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It Was The Best Of Times ...

March 15, 2013 11:54 pm EDT

Jekyll and Hyde Rockets ride dominating second half to rally past Minnesota 108-100

HOUSTON - Kevin McHale yelled and screamed until his voice grew hoarse and all he could do was simply shake his head. Chandler Parsons grew so disgusted that he ripped off the microphone he’d been wearing to deliver in-game sound for the night’s television broadcast. Boos rained down from the full house that couldn’t believe what they’d just witnessed. At home, against an injury-ravaged Timberwolves team that only dressed nine healthy players, Houston headed to halftime trailing by 18 points after turning the ball over a mind-boggling 15 times.

Poor defense. Head scratching decision-making. Little-to-no intensity. Name a sports sin and Houston’s players were probably guilty of committing it during the first half Friday night. So after spending the first two quarters treating the Toyota Center crowd to a clinic in bad basketball, James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the rest of the Jekyll and Hyde Rockets took it upon themselves to make amends by producing a brilliant and thoroughly dominating second half that allowed the club to eventually soar to a 108-100 victory.

It was about as Dickensian a brand of basketball as one could ever hope to see, with Houston showing off both its very best and absolute worst all in one 48-minute snapshot of transcendent talent and undisciplined youth. These Rockets are precocious to be sure, but they have also proven to be prone to the type of recklessness typically associated with adolescence. Friday night put that mesmerizing and maddening combo on full display. The end result was undoubtedly welcome and it represented the Rockets’ biggest come-from-behind win in Toyota Center history. But thrilling as it was, Houston’s head coach looked like a man who’d much rather bypass that sort of roller coaster ride in the future.

“They were making me mad tonight,” said a visibly relieved yet exhausted McHale after the game. “They normally just frustrate me. Tonight they made me mad.

“They’re a good group of young men, they really are. You can coach them hard, you can jump their (butt), they take it, they’re a good young group. It’s just the problem is they’re really young. They do stuff that makes me just shake my head a lot. Then they do stuff like that in the second half and then I guess all is right with the Rockets.”

That second half “stuff” consisted of James Harden and Jeremy Lin putting the team on their respective backs and putting on a spectacular, practically flawless performance in the process. The pair combined for 27 points in the third quarter alone and 61 points and 16 assists overall. Their brilliance keyed Houston’s comeback as the Rockets outscored Minnesota by a 69-43 mark over the course of the final two quarters. They were explosive, dynamic and downright unstoppable. And while Harden’s final numbers (37 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds, and his 25 second-half points were scored on just six shots – seriously) were straight out of a video game again – and on a night when he was listed as a game-time decision with a sore foot, no less – McHale made sure to laud Lin’s defensive effort as being just as crucial to the Rockets’ rally.

“(Harden is) a tough kid and he’s very, very skilled. He got to the line 18 times tonight and kind of willed us for awhile in that third quarter with big shots and then everybody else got going … But I thought Jeremy’s defense in that second half, his intensity and his defense, was really as big of a part of us turning that thing around as James’ offensive flow.”

Buoyed by the heroics of Harden and Lin, the rest of the Rockets got in on the act in the final frame to complete the comeback. Greg Smith took full advantage of all the attention paid to Houston’s high-octane backcourt, tallying 10 points in the decisive fourth quarter. Carlos Delfino reprised his regular role as the team’s small-ball power forward and collected a season-high 10 rebounds. And Chandler Parsons delivered the dagger three-pointer that put the Timberwolves down for good.

No, it was not the sort of complete, wire-to-wire performance that the Rockets will require when facing superior – not to mention healthier – competition. Starts like that will result in losses far more often than not. But for the second straight game, Houston showed it can rise above a temporary malaise to produce something spectacular. And this time of year, with the young Rockets inching ever closer to a playoff spot, any and all signs of growth are welcome. 

“Earlier in the season, we would have let this game slip away,” said Harden. “We know how important it is with sixteen more games left, how close this is in the race for the playoff seeding that we couldn’t let this one get away, especially at home. The guys fought hard.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On things changing after the first half) “It’s hard to say. We (Rockets) fluctuate a bit as a team. We had 15 turnovers. We weren't ready to play. In the second half, James (Harden) threw us on his back for awhile. Jeremy (Lin) did a great job defensively wise and then we quit turning it over. We 15 turnovers at halftime for 20 points for them and then we had 3 turnovers in the second half. You don't yell anymore at halftime than you do doing timeouts. Maybe evidently at halftime it sunk in. We got ourselves in a big hole, we were down by 20 at one point. That’s hard to come back out of. We don't want to do that. That was a very dangerous game for us. We weren't very good defensively early. They (Timberwolves) stretched us out and then they got some confidence and they started really making shots. But they started off the game four for five on shots that we were like okay make ‘em, make some jump shots. We were still pretty tight defensively then our defense went to hell.

(On the Rockets being young) “I've been saying that all year, young guys are up and down. That's just the bottom line. As I said all year, believe me if the magic formula in the NBA was we're going to play all young guys and win, believe me there would be 30 teams doing it. That's just not the magic formula. We have a lot of young guys. James (Harden) really put us on his back tonight and got going. I really like Jeremy's (Lin) defense tonight, he was really in it and kind of took Rubio (Ricky) out. We made a couple of adjustments. You know, adjustments are overrated. It's how hard you work at it and they worked at it a lot harder in the second half. We started going under and tried to work Rubio stop and shoot. We were trying to be aggressive. We've been real aggressive the last two weeks and it’s really worked well for us.”

(on James Harden’s performance) He’s a tough kid. His foot is bothering him. He’s a tough kid and he’s very, very skilled. He got to the line 18 times tonight and kind of willed us for awhile in that third quarter with big shots and then everybody else got going. I thought Jeremy had a really poor first half – well, him and everyone else. We had a couple of turnovers where we just turned around and threw it right to them. But I thought Jeremy’s defense in that second half, his intensity and his defense, was really as big of a part of us turning that thing around as James’ offensive flow.

(on Greg Smith’s fourth quarter) Greg really played a good game. He catches and finishes. (Asik) was rebounding like a terror in there, but Greg did a nice job of catching and finishing for us. We needed that. That was a big game by Greg. We’ve really been talking to Greg a lot about being consistent. But Greg’s 21. It’s hard to be too consistent at anything when you’re 21 besides having fun.

(Was there yelling at halftime?) I yelled the whole game. That’s why my throat sounds like it does right now. They were making me mad tonight. They normally just frustrate me. Tonight they made me mad. They responded and that’s credit to them. But you know, I’ve said it all year long: they’re a good group of kids, man. They’re a good group of young men, they really are. You can coach them hard, you can jump their (butt), they take it, they’re a good young group. It’s just the problem is they’re really young. They do stuff that makes me just shake my head a lot. Then they do stuff like that in the second half and then I guess all is right with the Rockets.

CHANDLER PARSONS

That was huge for us. The first half was so frustrating – that’s not the way we play and we can’t afford to play like that so the first half was a bad feeling. We came in at halftime and just spoke our mind; how this game was much bigger for us than it was for them and we can’t afford to have another half like that. I thought in the second half we really stepped it up. Greg Smith was huge in the fourth quarter, James was a monster, Carlos was rebounding the ball well and Jeremy really played well. Everybody stepped up in the second half. It was a frustrating start to the game but I’m just glad we got the win.

(on the first half)

That was terrible. It was not the way we play and not the way we’re coached. We can’t get down like that to many teams and be able to fight back like that. I’m thankful we got the win but we can’t come out like that anymore.

That was terrible. I was mic’d up for the game and I threw off the mic. I was miserable. I don’t know what they heard on the mic in the first half but that motivated us because we kept our heads up. Looking back on it, it’s huge that we didn’t hang our heads. We could have packed it in but we understand what’s at stake and we were hungry for this one.

It was a fun game tonight, we just don’t want to put ourselves in that situation. The crowd was unbelievable, especially in the second half and that really fuels us and helps us out a lot.

(on Harden in the second half) He’s unbelievable. He’s unbelievable getting to the free throw line where he can obviously make free throws. And he was getting everyone else involved, too; he didn’t take any bad shots. To have the kind of game he did tonight and to have it not being selfish is pretty impressive.

JAMES HARDEN

(on third quarter) I saw we were all sluggish, especially during that first half. I just had confidence I could go out there and make plays, score the basketball, drop a couple passes off and we went from there. The guys fed off me and carried it the rest of the way.

(dealing with the foot issue) The whole second half I had it going. I couldn’t worry about my foot, I had to worry about finding a way to win this basketball game. The third quarter helped it out, the fourth quarter guys made big shots and made big plays.

(On what changed in the second half) “We played defense and that allowed us to make some shots. I think we were relying on our offense so much in the first half that we weren’t making shots and we weren’t plating defense at all. We picked up our energy and intensity a little bit on the defensive end and we made some shots and we got a win.”

(On whether or not the team turned the corner by coming from behind) “Yeah, definitely. Earlier in the season, we would have let this game slip away. We know how important it is with sixteen more games left, how close this is in the race for the playoff seeding that we couldn’t let this one get away, especially at home. The guys fought hard.”

JEREMY LIN

(On the game) “I don’t know what to say about our first half. It was atrocious. Tonight, we found rhythm in the second half. Thank you to our fans and to everybody who was cheering really loud. We can’t afford to do that on the road though. We’ve got to figure that out.”

(On the play of Greg Smith) “He is really athletic. He is always in the right spot at the right time. He just has a great feel. We were trying to attack, attack, attack and they (Minnesota) were coming over to block shots and their second rotation wasn’t there all the time so that allowed Greg to get open.

GREG SMITH

(On his play down the stretch) “I just came out with a lot of energy. I knew what the schemes were. I knew we had to force (Ricky) Rubio to go under his picks and make him pick up his jumper. Basically just clog the paint up, rebound and run the floor, I helped out for my team. I played defense and brought energy.”

(On getting the win and breaking the team 3-point record in a season) “It feels good to be a part of that. We make a lot of 3's. We have guys like (Carlos) Delfino, James (Harden), Jeremy (Lin), even with Chandler (Parsons), D-Mo (Donatas Motiejunas) all can shoot 3's so with all of them combined with two or three 3s a game, we're going to make a lot. Basically getting this win coming down the stretch, it’s very good for us. We came down from 18, we came back in the second half, came together as a team and a unit, played defense and got the win.”

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES COACH RICK ADELMAN

(On the game) “We just didn’t play well in the second half. They got control of the game and (James) Harden got to the basket on us and took control of the game. We missed a lot of shots at one stage (third quarter) where we could have kept the lead and we missed four or five great opportunities and they took advantage of it.”

(On Harden) “Obviously it’s very hard stopping him.”

(On first half play) “We moved the ball very well and controlled the tempo, but then Houston got it going in the second half. Houston got very aggressive and they took over the game. Houston obviously played much better in the second half and we didn’t.”

RICKY RUBIO

(On the game)  “Maybe we were running out of gas. These kinds of games you can see who wants to win and who doesn’t want it, I know they’re fighting for a playoff spot but our chances are basically over. But we can’t play like that. We have to want to win every game. We were three up beginning the fourth and after a big lead, that hurt but we have to keep playing. In the fourth quarter it seemed like we didn’t want to win and that can’t happen.”

(On the team’s first half play) “We moved the ball very well and it was part of my fault in the second half because we didn’t move the ball as good as the first half. We couldn’t get any easy baskets like we did in the first half. We have to learn.”

(On Harden) “He has a very high IQ in basketball. He knows how to play and he draws fouls very well and he hurt us a lot today.”

 LUKE RIDNOUR

(On the game, first half versus second half) “We stopped moving the ball offensively and then Houston got hot and hit a lot of threes. Harden made some tough three’s and really broke the game open, but we have to keep moving the ball as a team.”

(On defending harden) “It’s very tough to stop him because they have a lot of shooters around him that spread the court and make it tough on you. Guarding him (Harden) is a team thing and everyone has to be in helping. He made a lot of shots in the second half and we just weren’t good.”

DERRICK WILLIAMS

(On what happened in the second half) “They just got more aggressive. James (Harden) is the leader of their team and he put them on his shoulders and started drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. Our team is really up-tempo and he seemed to get to the line every time down the court and that slowed down the game. Houston as a team was making big shots as well. In the second half they really started putting it on us in transition.”

(On James Harden) “He’s a good player and good players don’t sit out, especially like James and he’s going to play every time he can. I’m not surprised he played. He plays through those types of injuries. I’ve known him since I was in the 9th or 10th grade; he wants to play each and every time out there. We went to rival high schools in California. It hurts to lose (to a Sun Devil). It really hurts.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,046 for tonight’s game. Overall, the Rockets have 14 sellouts in 2012-13.

The Rockets rallied back from 20 points down for a 108-100 win over the Timberwolves tonight, marking Houston’s biggest comeback in Toyota Center history and its largest since a 20-point comeback in a 98-95 OT victory vs. Dallas back on Apr. 11, 2002. Overall, it was just the ninth time in team history that the Rockets returned from a 20-point deficit to win a game.

Houston outscored Minnesota by a 69-43 count in the second half tonight. The Rockets have now recorded 26 60-point halves on the season. The Timberwolves had all nine players to enter the game score in the first half to take a 57-39 lead into the break. Houston actually trailed by at least 14 points in all three meetings with Minnesota this season.

Minnesota scored 20 points off of 15 Houston turnovers in the first half. The Rockets went on to turn the ball over just three times in the second half with no points off the giveaways.

With a Jeremy Lin 3-pointer in the first quarter, the Rockets set a new team record for 3-pointers made in a season, surpassing the previous mark of 705 3-point field goals made in 2006-07. Houston finished the night 11-of-31 (.355) from beyond the arc to give the Rockets 715 3-pointers made on the season.

The Rockets have also reached double digits in 3-pointers made in a season-high seven consecutive games (3/1/13-3/15/13), going a combined 96-of-226 (.425) from beyond the arc over this run.

James Harden finished with 37 points (8-16 FG, 5-10 3FG, 16-18 FT), eight assists and seven boards tonight. Harden racked up his 19th 30-point performance of the season (Rockets record: 14-5). The Rockets also moved to 11-3 this season when Harden reaches at least 20 points and eight assists in a game.

Jeremy Lin recorded 24 points (8-15 FG, 3-8 3FG, 5-6 FT), eight assists and four steals tonight, which gave Houston’s starting backcourt a combined 61 points and 16 assists. Lin has now scored in double figures in 23 of his last 28 games, which now includes his last eight consecutive outings (2/27/13-3/15/13).

Chandler Parsons netted 14 points (6-12 FG, 2-5 3FG) tonight, extending his career-high streak of consecutive double-digit scoring games to 13 in a row (2/12/13-3/15/13).

Greg Smith added 12 points (5-7 FG) off the bench for his 10th double-figure scoring game of the season, while Carlos Delfino pulled down a season-high 10 rebounds.

Omer Asik grabbed 11 more boards tonight to give him 45 10-plus rebounding games on the season.

Derrick Williams totaled a team-high 19 points (7-14 FG, 2-5 3FG, 3-4 FT) and four rebounds tonight, while J.J. Barea matched that with 19 points (8-12 FG, 2-5 3FG) off the bench. It was just the second time this season Williams has led (or tied) the Wolves in scoring. Barea came into this game averaging 12.5 points in the previous 11 games.

Ricky Rubio registered 14 points (4-13 FG, 6-8 FT), seven boards, seven assists and two steals tonight. Rubio came into this game off a pair of 20-point, 10-assist outings.

Greg Stiemsma posted 12 points (6-7 FG) and four blocks tonight. Stiemsma’s career high in scoring stands at 13 points, done multiple times (last 3/13/13 at Indiana).