HOUSTON - For nearly 40 minutes Saturday night, the Rockets’ tilt against the Charlotte Bobcats served as a microcosm of sorts for much of Houston’s season to date. The Rockets started the game strong, pushing the pace and repeatedly burning the Bobcats in transition in much the same way Houston so often did while rolling through a remarkable stretch that saw the team become one of the best early-season stories in the league.
A 15-point third quarter lead was built. The Rockets appeared poised to run the Bobcats right out of the gym. And then the team’s worst tendencies took over. The pace slowed. The ball movement grew stagnant. The turnovers piled up. The defense disappeared any time Omer Asik was not on the floor. A 29-9 Charlotte run ensued as all the same flaws that were revealed during Houston’s seven-game losing streak reared their ugly heads once more.
But then, in what the Rockets can only hope is a harbinger of things to come, the team snapped out of its funk, returned to the style of play that had been responsible for building a big lead in the first place, and put the Bobcats away once and for all, ultimately rolling to a 109-95 win. And while the end result might not be mind-blowing in and of itself – this was just a win over league-worst Charlotte, after all – the process the Rockets rode to victory may well contain more significance than one might initially think.
While the Rockets were mired in their two-week slump, the team-wide tendency during times of trouble was more often than not an ill-fated nod to hero-ball. The intentions were good, but the formula was fatally flawed. Instead of trusting each other and the basic blueprint for their success, Houston’s players frequently attempted to force the action, leading to excruciating periods of isolation basketball filled with forced shots and turnovers.
When the Bobcats’ Ben Gordon drained back-to-back triples to put Charlotte up five in the fourth quarter, the Rockets were faced with a familiar choice: respond to the adversity at hand by attempting to go it alone, or stick to the system, lean on each other and combat the problem collectively. By opting for the latter, Houston not only emerged victorious, it also provided proof that this young team has taken an important and essential step in its ongoing evolution. And in a delicious bit of irony, by eschewing the tenets of hero-ball the Rockets eventually ended the game with not one but rather an array of players deserving of plaudits.
“That’s a huge step for us,” said Patrick Patterson, who finished tied with Chandler Parsons for the team lead in scoring with 24 points. “You look at our track record, you look at the previous games, nine times out of ten someone tries to make big plays, home run plays that cause turnovers, that cause us to pretty much lose the game. Tonight we stuck to the game plan: we were moving the ball, sharing the ball, drive-and-kick, making the extra pass, people were knocking down shots, people were running in transition – just doing all the little things that caused us to get the win. So tonight was a huge step.”
It was also a step that would not have been possible without the dazzling fourth quarter efforts of Patterson himself. The third-year forward had been solid but hardly spectacular through the first three periods, giving no indication of the havoc he was about to wreck. But in the final frame he proved downright unstoppable, keying the Rockets’ comeback with a pair of corner-threes, a couple jams that Parsons dubbed “beastly, man-child dunks” and even the token he’s-so-hot-anything-he-hurls-toward-the-rim-is-going-in shot clock-beating buzzer beater. All told, Patterson posted 14 points in a four-minute span while putting the Rockets firmly back in control of the contest. More importantly: each of those points – with the exception of the buzzer beater – was scored within the flow of the offense.
Patterson’s fantastic finish capped off a sparkling night for Houston’s starting five. In fact, it says something about the University of Kentucky product’s play that he nearly managed to overshadow James Harden’s first career triple-double. And Chandler Parsons’ 24 and 10 performance. And Omer Asik’s 19 and 15, for that matter. And though Jeremy Lin did not finish with the same sort of eye-popping stat line as his fellow starters, his near flawless play in the first half was a big reason the Rockets rolled into halftime with a double-digit lead.
And make no mistake, Houston needed everything it got from its starters Saturday after the team saw its turbocharger, Carlos Delfino, leave the game in the second quarter with a strained right elbow. The Rockets’ reserve unit largely languished without him and it’s not a stretch to say the entire team felt his absence. The good news: he’ll have two full days off before Houston returns to action Tuesday night against the Warriors. Until then, the Rockets can at least rest a bit easier after having put forth a performance that revealed just how much they learned from their roller coaster January.
“I think our team is starting to see what works and what doesn’t work and I think they’re starting to figure it out,” said Rockets head coach Kevin McHale after the game. “I’ve said it all along: it doesn’t matter if the coaches know; the players on the floor have got to know. You can come out on the floor and scream and yell at them about moving the ball and getting up and down, but until they start buying in and saying, ‘Ok, that’s how we have to play,’ you’re going to have periods like that.”
And-1s: Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was taken to Houston's Memorial Hermann Hospital tonight after getting hit in the head during tonight’s game.
Kidd-Gilchrist, who was alert and had movement in all extremities before leaving the Toyota Center, underwent precautionary X-rays and a CT scan, all of which were negative for head and neck injuries. He does have a concussion and will remain hospitalized overnight for observation.
The injury occurred at the 10:42 mark of the fourth quarter when Kidd-Gilchrist collided with teammate Jeffery Taylor.
We had a great rhythm going offensively for awhile and then, typical of our team, in that third quarter all the stuff that we were doing really well we couldn’t do: we dribbled too much, didn’t make the extra pass, missed some easy shots, turned it over – which we hadn’t been doing in the first half. But the last seven minutes our defense was really good, we got out running again, and made some shots.
I really liked our pace in that first half. I thought we were getting ready to put 125, 130 on the board, but that would be too easy so we decided to walk it up and challenge ourselves.
For us, that first half pace is how we have to play and I really liked the last seven minutes of that game. But we had a stretch in there for about 15, 16 minutes that was just not the way we have to play – that was very reminiscent of how we played when we weren’t playing well. But I’ve said it all year: we have a bunch of young guys; sometimes it’s hard to maintain.
(any way to shore things up defensively when Omer is not on the floor?)
I hope so because when big O leaves the floor we lose a lot of defensive integrity. He’s a smart defender, big, he knows how to play and he rebounds the heck out of the ball. One of the problems is that we can get stops (when Asik is off the floor), but they get loose balls, tipped balls and get second chance points.
I think our team is starting to see what works and what doesn’t work and I think they’re starting to figure it out. I’ve said it all along: it doesn’t matter if the coaches know; the players on the floor have got to know. You can come out on the floor and scream and yell at them about moving the ball and getting up and down, but until they start buying in and saying, ‘Ok, that’s how we have to play,’ you’re going to have periods like that.
(On the defense) “I thought earlier in the game we had some blow-bys and some missed defensive assignments. We really weren't helping each other as much as we had to against those guys (Bobcats) but then I just kept telling them to make them (Bobcats) make tough shots. In the last 7 minutes of the game, Tony (Douglas) did a nice job. Jeremy (Lin) did a nice job, James (Harden) did a nice job and they kept people in front of them. Omer (Asik) was good on the board and we got enough separation. It was a crazy game. I hope the kid (Michael) Kidd-Gilchrist is okay. That always puts a damper on the game. It just makes everything feel really blah. I really liked our pace early. I thought that we were getting ready to put 125, 130 (points) on the board. That might have been too easy so we decided to walk it up and challenge it.”
(On the play of Patrick Patterson and the team) “The 'wow shot' was going down and he kind of threw that one up there. He had a nice little jump hook. That's a shot that Patrick makes. He really works hard on his corner 3's. He had two corner 3's that were pretty open corner 3's for him and he made them. He got back, he rebounded. He was doing a nice job on (Jeffery) Taylor. Taylor was spreading the court but he was still staying in, sharing a body in the paint and really helping and getting back out.”
(on the transition game clicking)
It all starts with our defense. We wanted to emphasize rebounding tonight, only allow them to get one opportunity and then get out and go with it. We did a great job doing that. Everybody rebounded; James, myself, Omer did a great job which allowed us to get out into our transition offense which was efficient.
He was huge. He had a couple beastly man-child dunks. He hit that huge jumper with the shot clock going out and those were plays that we needed at a critical time and he stepped us for us.
(On his put-back dunk)
It’s funny, (assistant coach) J.B. Bickerstaff looked at me and kind of gave me a nod to go because their guards weren’t blocking out. Thank God O’s a bad FT shooter.
(On the key to the win) “We moved the ball really well tonight. We ran the floor, transition offense. We made good decisions. I thought overall we had a really good game, especially defensively, packing the paint. The last seven minutes of the game was huge.”
That’s a huge step for us. You look at our track record, you look at the previous games, nine times out of ten someone tries to make big plays, home run plays that cause turnovers, that cause us to pretty much lose the game. Tonight we stuck to the game plan: we were moving the ball, sharing the ball, drive-and-kick, making the extra pass, people were knocking down shots, people were running in transition – just doing all the little things that caused us to get the win. So tonight was a huge step.
(On his hot shooting streak) “When I hit that second 3 (pointer), even though it rattled in, I think the second one was when Chandler (Parsons) slung the ball to me in the corner and I knocked it down with confidence. It was right then that I started feeling it a little bit. I had some big rebounds. I was attacking the glass. I finished with a dunk and then another one with two seconds left with Kemba Walker on me. The shot clock was going down and the elbow jump shot went in so I was trying to make the big plays down the stretch but also not trying to force anything but I try to do whatever I can possible offensively and defensively and running the court in transition and trying to get us a win.”
(On the team energy level) “It's a big difference. When you look around at all our teammates everyone is running and sharing the ball. Everyone is looking for one another. Everyone is having fun pretty much. When we are playing like that our defense is getting great stops. Omer's (Asik) is moving his feet tremendously out there with Kemba (Walker) staying in front of him. It made everything easier when we were playing great defense. Our offense clicked.”
(On the key to the win) “Guys made shots and guys played well. I think everybody played well tonight. We had a stretch in that 3rd quarter where we let them back into the game and they took advantage of it but we had to really lock down, especially the last seven or eight minutes of the game, to get the victory.”
(On the Rockets team effort) “(Patrick Patterson) hit a couple of big shots, hit a lot of big shots, a couple of big 3 pointers, dunks and he did a great job. He just played hard. I think three guys had a double-double at least. (Chandler) Parsons had a double-double, Omer (Asik) had a double-double so guys really contributed tonight.”
(On his first career triple-double) “It's a good accomplishment individually. My teammates and my coaches get all the credit for putting me in a position to be successful. It's even more special because this is my first year in Houston.”
(On Patrick Patterson's clutch play) “That was awesome. He just caught fire and we just kind of rode him all the way to victory. He was making everything, offensive rebounds, 3-pointers, some pull up jumpers, everything.”
(On the key to the victory) “I just think that we really buckled down on defense. I think that was the big thing and then we got back to moving the ball. The ball got a little sticky in the 3rd quarter.”
CHARLOTTE BOBCATS COACH MIKE DUNLAP
(On Michael Kidd-Gilchrist injury ) “Updates on his status, no, no. He was talking and moving his extremities. We’ll get more information but I don’t have any. Yes there was a collision (with Jeff Taylor) and I think the first thing that hit was his head. Jeff and Michael got tangled up and I think the first thing that hit the wood was his head. It was a quick bang, bang play. The medics and the doctors were on him and they were querying him but I don’t know what he said.”
(On keeping the team focused after the injury ) “We went up after that actually so that was good. I think we can throw out any excuse we want. We know it’s difficult, they’re humans and they care for their teammate but also the other team had a stoppage as well. We forge ahead and the power of concentration is an amazing thing. Obviously our thoughts are with Michael and our top priority was we were here trying to win a game.
(On the game ) “We fought hard but down the stretch we just didn’t execute and they did and they came out with the win.”
(On the Rockets defending him this game versus last game) “Those guys wanted to get the ball out of my hands as soon as possible. Other guys did a good job stepping up and making some baskets. We just made some mental mistakes. It’s tough when you try to come back in the fourth quarter and we’ve been in games a lot like this. We just have to learn from our mistakes.”
(On the game ) “On the boards it felt like they kind of got to us. We were going small and trying to get them on the offensive end. We gave ourselves a chance. Teams like Houston, you have to jump on them early. I think we gave them the lead early in the first quarter and never got back to the way we needed it. We made plays down the stretch but we just didn’t make our shots. The same plays will take day in and day out but tonight the shots just didn’t go in.”
(On what happened on injury) “I didn’t see anything because it happened so fast. It all happened so fast, I couldn’t tell what happened. He was talking to the trainers mainly and I was just down there to just be by his side and let him know it was going to be alright. He was mostly just talking to the trainers who were checking on him. Injuries are unfortunately apart of the game and we just tried our best to go on and to try to close out the game. Everybody was just trying to let him know it will be alright and try to calm him because obviously it’s a scary situation.”
(On his play) “I was able to knock down shots, play aggressively on defense. We got some stops on offense and defense and I was just able to knock down shots.”
Houston outscored the Bobcats by a 30-18 margin in the fourth quarter to help the Rockets claw out a 109-95 win tonight. The Rockets also outscored the Bobcats by a 26-13 count over the final 12 minutes to take a 100-94 win at Charlotte (1/21/13). Houston has now swept five season series over Charlotte (2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2011-12 and 2012-13).
The Rockets have registered eight wins in a row over the Bobcats at Toyota Center (1/25/06-2/2/13).
Houston took the battle of the boards by a 50-35 (+15) count tonight, giving the Rockets six 50-plus rebounding games on the season (Rockets record: 4-2). It also marks the seventh time this season Houston has recorded a double-digit rebounding differential over its opponent.
The Rockets scored 62 first-half points on 24-of-42 (.571) shooting. Overall, Houston has now recorded 18 60-point halves on the season.
Houston took a 58-32 advantage in the paint and a 28-19 edge off the break tonight. The Rockets are 8-2 this season when scoring at least 55 points in the paint and 16-7 when scoring 20-plus fast-break points.
Chandler Parsons finished with 24 points (9-17 FG, 3-6 3FG, 3-3 FT) and 10 rebounds tonight. Parsons now owns seven outings this season of at least 18 points and eight boards. He only had one such game during his rookie campaign in 2011-12.
Patrick Patterson also netted 24 points (10-12 FG, 2-3 3FG, 2-2 FT) tonight, which included a 14-point fourth quarter (6-6 FG, 2-2 3FG). Patterson has now reached double-figure scoring in five of his last six games. It marks his best such run since recording a career-high streak of eight straight 10-plus scoring games (11/16/12-12/1/12) earlier this season.
James Harden registered the first triple-double of his career with 21 points (6-11 FG, 8-9 FT), a career-best 11 rebounds and a game-high 11 assists tonight. Overall, it was the fifth double-double of his career (all this season). Harden’s previous best off the glass was 10 rebounds at New York (12/17/12) and 10 boards vs. the L.A. Lakers (12/4/12).
Omer Asik posted 19 points (8-13 FG), 15 boards and two blocked shots tonight, which gave him 20 double-doubles on the season. Asik has now scored 53 points (13.3 ppg) and pulled down 68 rebounds (17.0 rpg) over his last four games.
Jeremy Lin recorded nine points (4-10 FG), eight assists and three steals tonight. Lin has now recorded seven games this season with at least eight assists and three steals (Rockets record: 5-2).
Carlos Delfino left the game with a strained right elbow and did not return.
Kemba Walker led the Bobcats with 24 points (10-23 FG) and four steals tonight. Walker also had a career-high 35 points (12-21 FG, 6-7 3FG, 5-6 FT) and five assists against Houston at Charlotte (1/21/13).
Ramon Sessions, who had 19 points (6-15 FG, 7-8 FT), eight boards and five dimes against the Rockets at Charlotte (1/21/13), picked up another 20 points (5-9 FG, 9-11 FT) and six assists off the bench tonight.
Bismack Biyombo had four blocks tonight, marking the 15th time in his career (fifth this season) to notch at least four blocks in a game. Biyombo also had seven blocks against the Rockets at Charlotte (1/21/13).