Recap: Rockets at Blazers, April 9, 2012
Rockets complete sweep of four-game road trip with 94-89 win over Portland
PORTLAND, OR - No one saw this coming. Not even the Rockets themselves.
Eight days ago when the team plane arrived in Chicago in the wee hours of Monday morning, it brought to the Windy City a weary, beat up bunch of players who were still heartbroken following a thoroughly dispiriting overtime loss to Indiana at home. The Rockets found themselves on the fringe of the Western Conference playoff race, and making matters worse, they faced the prospect of a daunting four-game road trip that included stops in Chicago and Los Angeles with a Sacramento-Portland back-to-back thrown in for good measure.
Oh, and Houston’s record away from home at the outset of that journey: a not-so-encouraging 8-17.
Poll the Rockets players and coaches prior to that first game against the Bulls – and give them a heaping helping of truth serum delivered for good measure and accurate results – and the likely refrain probably would have found most, if not all, satisfied if you could assure them a 2-2 split on the upcoming roadie. 3-1 would be downright delightful. But 4-0? No one’s that greedy. Or delusional.
Well turns out the Rockets suddenly are as adept at turning fantasy into reality as they are ravenous for road wins. Incredibly, amazingly, extraordinarily – though not perhaps aesthetically pleasingly it should be pointed out – the Rockets put the finishing touches on a perfect 4-0 road trip in Portland Monday night, beating the Blazers 94-89. It was far and away Houston’s least impressive win of the bunch, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who cared in the club’s post-game locker room – and for good reason. The Rockets are now heading home firmly in control of their playoff fate, bringing with them burgeoning confidence and a belief that their best basketball still lies before them.
“It was a great road trip for us,” said Goran Dragic, who was dynamite once again Monday while scoring a game-high 22 points and dishing out 7 assists. “Before this road trip nobody was thinking we were going to win four in a row … Before every game you try to think positive, you try to win all the games. But if you look at the (schedule before this road trip), we play against some teams that are better on paper than we are. But still, it doesn’t matter. This is the NBA, anybody can beat anybody so you just have to play strong as a team and we did that.”
The Rockets did it with some red-hot 3-point shooting (10-of-19), timely defense and a generous dose of the Dragic-Kyle Lowry backcourt pairing that Head Coach Kevin McHale had used to great effect earlier in the season before Lowry was felled for 15 games by a bacterial infection. Both players were outstanding on the offensive end, blitzing the Blazers with their pace, shooting and surgical dissection of Portland’s defense. Houston also received strong efforts from Chase Budinger (15 points) and Patrick Patterson off the bench, providing the club with the boost it needed on a night when several players were either under the weather or simply struggling to find their ‘A’ game.
This is who the Rockets are – who they must be, in fact: a team that finds its strength in exquisite execution and all-out effort that allows them to be something altogether greater than the sum of their parts. When they do so, even the most seemingly inhospitable of roads can suddenly appear nothing more than a mere walk in the park.
“I think our demeanor, our attitude (has changed),” said Patterson, when asked to explain how the Rockets have managed to transform themselves into road warriors. “If it’s a close game, we always feel like we’re still in it. When Goran’s playing well, Marcus and especially Courtney, we just feed off their energy. Guys coming off the bench, they know what to do: they know to bring energy, they know to rebound, they know to do whatever it takes to get the win so I think, compared to early on this year, we just believe in ourselves a lot (more) on the road.
“It just shows that we can win no matter who the other team may be. Whether it’s a top team in the East or a low seed in the West, we can compete with the best teams. No matter what the score is, we’re going to keep battling and fighting hard. This is a step in the right direction and hopefully we can (take this momentum) and do the same thing at home.”
And 1s: Earlier Monday, Goran Dragic was honored by the NBA, having been named Western Conference Player of the Week (click here to read Dragic’s reaction to receiving the award). Dragic was obviously thrilled to receive the honor and so, too, were his teammates and coaches. Kevin McHale was especially pleased and pointed out pre-game that this sort of recognition is almost always the byproduct of team success.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said McHale. “He really deserved it. Goran’s a great kid and I’m really happy for him. It just goes to show this is a team game; when you win good things happen. People have played well before but if you’re not winning, you don’t get recognized like that. So needless to say, the wins in Chicago and LA really helped and I was really, really happy for him. He’s a great kid so it couldn’t happen to a nicer young man.”
On playing two point guards at the same time: “Court[ney Lee] wasn’t feeling that good, either. All of our guys… they were all feeling a bit under the weather. That was a good win for us because our energy level wasn’t great. We had it for periods, and then we’d lose it for a little bit. Kyle played well. Goran had what I’ve grown to expect out of him over the last five or six weeks. He goes out there and gets 22 and 7, and you go ‘Solid game, Goran.’ You know you’re playing good when you do that. I thought Pat came in and gave us good defense. Scola had a rough shooting night but made a couple of big baskets late. It was just a good win overall.”
On having success during the current road trip: “When you looked at the schedule you went ‘oof.’ You said, man, we’re going to have to find a way to win some of those games, and we won them all, which is great for us. Now we have to go home and we have four huge games coming up.”
On why the team has been successful on the road lately: “I think Earl Boykins and Marcus Camby have helped just being around. They’re really calming guys. Marcus has been fantastic to coach and be around the team. The team’s really bonded. You’ve got Goran, who was Player of the Week, playing as well as you can play. It’s just been a good time for us to come together, and we have.”
On Kyle Lowry’s performance: “He made a few shots and he looked pretty comfortable out there. I was watching his wind, and he looked like he was pretty good, wind-wise, which is the key. I was hoping to play him 15-20 [minutes], and he played 22. So he played a couple more but it didn’t seem like that would kill him. In an odd way, we were kind of able to hang together with Kyle being out, and hopefully Kyle’s got a ton of energy for the stretch run.”
I just wanted to go out there and be aggressive and be myself. I wanted to go out there and do my thing and help my team. We were having a little scoring lull, so I wanted to be aggressive and attack.
(playing with Goran): It’s always better to play with another point guard, especially when each of you can defend both guards, push the ball and play.
On how he feels playing the amount of minutes he played tonight: “I’m fine. I would ask for more but I’m going to pace myself. It’s a long rest of the way to go, hopefully.”
(what changed for this team in terms of its play on the road?): I think our demeanor, our attitude. We played a lot tougher on the road than at home. The ability to never give up, no matter what the score may be. If it’s a close game, we always feel like we’re still in it. When Goran’s getting playing well, Marcus and especially Courtney, we just feed off their energy. Guys coming off the bench, they know what to do: they know to bring energy, they know to rebound, they know to do whatever it takes to get the win so I think, compared to early on this year, we just believe in ourselves a lot (more) on the road.
It just shows that we can win no matter who the other team may be. Whether it’s a top team in the East or a low seed in the West, we can compete with the best teams. No matter what the score is, we’re going to keep battling and fighting hard. This is a step in the right direction and hopefully we can (take this momentum) and do the same thing at home.
(on a 4-0 road trip): It means a lot. It was a great road trip for us. Before this road trip nobody was thinking we were going to win four in a row. We played really well. Now we have to take advantage at home, try to beat Phoenix and Denver – those are going to be two huge games for us. If we do that, it’s going to be 100 percent that we’re going to make the playoffs.
Before every game you try to think positive, you try to win all the game. But if you look at the (schedule before this road trip), we played against some teams that are better on paper than we are. But still, it doesn’t matter. This is the NBA, anybody can beat anybody so you just have to play strong as a team and we did that.
On being back in Portland: “I got caught in the emotions of cheering for my current team and not trying to show up the RG faithful, but the ovation I got during the starting lineups felt great. It felt good to be back here and definitely see all of the guys.”
On his role with Houston: “I’m just playing my game. I think when I was down the hall I was more of a facilitator, playing the high post, feeding LaMarcus and getting him a lot of easy buckets. It’s just going out there playing and having fun.”
On being on team close to making the playoffs: “It feels good, but I felt when I was here we had a team that could make the playoffs, also. We’re definitely two teams going in two different directions right now. Our spot in the playoffs is not solidified, so we have a lot of key games coming up and we’re going to need a lot of help from a lot of different teams.”
BLAZERS INTERIM HEAD COACH KALEB CANALES
“A very hard lesson for us to learn, but a very valuable one – that we have to understand that we have to get it on the defensive end of the floor, not the offensive end of the floor.”
On not defending the three-point line well: “We’re disappointed when we give up 10 threes and they shoot 10 for 19, 53 percent. But we didn’t play consistent defense for 48 minutes tonight.”
On Dragic: “I told the guys – I think he’s kind of playing a little bit like how Ginobili looks out there to me.”
Did team look lost when Felton was on the bench? “Well we believe in the guys that are coming in from our bench. I thought we had some empty possessions there to close out the third quarter. We didn’t make enough shots tonight.”
On Rockets defending Aldridge: “LaMarcus is our All Star so he is going to be a point of emphasis every night for scouting reports, game plans. They did a good job early but he got into a rhythm there in the second half. We went to our pick and rolls and especially in the mid – and he got some open looks. But again, it’s not offense for us, it’s defense.”
“We definitely were in the game. We just kind of got flat and their guys didn’t miss too many threes. We tried to give help with their penetration and then they would kick it out to the corner for threes. Give credit to them. They didn’t miss too many threes down the stretch.”
On playoffs looking less and less likely after loss: “It’s getting closer and closer, but we have to keep working, keep getting better and keep trying to build. This is not for us to throw in the towel. Guys will keep working hard and keep getting better.”
On motivation in this situation: “Me personally, if I’m going to play, I’m going to be motivated. I don’t need to be in no playoff race to be motivated. This is our job and this is what we love to do so I think guys should come out and still play hard every night.”
On trouble getting over the hump late in the game: “Late down the stretch – not just this game but all the close games we’ve lost – I think the last four minutes of our close games is where we need to really buckle down and play great team defense and pay attention to detail as a team. We’ve got to execute on offense. We’ve got to know what plays we’re going to, who we’re going to. We just have to execute down the stretch on the offensive and defense end.”
“It’s not one person or one position. It’s us a whole. Coach Kaleb, he’s doing a great job of giving us defensive schemes to go into the game with and execute, but like I said, down the stretch, he’s not on the court with us. So we have to pay attention to detail and lock in and get stops and execute on the offensive end.”