HOUSTON - The warning signs were evident, even before the game began.
The Rockets entered Friday night’s Southwest Division showdown with the Memphis Grizzlies ranked 27th in the league in turnover rate; an ominous omen given the Grizzlies’ penchant for feasting on their opponents’ miscues. Sure enough, that toxic combination eventually crushed Houston’s hopes, dooming the Rockets to a 93-85 defeat, Houston’s third loss in as many games.
The result spoiled a strong defensive effort from the Rockets, as the club limited Memphis to 37.2 percent shooting from the field while consistently forcing the Grizzlies to take low quality, well-contested looks. And even when Memphis got the ball into the hands of its behemoths in the paint, Omer Asik did yeoman’s work repeatedly thwarting and altering their efforts.
What the Rockets could not do, however, was keep the Grizzlies off the offensive glass or limit their own turnovers. Houston allowed 18 offensive rebounds Friday night and committed a whopping 20 turnovers Friday night. Any analysis attempting to discover the reason for the Rockets’ latest defeat most definitely begins there.
That Memphis was able to inflict so much damage on the boards is hardly surprising given its seemingly endless supply of size, strength and length permeating the roster. Asik did his best to keep his club competitive on the boards while collecting a team-high 13 rebounds, but too often he was outnumbered inside by the likes of Zach Randolph (14 rebounds, 5 offensive), Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and Marreese Speights (7 rebounds, 6 offensive). And all those extra possessions went a long way in helping Memphis make up for all of its misfiring from the field.
Also beneficial to the Grizzlies’ cause of course were the litany of Houston turnovers that frequently led to easy buckets for Memphis in transition. The Rockets actually began the game by taking good care of the call, only conceding two turnovers during the first quarter of play. Not coincidentally, Houston held a 24-17 lead at the end of the opening period as well.
But soon after the start of the second quarter, the Rockets’ early season bugaboo reappeared once more as Memphis’ pressure defense combined with a heaping helping of Houston’s carelessness and miscommunication to conspire to ruin the Rockets’ chances of capturing their third straight road win. Memphis made life especially miserable for James Harden who suffered through his third consecutive rocky outing, hitting just 4 of his 18 shots, while turning the ball over five times. The 23-year-old did help his club by getting to the line 10 times (and making nine of those free throw attempts), but never really did seem to find his flow or establish much in the way of a comfort level within the Rockets’ offense.
And Harden was hardly the only one in that regard. Houston’s players and coaches are still very clearly feeling their way on the offensive end of the floor right now; a hardly surprising development given the fact the team as currently constituted has been together less than two weeks at this point. As previously pointed out in this space a couple days ago, when one looks around the league and sees teams like the Lakers and Celtics, each laden with future Hall of Famers, struggling to establish chemistry and cohesion as well, it provides a rather significant amount of perspective into just how elusive and time-consuming establishing an identity can be at times.
But while that sort of perspective is beneficial as a reminder, it’s worth noting too that the Rockets’ players are currently just as impatient to get this thing fixed as are their fans.
“We have just got to get open for each other,” said Chandler Parsons, who was one of the Rockets few stalwarts on the offensive end, scoring a team-high 19 points on 8-13 shooting. “Right now it is just not easy. It is hard to score, and it is hard to run our offense. We have to look ourselves in the mirror and address the problems because it has got to get better.”
We had bad spacing and we weren’t moving the ball and we weren’t moving the defense. It’s been three games of that. They’re going to really load up on James and try to get the ball out of his hands and we’re going to have to adjust to that and play with more movement and earlier in the clock.
For a team that’s trying to run, we’ve got nothing. We botched breaks and we just did not play well offensively. I’ll give them credit: the guys are really fighting defensively. They’re battling, but our offense is really letting us down.
On the game: “We have just got to get open for each other. Right now it is just not easy. It is hard to score, and it is hard to run our offense. We have to look ourselves in the mirror and address the problems because it has got to get better.”
On the team: “I think we are just not running. We are not running with urgency and speed. Some of it is on me too, not getting back when they do run the ball. We just need to make a conscious effort as a team of getting everybody up the floor, all five guys, and then letting things shake out.”
On how to improve: “It is a process. It is not going to happen overnight for us. We have not been together that long, so it is going to take us making it easier on each other, move, move, pass, pass. The same thing I have been saying before, but we are just trying to make that concrete in terms of what that would look like for us.”
GRIZZLIES HEAD COACH LIONEL HOLLINS
On the game: “Alright, fellas, another hard fought win at home. We got off to another slow start- down seven at the end of the first quarter. Our second unit, once again, came in and did a great job of picking up the energy and picking up the pace. I thought the third and fourth quarter did an outstanding job. They took over the game and expanded our lead. And, as I told the starters, it’s just a matter of pace and energy that we start out with on the road, but we haven’t been able to muster up at home at the beginning of the game, something we need to correct.
But, I thought our intensity effort for the whole game was pretty good after the first quarter. We started grinding them down, and this is a high scoring team. We held them at five fast-break points, and held them at 85 points, so I’m happy with all of that. We had 20 free throw attempts in the second half after having three in the first half, so I was happy with that as well. We didn’t turn the ball over and we rebounded, and we had to rebound, because we only shot 37 percent, but we had 18 offensive rebounds, which was huge for us as well.
Overall, just a solid, not very pretty game for some people, but it’s always pretty for us because we got a ‘W.’ We had four charges, 21 deflections, and nine times of getting three stops in a row and the five fast-break points were huge. I think their fast-break points came at the end of the game when he had the eight or 11 point lead, whatever it was, and we turned the ball over a couple of times. We fouled once and they made a lay-up so they got five points, so that was the only fast-break points they had for the whole night so that was good.”
On considering letting the bench finish: “No, I thought about it at one point, but I knew that they were starting to gas and I knew we had kind of milked it, so I didn’t want to not put my starters in at that point. If they had been like a fifteen or sixteen point lead, I might have stayed with them.”
On the team: “You know the answer, or you just want to hear me say it? Obviously they’re progressing very well. The preseason was a trial and error for everybody. Most of the guys are new and trying to figure out their roles, and I’m trying to figure out what they can do. I’ve said before in my pregame conference that there isn’t a lot of trying to look and see because I already know what most of the guys can do. I have a comfort zone with the guys so I’m not trying to feel around and change the rotation. The rotation and has pretty much been the same since we started the season. Our bench has been absolutely magnificent in every game but the first game. I keep saying in order to do anything special, we have to have our guys come off the bench and do their jobs. It’s the same with the guys that start, we need everybody and they’ve done a good job.”
On the challenges of defending James Harden: “Tony Allen did a great job on him early, and that kept him out of rhythm. I think if guys get off early and they get going, and now they’re in a big night with Tony who took him out of rhythm early, and he actually got in foul trouble for fouling other people. I told him at halftime, ‘we can’t afford you going and fouling Jeremy Lin twice and getting your third foul when guarding the toughest guy out there.’ But, other guys came in and we really worked, and had to play the point guard on him. I thought Jerryd Bayless did a nice job when he had him for a few minutes, and Mike (Conley) did a nice job. He tried to post him (Harden) a couple times, but that wasn’t really effective on this night. He (Conley) only had one three and ten free throws, but he could go for 17-18 attempts.”
On Zach Randolph’s scoring this season: “Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) has been an inspiration this year when you start talking about a transformation from a young player to a veteran player. He just wants to win. He knows that we have a bunch of guys who can go get it, but we need what he brings to the table. He’s double-double every night since the regular season has started and he told me to leave him in the game tonight because he said, ‘I’m not going to get the ball.’ So he went back and got that big rebound after they shot the ball. This is probably the best he has played all around. He’s not needing the ball every time down-court and the post. He’s going to get offensive rebounds for us and he’s playing very hard on defense, he’s up in the pick and rolls. He’s just doing things it takes to win. It’s a great transformation and a testament to him wanting to and then going out and doing it.”
On facing Miami with a slow start: “We’re talking about tonight, baby. Let’s not talk about Miami. If you want to talk about Miami, come to my pre-game press conference before Miami. I’m talking about tonight.”
On Zach Randolph’s work ethic: “Well, you could ask him what his inspiration is, but I think our whole team is rubbing off on each other. I think they have a commitment together. He’s still a young guy, he’s been in different situations than he is in now, and he’s starting to do it. It’s just a matter of consistency and doing it every night. Every time you go in the game you got to bring it. For a lot of young guys, it takes a minute for them to figure out that you have to play through this, play through that,’ but you have to bring it and do your job. He has been getting more and more consistent. Tonight, they couldn’t keep him off the glass. He didn’t get a lot of points or anything out of it, but he was working the boys and we kept getting the ball on the side and out of possession.”
GRIZZLIES GUARD TONY ALLEN
On intensity tonight: “I just looked at it as a challenge. I got great teammates around me. We paid attention in film. Like I said, it is what I do. I just wanted to come in there and just compete. We had guys chip in, Quincy [Pondexter] and Wayne [Ellington]. We put fresh bodies on them. Unfortunately, I got into foul trouble, but I like the overall win. It wasn’t really about Tony Allen and James Harden, although we had our antennas up on him. Like coach always says, it is all about the win, and we got that.”
On tonight’s grit and grind: “We grind…anytime we can come out and try to grind the game out, we like it in our favor because we know have weapons. Guys can make timely baskets, but for the most part, we got the win and that’s what it is all about.”
On Miami matchup on Sunday: “Well we definitely have to have our antennas up on those guys. We know those guys like to get up and down the court. We just have to be ready for them to compete. We have to use our size, get deflections and the loose ball and try to win the 50-50 game. For the most part, it is all about the Grizzlies and going out there and trying to get a win to compete.”
GRIZZLIES GUARD WAYNE ELLINGTON
On bench players playing coming up big: “You know our bench players have been huge for us. We are just staying focus. When Coach [Hollins] calls our names, we go in there and try to do everything the right way. We are trying to move the ball and really play great defense, and it is really working out for us.”
On defense on James Harden: “Yeah, we all kind of pitched in on him. TA [Tony Allen] started off and started up the tempo, and we just picked up from there. We were really trying to deny him the ball, stick close to him and not really give him easy looks, and it worked for us.”
On team being able to make plays: “We have just been grinding it out. It has been working for us. Like I said, we grind it out getting it done on defense, getting it done on offense making the right plays. We have been really playing unselfish. I think that is the reason that our bench has really been doing a great job.”
On the dynamic of team: “It is a really, really unselfish group of guys. Everybody really plays together. Everybody is in it for one reason. When we bring it in, we always say one team, one goal, and we really live by that. I think that is what makes us a good team.”
GRIZZLIES GUARD MIKE CONLEY
On team being able to use turnovers leading up to points and fast breaks: “We aren’t a team that shoots it well all the time, but we always give forth the effort. We play hard for four quarters no matter how we shoot the ball. We have a chance of winning. Tonight was one of those places where we didn’t shoot the ball well, but guys stepped up defensively, made plays and got out in transition. Once again, the second group put us on their back.”
On history of first Memphis Grizzlies team to ever start 4-1: “We aren’t really worried about that. We are just oblivious to all the things that we are accomplishing as a team. We are just out here playing ball trying to get better each game. We understand that we have another stretch of games coming up. We are just trying to take them one at a time.”
On bench players stepping up in third quarter: “That is something we haven’t had I think over the years is a second unit that is just so confident like they are right now. When they are playing at the higher level that they are playing, we are a tough team. Hats off to them because if they can keep doing that, that makes the season much easier.”
On Miami on Sunday: “The Heat are the defending champions. You know you always get a different kind of preparations for them knowing that Lebron [James] and Dwayne [Wayne] and Chris Bosh. All these guys coming in, you want to come out and get hyped up and get excited for the game. The fans are going to be excited. We got to protect our home court, and hopefully we can do that.”