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The Message Comes To Life

March 09, 2013 5:46 am EST

Rockets reveal real growth while riding gritty defensive effort to 94-88 win over Warriors

OAKLAND, CA - For weeks on end now, Houston’s coaches have hammered home the same messages every single day: protect the paint; contest every shot; race down the floor after every miss; communicate; trust your teammates and the system. In short: play some defense. On a fateful Friday night filled with potentially massive playoff implications, the Rockets showed that message is starting to sink in.

This wasn’t last month’s Rockets, dropping 140 points and tying NBA records with an offense capable of setting scoreboards ablaze. Friday night’s showdown with Golden State featured a Houston club eager to show off a gritty side rarely revealed this season. With the game on the line in a nip-and-tuck fourth quarter, the Rockets prevailed by taking ownership of the painted area, conceding nothing easy, and forcing the Warriors into one contested long-range jumper after another. When the dust settled, Golden State had scored just 12 points in the final frame, allowing Houston to leave town with a 94-88 win, the tiebreak advantage over the Warriors and a newfound confidence in their ability to perform at both ends of the floor.

“This one was won ugly but we need that,” said Jeremy Lin. “When we came into the locker room after the game we were like, man, that was defense. That’s not normally how we win our games. So it was nice to see that we’re capable of that and it’s something we can build on.”

There were few signs in the early going that such a stylistic shift was on the way. As has been the case for much of this season, Houston’s defense was missing in action during the first quarter as Golden State raced out to a 30-21 lead. The Warriors were scoring with ease, shooting a high percentage, and when they actually did miss, they were grabbing nearly half of their errant shots as well. Golden State’s bulge grew to as large as 13 points midway through the second quarter. Only then did Houston finally begin to drop some hints and offer some sort of foreshadowing to the denouement they were destined to script.

Gradually, the once-flowing fountain of Golden State layups slowed to a trickle as the Rockets’ defense grew tighter. Inevitably, the Warriors’ jumpers began to rim out as Houston’s defenders closed out with increasing urgency. One stop led to another. Golden State’s lead dwindled and then disappeared entirely. And suddenly, amazingly, a relatively poor first half for Houston ended with the Rockets owing a 2-point advantage themselves.

They weren’t out of the woods yet, of course. Golden State reclaimed its lead in the third quarter after catching fire from beyond the arc – including a triple from Andrew Bogut that could only be described as inconceivable – forcing the Rockets to lock down at a level rarely seen from them this season.

“We started the game so bad,” said Asik, who finished with a game-high 17 rebounds. “We weren’t playing defense at all in the first quarter. We knew if we were going to win the game we had to play defense.

“In the fourth quarter we didn’t care much about offense. We knew that if we played defense we were going to win the game.”

It figures that such wise, prescient words would come from the mouth of a man who does the vast majority of his talking on the floor (especially at the defensive end). As he’s been all season, Asik was Houston’s defensive anchor, protecting the rim while devouring every rebound in sight. But instead of allowing him to be a one-man show, his teammates rolled up their sleeves and joined him in doing the dirty work down the stretch.

It was their collective effort that helped ensure victory on a night when just about every Rockets player not named Chandler Parsons struggled to put the ball in the hole. The Florida product had no such issues, however, scoring a game-high 26 points while draining six of his eight attempts from beyond the arc. Parsons’ hot shooting built upon a scorching seven-game stretch that has now seen him knock down 29-of-48 (60.4 percent) from three-point land during that span.

“I’m just playing confident,” he said when asked to explain his remarkable run. “You know I think I’m pretty good at basketball so I’m not surprised or anything. My teammates are finding me and our offense is spaced, and I really think it’s just about our system, just getting up and down the floor. My confidence has never been this high right now. I feel like I can make anything. I’m just playing basketball and having fun.”

So, too, are the rest of his teammates after emerging with a win that brings Houston within a game of Golden State in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets had to break character a bit to make it happen. In a playoff type atmosphere before a national TV audience, they showed the country a side they’ve kept hidden most of the season. It was the sort of performance that offered proof that the message is starting to manifest itself on the floor. Good thing, too. Because if the Rockets are to make the playoffs – and if they want to make any noise once they get there – this is the sort of defensive effort they’ll need in order to make it happen.   

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(on the game)

“They missed a couple shots too but we had good defense. We had pretty good pressure for the most part. Omer (Asik) cleaned the glass well for us. Then we kind of walked it in with some free throws down the stretch which we needed. Jeremy (Lin) made a big play; pump faked and got fouled. James (Harden) got fouled on a couple of drives. It wasn’t like either team was shooting the lights out. It was a good win for us.”

(on the improved defense after the first quarter)

Well part of our shaky start on defense was our offensive selection. We were just selfish. We didn’t move the ball. We had a million no-pass or one-pass possessions. Then we got that straightened out and we started playing better. A lot of times when we go bad defensively, it’s a direct correlation to our shot selection.

We didn’t make any adjustments in the game plan, we just tried getting back to the game plan. We’ll go rogue every once in awhile and do something that’s not quite in the game plan. But we try to get those all out of our system early.

We’re a young, streaky team and it was really important for us to get this win. I thought we kind of gave one away in Dallas. Our guys just battled, they just did a nice job of playing, they played hard and they played together.

OMER ASIK

We started the game so bad. We weren’t playing defense at all in the first quarter. We knew if we were going to win the game we had to play defense. That means in the fourth quarter we just had to stop them from scoring. In the fourth quarter we didn’t care much about offense. We knew that if we played defense we were going to win the game.

JEREMY LIN

(on the fourth quarter defense)

I think we’ve started to clamp down. I think it’d be nice if we could start that early like in the first quarter, I don’t know what we’re doing in the first quarter, but we clamped down in the fourth though, so that was a good example of executing the game plan and then we have Omer down there who just eats every rebound.

(on getting a gritty win)

I think this one was won ugly but we need that. When we came into the locker room after the game we were like, man, that was defense. That’s not normally how we win our games. So it was nice to see that we’re capable of that and it’s something we can build on.

(on winning season series with the Warriors)

“We’re not really too focused on winning this season series to be honest. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time. We just try to impose our will and our system on any team that we play. We’re thankful to be able to walk out of here tonight with a win.”

“We are a young, streaky team with a lot to learn and lot of experience to gain. That’s what it is. Right now, we’re just trying to be consistent. That’s been my buzz word that I keep trying to talk about in terms of our team, our season and myself.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

I’m just playing confident. You know I think I’m pretty good at basketball so I’m not surprised or anything. My teammates are finding me and our offense is spaced, and I really think it’s just about our system, just getting up and down the floor. My confidence has never been this high right now. I feel like I can make anything. I’m just playing basketball and having fun.

I think what’s even more impressive is we lead the league in scoring and we won the game scoring such a low amount of points for us. I think it’s more impressive that our defense carried us instead of our offense for a change.

I think what we have to understand is that we’re going to be in a lot of tight games like this where the ball’s not falling so we have to pride ourselves on defense and we have to put all our focus and effort on that end.

JAMES HARDEN

(on the team coming together)

“We’re all new to this situation. Chandler [Parsons] is only in his second year. Jeremy [Lin] is new in having this be his first full season as a starting point guard. Omer [Asik] and I came off of the bench last year for our respective teams. This is all new to us. I think we’re all trying to help each other as we go on and just keep on trying to win games.”

(on the defensive effort)

“I think we’ve definitely taken some positive steps forward in our defense. We held them to only 12 points in the fourth quarter. On the road, in a playoff-type atmosphere, that shows the camaraderie that we have and the togetherness that we are building. Tonight was a good road win.”

WARRIORS HEAD COACH MARK JACKSON

ON WHAT WAS PROBLEMATIC IN THE FOURTH QUARTER:

“Missed shots. At times we were careless and at times we were too passive – didn’t put pressure on them. That was the difference – we settled. I didn’t think we had a problem offensively all night long. We settled for jumper when we had mismatches and when we were patient we got what we want.”

ON HARRISON BARNES FINAL ATTEMPT:

“In that situation I want him to feel like he can make a play. The ball found him and he took a shot. Preferably, what I want him to do is attack – he had Carlos Delfino on him. If he makes that shot it’s a great move, but he’s going to learn. Ultimately, what I want him to do is put his head down and make a play towards the rim against (Carlos) Delfino. That’s not what lost the game. At the end of the day, Klay Thompson missing shots down the stretch last year - develops him. I’m not going to tell Harrison Barnes to not shoot the basketball.”

ON HOLDING HOUSTON TO UNDER 37 PERCENT FROM THE FIELD:

“We’ve proved that we can defend them. We proved that it can be done. That’s a tough team to contain with defending the pick-and-roll and isolations. The difference was they got to the line. Played great defense against James Harden, goes 3-17, but gets to the line 14 times. I thought we played outstanding defense against him.”

ON CHANDLER PARSONS:

“He’s a very good player. I don’t think you can credit Chandler Parson’s night against Harrison (Barnes). He’s a guy that plays the three and the four and a lot of times they went small and it’s not just Harrison (Barnes) defending him - a lot of times it’s out two guard. It’s a tough matchup because he’s a guy that flat out knows how to play. He’s a much improved shooter from three point range and he’s a playmaker. He’s a heck of a basketball player.”

WARRIORS FORWARD DAVID LEE

 ON HIS RIGHT KNEE:

“Not feeling too good right now. I took a hard knee to it right on the bone. Initially when I came back in the locker room I couldn’t put weight on it. Whenever I straightened it out it hurt. I’ve been waiting eight years to get in the playoff race, so when the doctors told me I couldn’t do any more to hurt it, if I could walk if I could play so that’s what I decided to do.”

ON BEING SLOW TO GET UP IN THE FOURTH QUARTER:

“Nothing else is going on. There was a lot of adrenaline out there but it wasn’t feeling too good.”

ON IF HE HAS RECEIVED TREATMENT ON HIS KNEE:

“I’ve been icing it. At this point the diagnosis is a bone bruise so there’s not a whole lot you can do other than ice it and rest for a little bit.”

ON HIS STATUS FOR SATURDAY NIGHT’S GAME AGAINST THE BUCKS:

“Yeah, we’ll just have to see how I feel tomorrow morning. If I can go I’ll definitely be going.”

WARRIORS GUARD STEPHEN CURRY

ON FACING MONTA ELLIS AND THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS SATURDAY NIGHT:

“Obviously familiar faces, a little different, but you have to remain competitive and have an edge about you like you don’t know the person.”

ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH ELLIS:

“He did a lot for me when I was here and you never lose that kind of friendship. Plus we both have kids now, all that kind of stuff. Besides that, staying in touch and looking forward to when he comes.”

ON HIS PERFORMANCE IN THE SECOND HALF:

“I missed a couple layups in the second half but you have to keep being aggressive and work on finishing in the paint. I just have to keep playing aggressive.”