys were trying to be a little aggressive on a couple things and we got really distorted defensively. We just made too many mistakes defensively, especially early.”
The fallout from those mistakes was compounded by the fact Houston had little in the way of solutions for dealing with Zach Randolph down low. The Grizzlies’ burly power forward bullied just about everyone the Rockets threw at him on his way to racking up a game-high 21 points and 12 rebounds – six of which came on the offensive glass. And when Houston sent double-teams his way in the second quarter it merely served to set up Memphis’ perimeter players with wide-open threes. So even though the Rockets managed to get the game played at their preferred pace throughout most of the first half, Houston’s inability to generate much in the way of stops allowed Memphis to head to halftime with an eight-point lead.
That proved costly when the pace slowed in the third quarter and the Grizzlies’ grit-and-grind style began to take hold and squeeze the life out of Houston’s offense. Memphis made life miserable for James Harden in particular, limiting him to just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting in 27 minutes of action. Most amazing, however, was the fact that Harden, the league’s leader in free throw attempts per game by a significant margin, was held without a single trip to the charity stripe for the first time all season. With Tony Allen swarming his every move and Marc Gasol providing his Defensive Player of the Year caliber defense down low, Harden was shockingly neutralized and never did get on track. Neither did the rest of the Rockets’ starting five in the second half.
Desperate to find something, anything that might spark his team, McHale went with his bench brigade for the entirety of the final frame. An 8-2 Rockets run to start the period ensued, bringing Houston within nine as the club was finally able to slow the Grizzlies’ offensive attack for the first time all evening. They even had a chance to trim their deficit further when Greg Smith outmuscled Marc Gasol for an offensive rebound and kicked the ball to Carlos Delfino for a wide-open three-point attempt. But Delfino’s shot missed the mark, Memphis responded with five quick points in response, and the Rockets never seriously threatened again.
“The Grizzlies are a physical team,” said Chandler Parsons, one of the few Rockets players who shot the ball well Friday night. “They were scrappy. They were playing hard. Their bigs are tough and physical down low. It is just about us coming and matching their intensity from the beginning. All the way from tip-off, the Grizzlies were aggressive and set the pace. Zach Randolph is a great player. He has seen double-teams and knows how to react to them. We just need to have better communication and defend players better.”
The Rockets will get the chance to do so less than 24 hours from now when they return home to face the Los Angeles Clippers. No date with Chris Paul and company is ever remotely easy (for proof, see Houston’s 0-2 mark against the Clips this season) but it should at least be a relief for Houston to escape the suffocating defenses it has come up against the last two games. The Clippers are not defensive slouches by any means – they boast the eighth best defense in the NBA – but neither do they possess anything akin to the inside-out personnel pairings like the Pacers’ Paul George and Roy Hibbert, or the Grizzlies’ Gasol and Allen.
There should be at least a little more air space and a bit more room to breath Saturday night. No doubt that’s what the Rockets are counting on as hell week comes to a close and the club attempts to avoid getting burned once again.
We made a lot of mistakes tonight. We made more mistakes defensively than we have been doing. Guys were trying to be a little aggressive on a couple things and we got really distorted defensively; they got backdoors … We just made too many mistakes defensively, especially early.
They came out with some pace in their offensive game. They were chasing the ball, they were really playing hard and we were fighting like crazy to try to stay in it. We made a few shots, Chandler made a few shots early, but we just didn’t get enough stops to get out and run. We missed 19 layups. It’s hard to miss all those. And a couple times we had shots right at the rim and got stripped or missed it and they came out and ran off it.
(going with the bench the entire fourth quarter) I thought they played really hard. They came out there and gave good energy so I thought I’d just go with them.
(Tony Allen’s defense on Harden) You just have to play hard and fast against this team. This team’s physical kind of like Indiana – they’re physical teams. You have to cut hard, you’ve got to move hard, they’ve got hands out. (Allen) is trying to blow stuff up; he’s a very aggressive defender. Only way you can play an aggressive defender is to play aggressive yourself.
(playing the Grizzlies in Memphis) Tonight, they played well. They moved the ball and made some shots. We couldn’t get over the hump. We had the ball in good positions and either got it stripped or missed that led to run-outs for them. We made mistakes defensively that gave them easy shots and a lot of confidence.
On the game: “The Grizzlies are going to have a higher chance of winning because of their higher percentage of shots. I think we didn’t do a good job of taking shots tonight. The Grizzlies took entire control of the tempo. When they played us earlier in the season, we had control of the tempo. We took away their first options on offense. However, they still had open cutters and had open three-point shots. That is an example of a team that has been together. A team that is well disciplined and well coached. The Grizzlies get the shots that they want. Tonight they played at the pace that they wanted.”
On struggles late in the season: “It’s too soon to say. We are all just trying to hang in there. We are all just trying to get better. At the end of the day, we have a long way to go.”
On the game: “The Grizzlies are a physical team. They were scrappy. They were playing hard. Their bigs are tough and physical down low. It is just about us coming and matching their intensity from the beginning. All the way from tip-off, the Grizzlies were aggressive and set the pace. Zach Randolph is a great player. He has seen double-teams and knows how to react to them. We just need to have better communication and defend players better.”
On playing time with the team: “It has nothing to do with me. Coach is going to play who he wants to play. I thought the second unit was playing really hard.”
GRIZZLIES HEAD COACH LIONEL HOLLINS
On the Grizzlies’ defense: “They (the Houston Rockets) really run out and shoot a lot of threes. We eventually caught up to how we could avoid having long closeouts. We did a much better job on the pick-and-rolls as we went along. The thing that really helped us is that we made shots, so as the game progressed we caught up defensively where we weren’t down 15 or 20 points. I think when you play these kind of teams you have to match them and you have to figure out to catch up to what they are doing. I was happy that those guys played most of the fourth quarter.”
On Zach Randolph: “He had a good game. There is nothing else to say. You guys are worried about his form, but he did what he does. We played our game as we normally do. He was able to get the ball in the space. We worked a lot on spacing yesterday in practice to give both bigs more room to operate. It surprised Houston a little bit and we were able to do what we wanted to do. When they double-teamed him we were able to get wide-open shots because of that.”
On the playing time: “Everybody is playing a lot of minutes. It’s just the way it is… At some point I am going to cut back minutes, but it’s a dogfight. Everybody is doing the same thing. If you look at the lineups of everybody (around the league), they’re doing the same thing. They’re playing their guys. That’s the way this game has always been. You would like to have more guys so you can rest guys longer. You play with what you have, and you do what you do. You try to do it to the best of your ability. I let the bench out there a lot in the first half. When they went out there in the second half, they were a little lackadaisical. The energy and effort wasn’t there. We turned the ball over, then we didn’t get back. We got beat off the dribble a few times. A nine-point, 10-point lead with a team like Houston is nothing. They hit three threes and they’re back in the game. I didn’t want to do that so I came up with my strategy. I wasn’t taking them out until I was sure we had a win. Basically, what I am thinking every night is that I am playing them like we have to win. You guys might think that it’s different from your view, in terms that this game is over. My view is totally different. I never want to take guys out and lose a game because I took them out too early. I would rather take them out too late.”
On future lineups for the Grizzlies: “I won’t know until we get there. It changes every night, whether it is game five or game four. It may me game-to-game. I may see that other guys are playing well enough that I can leave the starters on the bench longer. I’d like to do that every night. You have to be consistent with your bench play and we haven’t been. All year we have had some stretches, but we haven’t really been. You just play with it.”
On the Grizzlies current rotation: “We’re playing the same rotations we’re playing now. We may shorten it a little bit. We’re pretty much playing it right now. Once I found out and got comfortable with what all of the new guys can do, I went to this rotation. We’ve been playing it pretty straight. Sometimes, I play Ed (Davis). Sometimes I play Darrell (Arthur) depending on the night. Darrell didn’t play the second half tonight until I put him in. The reason I did that is that I know he is going to guard (Thomas) Robinson, who all of a sudden is becoming a superstar in a few minutes. So, I took Zach (Randolph) out and put Darrell in, but I played Ed most of the second half. It’s just what I feel is needed.”
On the game: “This was a carryover from yesterday’s practice. Guys were more concerned about defensive end, helping the helper and playing inside-out basketball. We knew that team liked to run-and-gun to get up and down the court and we tried to limit those guys fast break points as much as possible. But I just think the overall performance just came from yesterday. Guys coming together, talking and getting that defense thing down. We were able to pound them inside with Zach [Randolph] and Marc [Gasol] being inside the paint.”
“I just think the more we play together and the more we hang our hats on the defensive end and pound it inside, that’s who we are. That’s how we got the notoriety. We just want to keep building.”
On guarding James Harden: “I don’t want to take all the credit. Obviously, it is what I do. I’m a lock down defender. I have to credit the bigs. They were helping me in the pick-and-rolls. Mike [Conley] and Tay [Tayshaun Prince] would help when he was trying to drive. For the most part, we tried to keep him off the line as much. You know he has that euro step where he tries to draw the foul, and I thought we did a good job of not falling for that. Like I said, I don’t want to take all the credit. My teammates were there for me in the right moments, and we were able to contain him to single digits.”
On the game: “Winning, we got back to that. We played good defense. Everybody was engaged. Everybody was helping each other, talking and communicating. Offensively, I thought we did a good job 70 percent of the game. Thirty percent, we didn’t do so good. But we got the win, and it was good to be home at least for a day.”
On the good start: “Everybody was engaged. Everybody was helping, talking and communicating. Everybody had energy, and that’s what we need every night.”
On the concerned effort of getting Zach Randolph going: “No, Zach is always [going]. We always try to get everybody going. It was good tonight. We got him real deep where they couldn’t double-team every time, and he took advantage. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
On patience of execution: “We have to do a lot more at that. We have to have patience but with a good pace. We have to do a better job at that especially in the fourth quarter when the game tends to slow down a bit. We also didn’t play as well basketball but at a better pace. So we will get better.”
On the game: “I think a good start, getting the ball into Zach, and we finally got him being aggressive early. We got him some good looks and really went inside. We were able to slow their transition game down a little bit and get to our pace and our type of basketball. We were able to control it from there on.”
On getting a good start: “It is something that we have been stressing over the last few games is trying to get off to a good start and working hard, and keeping a consistent work ethic throughout the game. Tonight we did all those things against a very good team.”