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Thursday March 31, 2011 1:46 AM

Sixers Stymie Houston Once More

Philadelphia maintains mastery over Rockets, pulls away in fourth for 108-97 win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

PHILADELPHIA, PA - Beautiful ball movement. Masterful point guard play. Sweet shooting. Proper spacing. Timely stops.

Those have been the signature elements during the Rockets’ remarkable resurgence since the All Star break. They have come to define this team’s style of play; a foundation upon which the Rockets could count and rely whenever they ran into trouble.

What the Rockets do not have, however, is a monopoly on those fundamental tenets of winning basketball. And Wednesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers showed they’ve learned how to put them to good use as well, beating Houston at its own game on their way to an impressive 108-97 victory.

The Rockets’ loss meant that there would be no happy homecoming for Kyle Lowry. After a month’s worth of dominating nearly every individual matchup he faced, fatigue and a sore left foot finally seemed to get the better of Lowry in the second half as the Sixers’ own up-and-coming young point guard Jrue Holiday ran circles around the Rockets on his way to recording 24 points and 12 assists. In fact, with Holiday running the show and setting the tone, Philly racked up a whopping 30 assists on the night as the Sixers frequently carved up Houston’s defense with precision passing and movement off the ball leading to a wide variety of wide-open looks and layups.

The Rockets’ offense, meanwhile, so devastatingly efficient during their 6-week stretch of strong play, started strong but ultimately stumbled against a long, athletic Sixers team that quite simply has Houston’s number, having won seven of the last eight meetings between the two clubs. After opening the game with a 33-point first quarter that saw the Rockets drain 5-of-6 from beyond the arc, Houston’s execution on the offensive end slowly began to come apart at the seams before finally unraveling completely in the fourth quarter. The Rockets shot just a shade over 26 percent from the field in the final frame while all too frequently abandoning their signature ball movement for one-on-one plays that failed more often than not.

“You have to credit Philly for that,” said Chase Budinger, who was dynamite in the first half but could only muster two points on 1-of-8 shooting in the second. “They did an excellent job in the second half changing things up defensively to make us go one-on-one more. We weren’t very solid and they had great stunts so that kind of forced us to go one-on-one, especially late in the clock. Then we just kind of broke down execution-wise as well: we stopped running, stopped making hard cuts, getting people open, and when you do that that means you start going one-on-one.”

So now it has come to this: the Rockets’ already razor-thin margin for error has likely disappeared completely. With just seven games remaining on the regular season docket, Houston finds itself three full games behind Memphis and four behind Portland and New Orleans in the race for one of the final spots in the Western Conference playoff picture. The task before them is not Herculean, but it’s close. The Rockets probably have to run the table from here on out to give themselves a realistic chance at qualification. That’s obviously asking a lot of a club whose longest winning streak this season is five games but, then again, the mere fact the Rockets are even in the postseason conversation at this point is a testament to this team’s talent, togetherness and resolve to fight until the bitter end.

“We’ve said all along that there’s nothing we can do about the other teams,” said Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman. “We can only win. We lost two out of three on this trip, so we’ve got to go home and try to get San Antonio and try to build some type of streak at home and then see what happens. One thing this team has done is it’s responded all the time. So once more we’ve got to do it.”

To be sure, the Rockets are not where they want to be. They are, however, precisely where they seem to excel: with their backs against the wall and no shortage of doubters writing them off. As Adelman alluded to, they must find a way to tap into their seemingly limitless well of resilience once more. Play like they have over the course of the last 6 weeks and, at the very least, they’ll give themselves a chance.

Then there exists this little sliver of a silver lining: no matter how daunting upcoming games against San Antonio, Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas might appear on the surface, at least the Rockets are done with the Sixers for another season (unless they meet in the Finals, of course). And that alone offers reason to rejoice.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

I just thought we really ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. We missed a lot of easy opportunities and they made shots in the fourth quarter

I thought we did a nice job but then at the end of the third quarter they had a little run, then start of the fourth they opened it up and, like I said, we just didn’t have the energy to come back and get stops.

(Kyle affected by injury?): I think he definitely was affected by it. He played last night, then tonight in a back-to-back. I thought he got tired in the second half… He’s played very well all year long so we’ve been relying on him, he’s been playing a lot of minutes and it caught up with him tonight.

I thought in the first half for the most part we did a nice job offensively until their was a section of the second quarter where we started going one-on-one again. We had 16 assists at halftime and that’s how we have to play; we can’t go one-on-one and do all that, we have to just move the ball and play the game with each other – trust each other. I think sometimes you get a bit tired though and you take the easy road out and you don’t make the cuts you need to make. Like I said, I thought that they made a lot of shots in that fourth quarter and we didn’t.

They made a lot of shots. I thought they started the game that way and they came out and did it. There was one part of the second half where they made like four or five straight long jumpers and that opened it up.

(more urgency now?): It doesn’t change anything. We’ve been down two or three games for the last week or week and a half. We’ve said all along that there’s nothing we can do about the other teams – we can only win. We lost two out of three on this trip, so we’ve got to go home and try to get San Antonio and try to build some type of streak at home and then see what happens. One thing this team has done is it’s responded all the time. So once more we’ve got to do it.

KEVIN MARTIN

We got away from how we’ve been playing the last couple months. We just didn’t play as a team going down the stretch. That’s what happens: you lose... We’ve got seven games left and we have to make the best of it.

KYLE LOWRY

(fatigue a factor?): We got some rest last night. Those guys just played harder than us. They shot 54 percent for the game, so that’s going to get you a win.

(what do you have to do to make the playoffs?): We have to win every game from here on out, simple as that. It’s pretty much do or die for us. We’ve just got to keep playing. All we can do is play. Tonight would have been a big win for us but we lost. So we have to go back to work and get back at it the next day.

We didn’t run our offense the way we should have. We broke down. They were overplaying and we let their overplaying kind of hurt us a little bit.

CHUCK HAYES

I feel like we can (go 7-0 the rest of the way). How the schedule lays out, with the games we have at home – still have to go to New Orleans and Minnesota – I believe that’s it. So five of the next seven at home – we have our chance. We have the home court advantage, so we have to use it to our advantage.

(difference in the game tonight): We weren’t able to get stops. They have great player movement and they’re an underrated, good defensive team: Jrue Holiday picking up 94 feet; Iguodala able to guard multiple positions; Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, even Elton Brand being a catalyst back there. You have to give them credit. They played hard and played well. Our record puts us out of the playoffs, their record puts them in.

(on Thaddeus Young): We wanted to give him the jump shot and he hit it tonight. But he moves so well without the ball and their guard penetration puts us in a position where we have to help and he does a great job moving without the ball and with him being a lefty, he has great touch.

CHASE BUDINGER

(offensive breakdowns in second half): You have to credit Philly for that. They did an excellent job in the second half changing things up defensively to make us go one-on-one more. We weren’t very solid and they had great stunts so that kind of forced us to go one-on-one, especially late in the clock. Then we just kind of broke down execution-wise as well: we stopped running, stopped making hard cuts, getting people open, and when you do that that means you start going one-on-one.

(need to go 7-0 from here on out?): That’s the goal – to win out. No ifs, ands or buts – we’ve got to try to win every game. What’s good is we’re going back home for a couple, so hopefully we can get the ones at home. We’ve played well at home lately.

Philadelphia 76ers Head Coach Doug Collins
 
Opening Remarks:
 
That is a very tough team to defend. We knew that coming in. Very similar to the first time we played them. They hit a lot of threes in the first quarter the last time we played them. Tonight, they were five-of-six from three. We made some costly mental errors. I don’t know if it is because we took yesterday off or not. Fouling jump shooters three times. We were sort of self-destructive. We would have a play and try to hit a homerun, and turn the ball over.
 
Our second half defense was fantastic. Fourth quarter was great. We held them to 15 points. We executed, and once they hit that five-of-six from three, they were three-of-12 the rest of the way. We did a much better job keeping them off the foul line. Our rebounding was better. We outrebounded them. 30 assists tonight, moving the ball. Great win. Jrue Holiday 24-and-12. Dre [Andre Iguodala] with 10 assists. Lou [Williams] knocked key jump shots down for us tonight. He got his J [jump shot] rolling again. Thaddeus Young was brilliant. He was our ace of spades tonight.
 
I just told our guys, our owner [Ed Snider] was in there afterwards. He comes in because he loves our team, and I said, “This is the stage of the year where everybody is banged up.” Dre has got a sore knee. Thad was playing with a sore groin tonight. EB [Elton Brand] was sick as a dog. He had nothing tonight, absolutely nothing. He gave me 28 minutes so that Spencer [Hawes] could be strong and that Thad and he could finish the game tonight together.
 
One step closer. 39 wins now, which is fabulous. We don’t lose two in a row at home which is great. This Houston team has been playing great, great basketball, so that was a very quality win for us tonight.
 
Q: You talked about Thaddeus, but with the bad spill he took against the Bulls, and then to come back and have a game like this – could you expand on that a little?
 
A: I was scared to death, because I was standing here and he was coming at me, and I saw his leg. It gave me visions of when I blew out my cruciate ligament. I was sick to my stomach. If you are ever happy about pulling a groin instead of hurting a knee, I was probably the happiest man in America. He said, “I’m okay, coach. I just hurt my groin.” [He] battled it out. Got all kinds of treatment all day today and was able to give us huge minutes tonight. He made a couple critical baskets coming out of timeouts for us. His quickness on defense…
 
Kyle Lowry is playing great basketball. He is a tough cover. I thought we did a much better job on both he and [Kevin] Martin in the second half. [Chase] Budinger got off to a hot start. I think he had 13 at half. He ended up four-of-14 with only 15. Our defense is what won the game for us tonight. They shot 41 percent. We held them to 97 points. They have been averaging 113 over the last five. This is a team that is second in the league in scoring. They average 106 a night.
 
 
Forward Elton Brand
 
On the win in Chicago…
 
It was great. We win in Chicago, we come home and protect that point. All season we’ve been saying we will not lose two in a row at home. We started playing better and we wanted to do that tonight.
 
Q: How was it physically just trying to get through the game?
 
A: You know, try not to think about it. You just want to get out there, and you try to play good ball. You hear some guys have the best games when they’re sick, so I did it, but I wanted to.
 
 
Guard Jodie Meeks
 
Q: Conversely coming off such an emotional game Monday, would have been easy having a letdown tonight?
 
A: It would have. Everyone on this team understands what we are playing for.  We are playing to get a higher seed in the playoffs. Right now we’re in sixth place, but anything can happen so we’re going to keep looking up until the regular season is over and try to get this fifth spot, that’s all you can do.
 
Q: On the team controlling its own destiny in pursuit of a postseason…
 
A:  When we came back from All-Star break, Coach Collins said we want to control on our own destiny no matter what. We don’t have to rely on other teams losing to try to get us into playoffs. So far I think we’ve been pretty resistant.

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