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Wednesday March 7, 2012 2:03 AM

Rockets Run Out Of Beantown Magic

Celtics rally, send Houston to second straight overtime defeat

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




BOSTON, MA - The stage was set for another magical, miraculous and inexplicable ending.

For three straight years the Rockets had relished those fantastic finishes in Boston, and Tuesday night’s tilt against the Celtics seemed ready to produce perhaps the strangest yet. It featured big shots, too many blown chances to count, and drama galore – in other words, it possessed all the trademarks of Houston’s TD Garden triumphs of years gone by.

What it ultimately did not produce, however, was a Rockets win. The Celtics choked the life out of Houston’s offense down the stretch and simultaneously extinguished the Rockets’ Beantown magic as well, dooming the club to its second straight heartbreaking overtime defeat, this time by a final score of 97-92.

That the Rockets were not able to take advantage of Boston’s endgame generosity – an unfathomable sequence of events that included a blown layup by Rajon Rondo, a missed wide-open elbow jumper from Ray Allen, two bricked free throws by Kevin Garnett, and a silly 8-second violation courtesy of Paul Pierce – was unfortunate. But the truly tragic element from a Houston perspective was the fact the Rockets blew plenty of opportunities of their own to put the Celtics out of their misery far earlier.

Holding on to a hard-earned 10-point lead with 5:33 left in regulation, Houston seemed poised to both put an end to its three-game losing streak and start a daunting five-game east coast road swing in impressive fashion. The Rockets had hammered the Celtics on the boards all night long and seized control of the contest with a dominant third quarter performance that carried over well into the fourth.

But three key developments were put into motion right around that time, and the ensuing tidal wave of momentum that flowed in Boston’s direction from that point forward proved impossible to stem; be it by the Rockets, or the Celtics’ own miscues and misadventures.

It began with Doc Rivers’ reinsertion of Kevin Garnett; a move that reunited Boston’s starting five on the floor, allowing them just enough time to reestablish the dominance they had enjoyed throughout the evening. At the same time, Rivers also directed his troops to start trapping on the defensive end. Not coincidentally, the Rockets’ offense suddenly grew stagnant, as the club’s attack frequently devolved into a series of turnovers and forced jumpers that barely beat the shot clock. How much of that was due to the Celtics’ trademark suffocating defense or Houston’s players’ premature desire to milk the shot clock on every possession is impossible to say. There was nothing ambiguous about the end result, however, as Boston roared back to recapture a two-point lead on a Ray Allen corner trey with 35 seconds remaining.

“We started doing the worst thing you can do on the road,” lamented Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale after the game. “We started playing the score instead of playing the game. We had rhythm going and then we came down and lost our rhythm a little bit and just got too conservative. We tried to play perfect basketball; you’ve just got to go play basketball. We’re trying to run the clock down to four and score. If you score with 20 (seconds left on the shot clock), you score with 20 – just go score.”

The Rockets, however, were issued the most miraculous of reprieves – a second chance at salvation that absolutely no one could have seen coming. Houston came up empty on its initial shot at tying the game and the ensuing Paul Pierce outlet pass to Rondo seemed certain to seal the deal. But with no one even remotely within shouting distance of him, Boston’s All-Star point guard somehow managed to completely brick the layup, initiating a mad scramble sequence that ended with Goran Dragic burying a 20-foot baseline jumper to tie the game with three seconds left. When Allen subsequently misfired on an open free throw line jumper, the Rockets realized they’d been granted a rare opportunity to atone for their earlier sins.

Overtime, however, only brought with it more frustration. Houston turned the ball over three times in the extra period, bringing their total to 20 on the night. And though the Celtics made mistakes of their own, they managed to make up for it with otherwise excellent half-court execution at both ends of the floor, leaving the Rockets to lick the wounds sustained from the club's fourth loss in a row.

“I’ll be honest, the fact that we were in overtime was very lucky,” said Luis Scola, who finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds. “What are the chances that an All-Star player like Rondo misses a layup with nobody close to him? We got a second chance, it was a present, and we just couldn’t have it. We were there the whole game. I think we lost the game when we were 10 points up with four minutes to go and then we couldn’t close it. The fact that we played overtime, as I said, was just a bonus, a present. But we lost the game before that.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(how to get better ball movement down the stretch?): We had it for awhile, then we lose it, then we have it, then we lose it. They started putting that little trap on us and we got a little bit cautious with the ball. We have to have ball movement before we attack and we have to get the defense moving and we didn’t do enough of that. We’ve just got to keep working on it.

We started doing the worst thing you can do on the road: we started playing the score instead of playing the game. We had rhythm going and then we came down and lost our rhythm a little bit and just got too conservative. We tried to play perfect basketball; you’ve just got to go play basketball. We’re trying to run the clock down to four and score. If you score with 20 (seconds left on the shot clock), you score with 20 – just go score. We’re better when we’re moving and running, but that’s just part of where we’ve got to keep working and improving.

KYLE LOWRY

We just slowed down a little too much. We played too cautious at the end. We should’ve just kept pushing and playing aggressive and up-tempo like we know how to play.

LUIS SCOLA

I’ll be honest, the fact that we were in overtime was very lucky. What are the chances that an All-Star player like Rondo misses a layup with nobody close to him? We got a second chance, it was a present, and we just couldn’t have it. We were there the whole game. I think we lost the game when we were 10 points up with four minutes to go and then we couldn’t close it. The fact that we played overtime, as I said, was just a bonus, a present. But we lost the game before that.

(on the offense getting stagnant late): Early in the fourth quarter I liked the way we were playing – I think our offense was fluid. Then they kept out with the press; it’s not like they stole the ball from us but it took us six, seven seconds to get up there, then two, three seconds to start the play and then we kind of got stuck. Everything got a little rushed and we got stuck. When you play on offense with 10, 12 seconds instead of 24, or 18 or 19, it makes a big difference. We kept shooting shots that aren’t high percentage shots and we missed them and then they got it going and momentum shifted. That’s a good team and a good crowd and you saw what happened.

Boston Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers

“That was a crazy game. It really was. The whole game – it wasn’t even just the ending. I mean, there was just some strange things going on tonight. We give up 28 points in the first quarter, hold them to 12 in the second; we give up 28 points in the third quarter, hold them to 16 in the fourth. We miss a layup, really bobbled the ball – I don’t even know if he ever really…it counts as an attempt – but he just lost sight of the ball. Kevin (Garnett) misses two free throws. Paul (Pierce) dribbles the clock out. You know? It was just one of those games.”

Re what does it say that the Celtics won despite the craziness: “It says a lot…but it’s true. I mean, it was a no-energy game. You can feel it. I even said at halftime, ‘Even the building had no energy.’ It’s just one of those nights. And our guys kept talking about grinding the game, ‘We’ve got to grind this game out somehow.’ And I thought there was a stretch, I don’t know when, we were down eight with three minutes, four minutes, you could hear them in the time out. You know, I don’t know if we were going to win or lose, but you knew we were going to have a chance. You just felt that. And we made some big shots.”

Re what does he think about playing Philadelphia tomorrow with the chance to move into a first-place tie: “Well, I think that’s great! What the hell – what do you want me to say? I mean, we’re just hanging in there, that’s what we’re doing. We’re starting to play good basketball and we’re starting to win basketball games when we don’t play good basketball, and that may be more important.”

Re Greg Stiemsma: “Greg was terrific. I was going to go with him in the second half but I thought we had a good flow, so I didn’t. You know, it’s funny, sometimes you’re almost protective of your young guys. You don’t want to mess up his good game, in some ways. Because his confidence – it is a game where honestly, I’m thinking ‘til tomorrow; he’s going to have play some minutes and his confidence had to be high, and it should be good tomorrow.”

Re maneuvering Garnett’s minutes tomorrow: “That’s a lot. Obviously overtime skews it. But I’m not worried about his minutes. He’s going to have some minutes, days, where he plays 40 minutes. I don’t like them back-to-back. He’s also going to have some 25-minute games. So at the end of the season it’ll still say 30. How we get to it is how we get to it. Obviously if I had my pick, today would not have been a 40-minute night. And you know what hurt us is Brandon (Bass) gets hurt at the beginning of the game so we’re searching; Chris (Wilcox) gets into foul trouble. So now we have to extend Kevin’s minutes. And fortunately – I think that’s part of the reason with the free-throws.”

Re Garnett’s moving into 12th on the all-time rebounding list: “I think when you’re old, you have a milestone every night. I’m starting to realize that because I just gave Kevin two basketballs with paint on it, so now we have to give him another one. You have to be healthy, you have to be good for a long time, when you start him and Paul and Ray (Allen) – when you start passing up guys like they’re passing up guys.”

Keyon Dooling

“It's an honor to play with such legends to the game. If you are in our locker room you would never know. They are all hard working, very humble and they go about their business in a very professional manner.”

Re 12th on rebound list: “Its definitely impressive, especially to the outside people. Internally Kevin (Garnett) doesn’t care about accolades, accomplishments, achievements, he humbly just goes about his business with a very military style and he just continues to break records.”

Re Ray as shooter/age affect: “Age isn’t anything but a number. Ray is one of the best conditioned athletes in our league. He puts the time in, he still does the same routine he’s had for years and obviously he’s the greatest shooter in the history of the game. We wouldn’t expect anything less from him.”

Rajon Rondo

Re Kyle Lowry point guard less than average night: “Yeah, it was one of those nights. I think it’s going to be a tough position at the point guard every night in this league. Night in, night out its going to be a good guard you have to face and try to contain them as much as possible.”

Re key defensively: “Team effort. The bigs are doing a great job on the pick and rolls. It’s not just me, it’s all five guys streaking the floor and trying to make them shoot contested 2’s.”

Re two overtime games/how handle emotion: “Its not exhausting its what we are paid to do. It’s our job, its basketball. That’s why we have 15 guys on the roster. If guys are lagging, Doc can do the substitution and put the other guys in.”

Re KG: “He’s been doing a terrific job and I expect that. To play with a guy like that, future hall of famer, is an honor. He shows you what hard work does for you.”

Paul Pierce

“It was definitely a strange game, it was a battle of wills. One team wanted it one quarter, another team wanted it another quarter. It was just kind of like a seesaw battle. You know, we make a run, they make a run. Nobody could really just put the other team away. It was just one of those games where once it got to the fourth quarter, we picked up our intensity, we played with more of a sense of urgency, got more life out of ourselves and into the building, we were able to take control. It was unfortunate we couldn’t win it in regulation, but sometimes the balls bounces that way. There are going to be all types of ways your going to win, and it wasn’t pretty but we got it done.”

Re: C’s resiliency: “Well we understand the urgency, especially at this point in the season, after the All-Star Break. Right now it’s that stretch run and we understand it. We understand that we need to take care of it at home, we understand that we have a big road trip coming up that’s not going to be easy, so we can’t just give away games right now.”

Re: Chance to move ahead of Philly tomorrow: “Well we’ve been playing well as of late, this is definitely a division rival that we are going to have to overtake and seeing as it’s going to be important going into the playoffs. If we win our division I think we will get a top four seed regardless. So these are important games.”

Re: Pierce taking control: “I was, especially in the fourth quarter, trying to give us some life with the crowd and everything. You know someway somehow we just had to try to figure it out and someway somehow we got the energy to put it over the top.”

Re: Steal after 8-second violation: “The ball bounced my way and I just didn’t want to see it go out of bounds. I just tried to make the heads up play, I just tried to get it down court regardless. You know when you save a ball like that on your end of the court you don’t want to throw it in at your end of the basket, and then I just happened to look up saw Rondo you know going for the long pass again. Everytime I tell him, a hundred out of a hundred times, if he’s going to the basket wide open I’m going to give it to him.”

Re: Game like a football game in the mud: “As a team we like it anyway we can get it at this point. Whether it’s in the mud, the rain, the snow, on the concrete, in the 110 degree weather we’ll take it.”

Re: Ray’s three and consistency from field: “I mean that’s what he does, he’s a mark of consistency, he set the bar as one of the great marksmen of all time. It’s just due to his hard work that he does that the people around don’t get to see in the gym everyday and it shows in the court.”

Re: Paul’s will: “Coming out in the second half of the season I just want to be more aggressive, I know there’s time where I’m too passive, but this team needs me to be aggressive night in and night out, so that’s what I try to do. When the team goes through scoring drops, I try to create that spark on offense in the end and that’s pretty much my role on the team.”

Ray Allen

Re: Clutch 3’s all the time: “I can’t say that. I had a couple early in the game that didn’t go in for me and I was watching how they were guarding me, so as the fourth quarter came along everytime I got the ball I knew they were trying to run me off the three so I just said this three was going to be on my terms. When Lee jumped at my I knew I was going to fake him and let him fly by me. It’s like one of my favorite moves, Top Gun, I put on the brakes and let him fly by.”

Re: Keys to coming back: “The defensive energy picked up. When they went on a run we weren’t getting any stops, they kind of dictated how the game was being played, and we changed that by pushing them up away from the basket. And everything that they had was contested, and we got rebounds and were able to run the score. Offensively, we were aggressive and attacked them.”

Re: Conditioning: “The in-between days were you really have to take care of your body and make sure that you focus on rest. Even in the games you have to learn how to be efficient out there. Sometimes you have to run harder just to push that bad wind out of you and sometimes you have to just be efficient, and get to your spot and allow your body to recover out there. So it changes, you just have to listen to your body. Sometimes your body is telling you you can’t go more. When that happens you have to make sure you pass the ball. Still make a sharp cut, but our legs are so important when you get to the shot. So if I’m short on the shot I know it’s my legs. So I always make sure I pay attention to that. I think as a team we have to make sure we play more together in these stretches because it is going to require us to be a team unit when we play those games.”

Re: Running: “There’s so many facets of the game, you have to score in transition, you have to score in the paint. In fast breaks, you have to score off easy buckets, you have to score free throws, you have to score 3 pointers. There’s so many different things so you have to be prepared for everything. I always feel like if I can be in better condition than my guy then that’s going to be 4 to 6 points a game I will be able to get.”

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