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Monday March 12, 2012 0:04 AM

Cleveland Adds To Rockets Road Woes

Cavs comes up big in fourth quarter, doom Houston to 118-107 defeat

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




CLEVELAND, OH - For certain stretches of Sunday night’s game against Cleveland, the Rockets played well. They moved the ball crisply on offense, got stops and forced turnovers on defense, and had the overall look of a team capable of competing for a playoff spot.

The problem, of course, with the preceding paragraph is the inclusion of the word ‘certain’ in the opening sentence. It implies that, at other times, the Rockets performed in the exact opposite fashion – a suggestion that would be both fair and accurate. It is exactly that sort of inconsistency which is killing the Rockets right now and precisely the problem that was directly responsible for their latest loss – a 118-107 defeat at the hands of the Cavaliers.

There are explanations aplenty; reasons ranging from the undeniable impact of Kyle Lowry’s absence to the fatigue that comes along with a game that tips off fewer than 20 hours after the previous night’s contest had ended. But this is a no-excuses league and the Rockets are run by a no-excuses head coach. Kevin McHale understands as well as anyone that all 30 NBA teams deal with injuries and all face their fair share of scheduling quirks that put even the fittest players to the test. That’s why he so often brushes aside suggestions that the schedule has contributed to the team’s recent slide which has seen them lose six of their last seven games. Sure, injuries and road weariness play a part but what of it? No sympathy will be shared and no tears will be shed for Houston around the league. The only acceptable response then is to keep fighting and to find answers to the riddles currently befuddling them until the eventual breakthrough is made.

To that end, few solutions were forthcoming Sunday night. For fits and spurts, the Rockets looked strong, especially while receiving sparkling efforts from Luis Scola (season-high 30 points), Goran Dragic (20 points, 8 assists), Samuel Dalembert (15 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Chase Budinger (16 points on 6-of-10 shooting off the bench). They even took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter. But Houston’s defense, as it so often has of late, gave way beneath a barrage of points allowed when the game was there to be won.

The deluge began with a 12-2 Cleveland run to start the final frame as the Cavs’ second unit burned the Rockets’ reserves with an assortment of long-range bombs. At first it appeared as if the rapid reinsertion of Dragic and Scola would right the ship as the Rockets immediately responded with five quick points of their own to cut Cleveland’s lead to two. But even their brilliance on the night proved only to be a temporary salve. The final 4:14 belonged solely to Kyrie Irving and the Cavs, as the rookie scored 16 of his 21 points during that stretch to seal the Rockets’ fate.

Such periods of prolonged futility and frustration always result in a healthy dose of self-assessment and soul searching. The Rockets’ post-game locker room was filled with plenty of each as players attempted to verbalize and contextualize their current predicament. They understand their season is far from over. The team’s goal of making the playoffs remains very much within reach. But answers need to be found – and quickly – if the Rockets are to realize that hope. And though there are no simple solutions at the ready, the process of problem solving begins with finding a way to extend those ‘certain’ stretches of strong play into a full 48-minute exhibition of all-out effort and sound execution.

“I don’t think we played that bad today; we just didn’t play well consistently,” said Scola. “We had some stretches where we played bad and they punished us … We just have good moments instead of a good game.

“We’re struggling. Every team has this, it’s just a matter of how long are we going to let it (continue). How soon are we going to come out of it? Those are the questions right now. We’re just not playing the right way. We don’t have confidence, nothing goes our way, and it’s just not working out right now. We’re having a really tough stretch.

“I think the question for us right now is how long is it going to be, how deep is it going to go, and will we have time after we come out of this? Will we have time to still make the playoffs? I believe the answer to those questions is yes, but we’ve got to go out there and do it.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

It was the start of the fourth quarter that doomed us. We had a three-point lead, they had an 11-2 run at that point. They made some shots later and we never could get our momentum back. They got a little bit of spread in the game. We got it down to four, then they had that out of bounds game and Gibson hit a 3 to put it up to seven. They made some shots, but our defense was very porous again tonight.

(defensive issues more breakdowns or energy?): It was a little bit of everything. They made some shots, they slipped some stuff, they got us on the boards a little bit. I thought we had a great stretch in the second quarter because the last six minutes our defense got us the lead. We kind of maintained that throughout most of the third where I thought we could get a little separation, but Gee made a shot at the end of the third and then they put a run on us to start the fourth and that really was the game.

LUIS SCOLA

We were in the game the whole game long. I don’t think we played that bad today. We didn’t play well consistently. We had some stretches where we played bad and they punished us. 118 points is not going to cut it. We’re not going to win any games giving up 118 points. I think at times our defense was good; it just wasn’t enough time. We just have good moments instead of a good game. They just overall played better than us.

(where do the problems lie on defense?): We’re in a tough stretch of the season. This is a bad part of the year for us. We’re struggling. Every team has this, it’s just a matter of how long are we going to let it (continue). How soon are we going to come out of it? Those are the questions right now. We’re just not playing the right way. We don’t have confidence, nothing goes our way, and it’s just not working out right now. We’re having a really tough stretch.

I think the question for us right now is how long is it going to be, how deep is it going to go, and will we have time after we come out of this? Will we have time to still make the playoffs? I believe the answer to those questions is yes, but we’ve got to go out there and do it. Some games in this tough stretch we’ve played well – Boston, the Clippers – and some games we’ve played really bad. It’s hard to say it’s one problem. Every game is different, but it’s true we’re in the toughest stretch of the season.

(how close might this team be to getting out of this slump?): I just don’t know. Sometimes it comes down to just one game. It depends on a lot of things. It’s just a tough stretch with Kyle out and Goran in a new role, so it will take some time and hopefully we can adjust while we’re winning.

KEVIN MARTIN

(on shoulder injury): I’ve been dealing with a shoulder injury for like a month but I was fine. It’s just one of them things, day-to-day, but I was ok.

Tonight I ran into a screen that irritated it but I was ok.

CAVALIERS HEAD COACH BYRON SCOTT
 
(On tonight’s game): “The only thing I told our guys was that it was a great win. It was good to see us bring that intensity and focus back home like we had the last couple of games on the road. Like we continue to say, as long as we play hard and play with that type of effort and intensity, we give ourselves a chance to win basketball games and we did it again tonight.”
 
(On the second unit): “I thought tonight the second unit again played terrific. They really did. AJ (Jamison) got into foul trouble (and) Samardo came in and did a heck of a job tonight. Tristan did a heck of a job of rebounding, setting screens, getting our guards open. The second unit was more in sync tonight than they’ve been in a long time. I think in the last three or four days, they’ve been doing a heck of a job of practicing, working together and learning each other. Tonight was one of those games where I thought it all kind of came together for them. They did a great job of keeping us in the game in the first half.”
 
(On getting confidence back after the road trip): “I thought we got our confidence level back after those games. Even after the Denver game, going into Oklahoma City, we just felt that we were back to playing the way we are capable of playing, especially on the defensive end. Winning that game in Oklahoma City just made us feel that much better about what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been preaching and teaching every single day in practice. I think right now our guys feel pretty good on the way we’ve been playing. I think the trick is not to live on those laurels and make sure tomorrow that we come ready to work and practice and get focused for Tuesday night.”
 
(On Kyrie Irving): “He didn’t have one of his better games. He was missing shots tonight and he wasn’t real happy about not making them. In the fourth quarter, when I took him out, I told him ‘It’s gonna come, just keep playing.’ He made some big shots for us, got to the free throw line and was able to seal the game from there.  Not having his best stuff and still being able to produce like he produced tonight was great.”
 
KYRIE IRVING
 
(On the three-game win streak): “What I like most is just our ability to compete for 48 minutes, no matter what’s going on in the game. They make their run, but we continue to get stops and continue to execute on the offensive end of the floor. During timeouts, we’re just listening to Coach Scott and we go out there and execute. I think we’ve been doing a heck of a job of doing that lately.”
 
(On the team’s confidence level): “I feel like our confidence never died, it’s just about executing and competing. We had to play harder and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
 
(On the bench’s production tonight): “It’s really key for us going forward. Coming off beating these road teams and coming home and playing against a great second unit, our second unit had to be that much better. They did a heck of a job scoring tonight and playing great defense. They made it easier for me and (Antawn Jamison) to step in, along with (Anthony Parker) and (Alonzo Gee) to finish the game.”
 
SAMARDO SAMUELS
 
(On the bench’s production tonight): “Our job is to go in there and help and give the first unit a break. We have to go in there with energy. We’ve been trying; all of us, with (Ramon Sessions) being our leader for the second unit and doing a better job.”
 
(On getting more playing time): “I need to bring the energy and (Antawn Jamison) has been doing a great job the whole year. I need to be able to give (Jamison) a breather and come out there with the energy and just play hard. I just keep that in the back of my mind and I want to be steady and just be solid when I get in there.”
 
(On contributing in big games): “It feels good. It was good to get the win. It was good to get the win in Oklahoma and I feel like it was a great opportunity for us to come home and win one. I just wanted to be a part of it and I just went out there and played hard.”

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