Mile High Meltdown
HOUSTON - Turns out 24-3 fourth quarter runs – on the road, no less – are pretty tough to overcome.
The Rockets certainly did their best to make things interesting down the stretch of Wednesday’s 118-110 defeat to Denver, but ultimately the excessive degree of difficulty they placed before themselves while enduring that Nuggets’ blitz was too much to overcome. Jeremy Lin’s 13 fourth quarter points were not enough. Omer Asik’s third consecutive dominant game on the glass wasn’t either. The Nuggets simply proved to be too good, especially on their home floor where they moved to 19-3 on the season, for Houston to dig itself that deep of a hole while harboring any real hope of escape.
The Rockets will undoubtedly lament their loss all the more because, up until Denver’s fourth quarter coup de grace, Houston had actually gotten the better of the action and appeared primed to perhaps finally break through against a Nuggets team that has now emerged victorious in each of its past six meetings with Houston. In fact, with one minute left in the third quarter, the Rockets owned an eight-point lead and much of the momentum. Toney Douglas had just converted back-to-back steals into fast break layups. Chandler Parsons was celebrating his addition to the Rising Stars roster earlier in the day by posting his highest scoring total (21) in nearly three weeks. And the aforementioned Asik was devouring every rebound in sight, almost singlehandedly keeping the Nuggets’ furious all-out assault on the offensive glass in check.
There were, however, warning signs that hinted at the misery that eventually ensued. Houston’s turnover woes, dormant the past two games, returned in full force in the face of Denver’s aggressive, ball-hawking defense. And the Rockets’ transition D, a season-long bugaboo, crumbled yet again amid a series of run-outs that allowed the Nuggets far too many easy, fast break buckets.
The leaks began when a pair of Houston breakdowns during the third quarter’s final minute led to the club’s eight-point lead being cut in half. And when the final frame began, it wasn’t long before that trickle emanating from the makeshift dam Houston had erected turned into a full-blown flood that brought the entire enterprise down. The Rockets endured an agonizing stretch to start the period; one in which they too often fell victim to their own worst tendencies while settling for bad shots, missing the good looks they had, turning the ball over en masse and failing to generate stops at the other end. Denver, meanwhile, did little to let Houston off the hook as Danilo Gallinari drained multiple shots with men draped all over him. The damning equation: A lot of poor execution plus a little bad luck equaled 24-3. And the Rockets could never fully recover.
Not that they didn’t try. Omer Asik, the only Houston player to finish the game with a positive plus-minus (+8), returned to action at the 6:16 mark after a four-minute breather and, not coincidentally, the Rockets immediately went on a run of their own to climb back into the contest. Houston began to get stops and defensive rebounds once again. Jeremy Lin, quiet for much of the game up until that point, turned red-hot and began torching Denver’s defense with his scoring and playmaking seemingly every time down the floor. When Carlos Delfino drained a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game with 2:55 left, the question had to be asked: Could the Rockets really and truly survive such an enormous fourth quarter run on the road against one of the best home teams in the league?
The ultimate answer, of course, was no. The Nuggets eventually held on, putting an end to Houston’s three-game winning streak. And while there’s certainly no shame in losing to a very good Denver team on their home floor, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale couldn’t help but lament a loss that looked for a good portion of the game as if it could have instead been a result that would have ranked among the club’s best wins of the season.
“It was the same thing,” he said. “Turnovers, playing in a crowd, not moving the ball on the offensive end, and then we didn’t get back and cover the paint; they just ran out on us. It’s the same thing when we play against this team: Too many turnovers and too many run-outs.
“You especially don’t want to lose when it’s self-inflicted. And we did.”
Starting off the third quarter, Gallinari makes two plays late in the shot clock, throws that go in. We were quitting on the play and running back down. It was the same thing: turnovers, playing in a crowd, not moving the ball on the offensive end, and then we didn’t get back and cover the paint; they just ran out on us. It’s the same thing when we play against this team: too many turnovers and too many run-outs.
(beginning of the fourth quarter)
Gallinari hit a couple threes and then we decided we were going to do it on our own. Then it snowballed a little bit and they got ahead and we had to fight back.
You especially don’t want to lose when it’s self-inflicted and we did.
“We were feeling good; we were happy with being up but they play great at home and they are 18-3 at home or something ridiculous like that. I think our turnovers caught up to us, our defense deficiencies caught up to us.”
On Nuggets run in the fourth quarter:
“For one, they hit tough shots. They had eight three-pointers the whole game and they probably had a lot more, four or five, in the fourth quarter and they just got hot. We are just trying to play uphill and come back from there on out.”
On how hard it is to stop Denver when they go on a run:
“It’s tough, it’s tough. They are so athletic and get out in transition. Obviously the point guard pushed the ball but they’ve got so many guys who can score. Danilo Gallinari had a couple big threes too.”
On the turnovers of this game:
“It’s just us being careless with the ball, doing a little bit too much, trying to make the homerun plays, and not make the simple passes.”
On the growing pains of a young team especially in the fourth quarter:
“Yeah we are young; we’re just trying to find a way in every single game. Every practice we try to get better as a team and try to find a way to get it done.”
DENVER HEAD COACH GEORGE KARL
On closing out a strong month:
“I told the guys, ‘I don’t know how many months I’ve had in my career winning more than 12 games.’ It’s a damn good month. I think someone said it has tied the record for here [Denver]. It had a lot of creative success in it; it [January] had some big wins against good teams. It had bounce-back situations; it had games that we defended with confidence and we had some games like tonight that was shoot-out game. But I thought our guys, in the fourth quarter, tried to get a defensive dimension into the game.
The energy of the game kind of turned in the beginning of the fourth. I thought we got some turnovers into the game and scored on them. [Danilo Gallinari] made some big threes once we got the lead and then Andre Miller was pretty spectacular. Houston is a tough game; they play a lot like we do and sometimes I thought they were playing better than we were, doing what we do. They were attacking; their two point guards never let up tonight. Seems like we could never get our defense stationary or in a set position where we felt comfortable on what to do and how to do it. We were always recovering or reacting. That’s what we like to do [what Houston was doing], force teams into defensive mistakes by constantly going after their situations. But in the fourth quarter, like I said, we hung around, got the lead late in the third and then our defense got us going. [Danilo Gallinari] made it bigger and we hung on with good free throw shooting down the stretch.”
On the team’s play in the fourth quarter:
“I thought Andre [Miller] was important in the fourth. [Danilo Gallinari] got us the lead; Andre made three or four really good plays. That sustained the lead and kind of took away momentum; I think they got it down to six, maybe four. Andre made a big jump shot, I think when it was six that made it eight. It was a great month; we needed a special month and I think we got it. It puts us in position to hopefully have a great season.”
On Danilo Gallinari in January:
“I think he is getting more engaged and more involved in the offense. I think he is more into running the ball, getting more points in easy opportunities, getting to the rim. His confidence as the game goes on, grows. Right now the game is tilting toward him in the fourth quarter. I was kind of upset when he did hit the threes to get us going, and then he didn’t touch the ball for the next four or five possessions and I need to do a better job with that; Ty [Lawson] needs to do a better job of that.”
On goaltending play against Kenneth Faried late in game:
“My intent was to pass it. It was a bad play and it slipped out of my hand. I don’t know if you call that a turnover or a missed shot but it was good to get the win.”
On turning over Houston 20+ times every matchup:
“This was probably the toughest game because they were moving the ball and attacking the basket throughout the entire game; they were picking us up and forcing us to play late into the shot clock. Fortunately [Danilo Gallinari] got us going with some outside shots. It was definitely a game where we got our hands into the game and got some easy baskets down the stretch.”
On late third/early fourth quarter run:
“I think we were just active; we kept them out of the lane, forced them to miss some layups and some jump shots. We were able to get the rebound and get down the court and make some plays but it could have easily gone the other way. They had a good tempo; they actually played better basketball than we did and we were lucky enough to get the game tonight.”
On feeling it in the fourth quarter:
“In some cases, during the fourth quarter, we have to get those shots at the right moment. That’s what we did; it just wasn’t me. So I am happy that we won the game.”
On building confidence after beating a good team:
“Our confidence is very high; we know what we are capable of and we have a very good team. It is not easy to win against a team that you have already played twice and a third time tonight. It was proof to us that we can play really well.”
On having a big January and setting up for a late-season run:
“We knew since the start of the season that January is the biggest month of the season for us. I thought we responded really well. We came out in the start of 2013 and played really well. So now we are off to the next month.”