Now Fear This
HOUSTON - Seemingly bored by the ease with which they have slashed their way through the Eastern Conference portion of their schedule this season, the Rockets unwittingly stumbled upon a way to bring some additional spice to their matchups against the league’s lesser half.
Amid a flurry of turnovers, missed shots and mental mistakes, Houston spotted the Milwaukee Bucks an 18-point lead in the second quarter. The Rockets had the look of a road team ready to lie down and crumble. The Bucks had more energy, more fire and took full advantage of Houston’s defensive indifference that, far more often than not, transformed Milwaukee’s frequently middling offensive attack into a veritable layup drill producing 38 paint points in the opening half.
Then, like a PGA pro laying waste to a weekend warrior’s trifling 18-handicap, Houston proceeded to rally, ravage and ultimately romp its past the beleaguered Bucks for an emphatic 115-101 win that served as the red-hot Rockets’ latest statement that they remain one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
As there always are in such resounding victories, Houston had heroes galore during their two-hour trick that temporarily transformed frigid Milwaukee into their own personal cauldron of fire and flame. But nowhere were the sparks and sizzling blazes more visible than the ones emanating from the hands of the Rockets’ trio of Carlos Delfino, Patrick Patterson and Toney Douglas. That threesome laid waste to any hope the Bucks had harbored for victory, as they combined to hit 22-of-32 (68.9 percent) from the field and an even more awe-inspiring 11-of-17 (64.7 percent) from beyond the arc.
The carnage inflicted by Delfino no doubt felt sweetest of all to him, as his 22-point, 6-7 shooting from downtown performance occurred during his first game back in Milwaukee, where he had plied his trade for each of the past three seasons.
“It’s always special playing against your old team,” he said. “But the way we played tonight and the way we came back and defended in the second half as a team made it feel really good.”
Indeed, Houston’s second-half showing stood as a shrine to the tantalizing potential possessed by a team that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Having no doubt had their ears singed by a fire and brimstone halftime message from the Rockets’ coaching staff, Houston’s players responded by turning up the defensive intensity and turning over the Bucks over and over again. The Rockets began the third quarter by forcing two Milwaukee miscues before Jeremy Lin and Larry Sanders fell victim to a head-on collision that seemed to daze Sanders and send Lin to the locker room where he would receive five stitches before returning to action later in the game.
Lin’s exit brought Douglas back on the court, and the in-your-face guard immediately wrecked havoc upon the Bucks with his aggressive defense and shooting from distance. It would not be long before Houston had completely demolished its deficit, as James Harden (game-high 29 points) and Omer Asik joined the onslaught triggered by the Rockets’ reserves. When their exemplary work was done, the Rockets were the proud owners of their biggest comeback of the season on a night that saw three Houston players (Harden, Lin and Parsons) rack up seven assists each – the first time in 13 years the team had pulled off that particular statistical benchmark.
“We just battled back and, really, that third quarter was about as good as we can play,” lauded Houston’s head coach Kevin McHale. “We locked in on defense and we pushed it up, we got shots, we made shots, we had steals. Toney was phenomenal in just changing the tempo of the game. We were having a tough time with some of our coverages and then we just started blowing some of their plays up by being aggressive so I was really proud of the guys. They bounced back and really showed a lot of fight.”
The first half, they really had things going their way, especially that second quarter. I really liked what we did in the first quarter. The second quarter we started turning it over and they got on top of us and looked like they were going to maul us. We just battled back and, really, that third quarter was about as good as we can play. We locked in on defense and we pushed it up, we got shots, we made shots, we had steals. Toney was phenomenal in just changing the tempo of the game. We were having a tough time with some of our coverages and then we just started blowing some of their plays up by being aggressive so I was really proud of the guys. They bounced back and really showed a lot of fight.
Jeremy got a big cut on his head and Toney came in and did a great job. We had three guys with seven assists and that doesn’t happen a whole bunch in our league so the ball was moving and we started making our shots. The guys just played a lot harder, too. We really challenged them at halftime to play a lot harder and they did.
Carlos has done that (for us) more often than not. I tell you what: he hit some big shots. When Carlos makes a couple, he’s got a beautiful shot. I watch him in practice sometimes just shoot when he’s relaxed and guys are rebounding for him and I’ll tell you what: he goes for long stretches without missing. He’s got a really, really beautiful stroke.
I’ve said it all along: Carlos just plays. Carlos has no agenda when he plays. He’s just a pro and a fun guy to be around. For our team, we’re really, really young and Carlos is a nice stabilizing (presence). He’s such a pro’s pro. He reminds me a lot of Luis Scola: he’s been playing pro ball since he was 14 and they just have such a relaxad feel. They’re just fun to be around.
It was one of those days in the first half; we missed everything we shot and we got a lot of turnovers. In the second half we came out with more energy, defending and stuff like that and our bench came up huge. Toney Douglas did a great job when Jeremy got that cut on his head.
(what was said by coaches at halftime?)
I can’t say that – it’s not right to say right now (laughs). We just had to play with more passion, be aggressive, defend our man and stay in front of him – all night we were just getting beat and they were playing two-on-one all the time. So we made a great comeback, we made a lot of runs and fast break points and got back like that.
(must feel comfortable shooting in this building?)
I was here three years … It’s always special playing against your old team. But the way we played tonight and the way we came back and defended in the second half as a team made it feel really good.
(On the injury…)
“I needed [five] stiches in the side of my head and it was good. Did it real quick, knocked some sense into me, and we started playing a little better.”
(On the third quarter…)
“I know that when I came back, guys were flying around, high energy. We were getting stops; just the way we were supposed to play, the way we’ve played in the past in some spurts. We tried to carry it over to the fourth quarter.”
(On the play from the bench…)
“Our second lineup is one of the most underrated things about our team. We have guys that come in and score and get buckets. That’s what they did tonight. You saw a full display of their offensive explosiveness.”
BUCKS HEAD COACH SCOTT SKILES
(On turnovers in the second half…)
“It just appeared that we lost focus coming out of the locker room. We had a lot of trouble. That was as bad a collapse as I’ve ever seen. It happened so fast. It was turnover, turnover, turnover. We looked like we just started going one-on-one instead of moving the ball like we did in the first half. When we did get a decent shot at the basket, if we missed we didn’t run back. They just ran right by us and scored. We tried some different people, but we just couldn’t get anything going.”
(On losing the lead…)
“We had just a little bit of slippage right before half. But still, if you say going into the game, “We’re going to have them under 50 in the first half and we’re going to have a nice lead,” obviously you take that. Harden wasn’t taking to the foul line or anything. He had 13 points [in the first half], but the turnovers were unbelievable.”
(On the second half…)
“They came out and were hitting shots. They were in a rhythm and were able to get hot. When you have three or four guys get hot like that, it can be very tough to come back from that.”
(On the defense…)
“It’s always about the defense. Obviously you won’t be able to completely stop somebody every night, but we gave up 115 points, and that is way too much. If we want to continue to win we need to get better on the defensive end.”
(On the turnovers…)
“We just got careless. We got up big right away and then we had a letdown in the second half. We got caught behind the eight ball a little bit and started to force a few things and try to make something happen. They were able to get on a roll, get a few steals and finish on the other end.”
(On the second half…)
“They made a run and never looked back. We were living in the paint in the first half. We were up 20, everyone was getting into the lane and getting easy buckets. The second half was just the opposite; we got sloppy with the ball. It was probably the worst second half ever.”
(On Carlos Delfino…)
“Of course he [Delfino] is going to be fired up playing here. He was knocking down some big shots tonight. James [Harden] was able to penetrate and then kick to Carlos, and he did what everyone knows he can do. We know what he can do; he has done it here for four years. He is a great player.”