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Tuesday April 3, 2012 0:28 AM

Bullish Behavior

Rockets roar back in second half to stun Chicago 99-93

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Want to be a playoff team? Better possess the sort of resilience that can withstand the rigors of the roller coaster ride that is the NBA regular season.

Want to actually do something and make a little noise once you’ve punched your playoff berth? Then you’d best be able to execute at both ends of the floor against the toughest teams in the league.

Those principles are two of the pillars of postseason success and Monday night the Rockets provided pretty emphatic proof that they possess an ample amount of both during their latest stunning road win – a 99-93 triumph over the Chicago Bulls.

Forget about the heartbreaking overtime loss at home the night before against Indiana. Pay no mind to the fact the Rockets were playing their third game in four nights – against the team with the best record in the NBA no less. Disregard Chicago’s 86-game streak during which they had not once suffered consecutive defeats. And utterly dismiss a 15-point first half hole the Rockets dug for themselves by getting beat up on the offensive glass while receiving next to nothing from their second unit.

All those things and more, the Rockets simply shrugged off and overcame by playing to their strengths and employing the sort of relentless, never-say-die spirit that has become this club’s calling card during a stretch that has seen them rally to record wins after facing double-digit deficits against the Thunder, Lakers and Bulls. And while Houston will be hard-pressed to top its road win over Oklahoma City from a pure improbability standpoint, there were moments in Monday’s game against the Bulls during which a Rockets’ victory seemed just as unlikely.

Chicago came into the contest looking to get back on track after getting crushed the day before by the Thunder, and their determination to do so was made manifest during an extraordinary 27-8 run to begin the second quarter that saw them build a 15-point lead. The Rockets could not keep the Bulls from corralling every offensive rebound in sight and, to make matters worse, no shot of any kind seemed to be even remotely makeable for anyone on the Rockets’ roster. Houston’s ship was sinking fast and rescue appeared little more than a pipe dream at that point.

But just when it appeared as if the Rockets’ nightmarish second quarter would be their doom, the Bulls themselves offered a life preserver. Three straight Chicago turnovers late in the period resulted in a trio of Goran Dragic layups that helped Houston salvage at least a little something positive to take into the break. Instead of facing the prospect of having to rally back from 20 points down, the deficit was a much more workable 11. Opportunity beckoned, however softly. And the Rockets – well, they responded with a roar.

Houston’s defense came to life, clogging the paint and passing lanes as Chicago’s steady stream of turnovers soon become a flood. And with their resulting transition game suddenly gaining traction, the Rockets’ offense slowly joined the party as well. Houston scored 10 straight points to tie the game at the three-minute mark, then closed the quarter with four more to claim a 71-70 edge heading into the final frame.

Sufficiently buoyed by the confidence gained from their big comeback, the Rockets went into hyper drive to start the fourth quarter and they were led, appropriately enough, by the bench players who were so eager to atone for their first half sins. Chase Budinger knocked down three 3-pointers in a 94-second span and Earl Boykins contributed to the cause with five points in the period and a triple of his own to cap a remarkable 17-2 run that put the Rockets up 14. And when the Bulls made their inevitable, last-ditch rally, Courtney Lee made Houston’s night of redemption complete by shaking off a rough shooting night to hit the dagger that sealed Chicago’s fate.

Make no mistake, this was a massive, much-needed and monumental win for Houston. To make the playoffs, the Rockets knew they were going to have to improve on the road and win at least a game or two in which they would be decided underdogs. This, of course, was one such game; the kind of contest you chalk up as a loss before the season even begins. But these Rockets have shown they simply can’t be counted out. They possess a resilience that can’t be denied and have displayed an ability to execute against the best the league has to offer. As result, they’ve put themselves in position to be a playoff team. But much more than that, with each passing win over the NBA's elite the Rockets are showing that they have every intention of sticking around awhile once they get there.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

Q: What happened in that 3rd quarter?

A: “They were just beating us on the boards. In the 1st half they executed harder than us. At half time I just said 'until we play harder, we're not going to match them'.” We had to keep them off their offensive glass. We did that and then Earl had a great game out there. Chase also hit some big shots for us. It was nice to be able to sit Goran that much because they were playing so well. On offense we don't have a lot of guys to drop the ball to to hit the open shot. They are a hard team to play as their defense doesn't give you anything in the paint. You have to move the ball. We talked about that, and we were able to get it to the weak side and had some weak shots. Goran's 3 lay-ups in the lane were huge for us. It was the end of the half and we needed that to keep within range of them.”

Q: On his team's effort:

A: The guys have been fighters. This team will battle. I was a little bit surprised when (Chicago) got that run in the second quarter and really but it to us. But I have very little concern of our effort level and that they’ll go out and give you what they’ve got. It’s just a matter of are we going to knock down some timely shots and are we going to do some stuff, and tonight we did. To the credit of the guys, they just played harder: we sprinted into stuff more; we got better stops; we were more active on the defensive end; we chased better on Hamilton and Korver. We just did a lot of stuff harder.

CHANDLER PARSONS

Q: On the game:

A: “We never give up. We play for 48 minutes. If we get down or we get up, we're not going to stop playing hard. That group that was in there in the 4th quarter was unbelievable. With Earl (Boykins) and Chase hitting huge shots, they gave us a huge boost. That's how we have to play. We didn't miss a beat when the 2nd unit came in. We were very balanced tonight and we played unselfish. We have to do a better job of keeping them off the glass, but overall we played tough and we competed. We knew they were going to go on runs, we knew they were going to hit shots, we knew they weren't going to stop. We had to pride ourselves on the defensive end to get stops. Every game is huge. It's a battle in the West. Every game is basically a playoff-berth game. The best thing is we control our own destiny, so we have to take it one game at a time and keep competing like we did tonight.”

Q: On Earl Boykin's play tonight:

A: “Huge. Huge huge huge. He played unbelievable. He had big shots, he passed the ball, he pushed the ball. We didn't miss a beat with him in there. He's done that every game since he's been with us. We're real happy with him. He's been great.”

Tom Thibodeau- Chicago Bulls coach:

Is there a problem with energy in the 2nd half?

“In the 1st half. We started the 1st quarter the same way. We finished the 2nd quarter the same way and started the 3rd quarter the same way. We had no edge and no defense.”

What happened at the end of the half?

“Turnover, turnover, turnover, turnover. Usually there are 2 reasons. You are holding onto the ball too much and trying to thread the needle or too much one on one.”

They started knocking down a lot of shots in a row:

“When you turn the ball over and put them in the open floor, they get easy baskets and they are going to get confidence. When you do that, you are making your job twice as hard. That's what we did, we beat ourselves.”

On Hamilton's performance:

“There was some good and some bad, about what I expected. He had been out a long time. I thought at the start of the game he was very good. It's a baseline, but we have a long way to go. I am more concerned about our team right now.”

It looked like Hamilton took some contact:

“He said he was fine.”

On the free throws:

“You've got to make them, you have to step up and make them. Everyone is in the same boat. It's a long season, you have to put the time in. You have to find the time, you have to make the time and you have to get it done.”

Are you impressed by the play of John Lucas?

“Right now I'm disappointed in the way our team is playing. It's collective. We are capable of playing much better. One thing I know about this league is that things change quickly. It goes from good to bad, from bad to good. We have Boston coming in who is playing great basketball. At this time of year you have teams that are playing with great urgency. Houston played a great game. They played hard, they fought, they are fighting for a playoff spot. So every night you come in you have to be ready to fight. People are playing for things. If you relax, if you let your guard down, you are going to get knocked on your ass, that's the way it is.”

Luol Deng:

On 2 losses in a row:

“We have to tighten up some stuff. We have to get back to how we play basketball and defend.”

On having 2 days off before Boston:

“Right now, we will get some rest and then we will get together as a group and focus on Boston.”

Kyle Korver:

On 2 losses in a row:

“It's correctable, obviously it's frustrating because you want to win every night.”

On his turnovers:

“Bad decisions. I was trying to make the right pass. I was trying to make the pass for a basket, not to move the ball around. I guess bad decisions.”

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