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Wednesday February 15, 2012 1:03 AM

Grizzly Result

Rockets wrap up road trip with 93-83 defeat in Memphis

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




MEMPHIS, TN - Amazingly, inexplicably even, the game was still there to be stolen.

For much of the contest, the Rockets had shown all the classic symptoms of a tired team at the end of a season-long six-game road trip. Their play had been a step slow throughout and rife with mental miscues. Shots weren’t falling. Turnovers took place with regularity.

Yet in the game’s final few minutes, opportunity still beckoned. Once down 15, Houston had trimmed its deficit to a mere five points and appeared poised to pull even closer after forcing the Grizzlies into another errant shot in crunch time. As the ball bounced high off the rim, the Rockets were just one defensive rebound away from potentially performing a minor miracle of sorts; transforming this ugly, mistake-filled game into a one-possession affair.

It took less than 30 seconds for all such hope to be extinguished.

Memphis’ Dante Cunningham got a hand on the ball before ultimately gaining control to give the Grizzlies an invaluable second chance that led to a crushing Mike Conley 3-pointer. Mere moments later, Rudy Gay came up with a steal – the Rockets’ 18th and final turnover of the night – that was converted into two more points via an O.J. Mayo layup.

And with that, the blade that had teasingly failed to fall for so long finally came crashing down upon Houston’s hope for a more palatable end result.

“They played harder than we did – that’s the bottom line,” lamented Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale after his club had dropped a 93-83 decision to the Grizzlies. “It took us a long time to get engaged in that game mentally and physically. When we finally did we were OK, but (by then) we had spotted them 12-14 points.”

Indeed, the entire game seemed a struggle for the Rockets right from the opening tip. There was no crispness to their execution as the Grizzlies’ long, athletic and physical defenders wreaked havoc upon Houston’s half-court offense. Making matters worse, the Rockets missed a variety of open shots and layups; a problem that was further compounded by the club’s inability to generate stops at the other end. By halftime, Memphis had built a nine-point advantage, a bulge that could have been far worse given the fact the Grizzlies’ starters shot 68 percent from the field during the opening 24 minutes.

Even a second half dose of Kyle Lowry’s Memphis magic was not enough to rescue the Rockets from their fate. Houston’s point guard – typically so tough against his former team – did his best to singlehandedly keep his club alive after the break, scoring 13 points in the third quarter on his way to recording a game-high 24. He relentlessly attacked the basket in the second half, powering his way into the paint for hard-nosed layups, scoop shots and a bevy of free throws.

Lowry, however, received little in the way of help. Only two of his teammates – Courtney Lee and Goran Dragic – joined him in double-figure scoring as Houston shot just 38.5 percent from the field for the game and connected on only three of the team’s 10 3-point attempts.

All told, it was a disappointing ending to a road trip that, just three days ago, had been filled with the potential for so much more. After winning three of the first four games on this stretch, the Rockets had every right to get greedy and dream of wrapping up this roadie with a 4-2 or even 5-1 record. To be sure, there is no shame in finishing 3-3, especially given the caliber of competition faced, but the feeling of what might have been hung heavy in the postgame locker room Tuesday night, taking some of the shine off what had been accomplished early on.

“3-3 is a good record for this road trip but the sensation, the feeling that we have from the trip is bad because of the way we ended up,” said Luis Scola. “We could have been 5-1.

“We need everybody to be ready to play every day. We’re struggling to get everybody ready to play every game – that’s why we’re losing games that we shouldn’t be losing. Once we mature as a team and we are ready enough to play every game then we’re going to do better. It’s not about first unit, second unit – it’s about everybody being ready to play every game.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

Give credit to them; they played harder than we did tonight. It took us a long time to get engaged in the type of game it was which was going to be a grind-it-out, hard-nosed … You could see in the first quarter it was going to be kind of a grind-it-out game and you can’t ease into a game like that – you have to come out ready to go.

(fatigue resulting in lack of movement on offense?): Nah, we didn’t do it. We had to move more, we had to attack more, we had to turn corners more – they pressured us out of our offense.

(K-Mart’s troubles on him or do things need to be run differently?): Well you got to go to him. I tell you what, you’ve got to go out there and play. We run our offense, we try to get the ball going from side to side and we try to get looks but, again, it comes down to everybody to go out there and play well. You’ve got to go out there and find your rhythm and get out there and battle and do your thing.

(Grizzlies’ size and length bother you guys?): They played harder than we did – that’s the bottom line. It took us a long time to get engaged in that game mentally and physically. When we finally did we were OK, but we had spotted them 12-14 points, had it down to five with a missed (shot), Cunningham got the offensive rebound, threw it out and Conley hit a big 3 and that was kind of the game right there. They were just more physical than we were.

KYLE LOWRY

(on the offensive execution): We let those guys get really physical with us and made us play a little further out than we wanted to. It’s something we’ve got to work on: getting more physical, getting more tough.

(need teammates to follow your lead and attack more?): Those were opportunities I was getting. My jump shot wasn’t falling so I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get something going. Tonight it was open to drive to the basket but we’re going to have to settle in and, when jump shots aren’t falling, lock-in on the defensive end.

(finishing 3-3 on the road trip after starting 3-1): We should have been better.

LUIS SCOLA

(finishing 3-3 on the road trip after starting 3-1): 3-3 is a good record for this road trip but the sensation, the feeling that we have from the trip is bad because of the way we ended up. We could have been 5-1. We should have played better against Golden State and we should have played better today and we didn’t so we have that bad feeling. We can’t just get three wins early and think that’s it and then just stop doing the right thing. If we got the first three that’s great, but from now on we have to think that we have three more games and we want to win some of those. It’s not like we want to just go 3-3. 3-3 is a good record but we should have done better.

I do know that we need everybody. This is a team that, if only the starters are playing well that’s not going to cut it and the second unit playing well by themselves is not going to cut it – we need everybody. We need everybody to be ready to play every day. We’re struggling to get everybody ready to play every game – that’s why we’re losing games that we shouldn’t be losing. Once we mature as a team and we are ready enough to play every game then we’re going to do better. It’s not about first unit, second unit – it’s about everybody being ready to play every game.

GRIZZLIES COACH LIONEL HOLLINS

On holding Kevin Martin scoreless:
“He didn’t get off to a quick start. They took him out of the game, so he sat out most of the first half. But I thought Tony (Allen) came out with a mindset that he was going to try to play him as hard as he could. Then the kid didn’t make a couple shots and things weren’t going his way, and they made a sub and played Courtney Lee.”

On the first half:
“I think that whenever you can get off to a good start it gives you a little bit more energy. We made shots. We shot 48 percent tonight, and that was huge. We kept attacking the basket. We got a lot of fast-break points. We had 27 points off of their 18 turnovers. They only gave us eight fast-break points, but I guessed that there were a few more. Just in secondary and going down and scoring when they made the turnovers, were huge for us. We actually made some threes tonight. But I thought overall, our defense was really good. They went small and they started trying to attack us off the dribble, and Kyle (Lowry) got going a little bit in the box. But they didn’t make any threes. When they start making threes, they can really stretch you out.”

On Mike Conley’s fourth-quarter three-pointer:
“It thwarted their momentum. We turned the ball over, crazy turnovers. Guys are in the wrong place, and whenever you’re playing those mismatch line-ups trying to make up to the other team, you know offensively it’s going to suffer. Guys didn’t know where to be. We couldn’t really run anything and first, Juice (O.J. Mayo) hit two big three’s on the backside of plays where we were trying to post up Rudy (Gay). Then Mike Conley hit the big three at the top of the key, and then we started getting to the foul line.”

GRIZZLIES CENTER MARC GASOL (18 POINTS, 7 REBOUNDS)

On the game:
“It was a better start. We didn’t go down in double digits. That always helps. I think we were more into it, definitely defensively; our defense always leads us into our offense. I feel we played good basketball and we kept working.”

“Tony (Allen) always does a good job on people, and he got to everybody involved in defense, and the whole team did their job.”

On the final stretch of the game:
“We couldn’t find a good shot or the shot that we wanted. They (Rockets) were great too. They were being active, they were taking everything away and we couldn’t find the shot that we wanted.”

On tomorrow’s game:
“It will be a tough game, but we know we’re going to be ready. There’s no doubt about that.”

GRIZZLIES GUARD RUDY GAY (20 POINTS, 8 REBOUNDS)

On the game:
“We needed this win. After the last game, we thought we had that game, so tonight we wanted to come out here and be aggressive and play hard.”

On Tony Allen’s defense:
“That’s Tony Allen for you. He’s going to be active, he’s going to pressure you and that’s what we love about him. He’s going to be active, he’s going to pressure you, he’s going to make people take tough shots and make people take tough passes and he helps us out a lot. It’s nothing we didn’t expect. Tony has games like that.”

On tomorrow’s game versus New Jersey:
“That’s one of the places I don’t think we usually play well there. We’ve got to do it like we did today and come out early, play hard and attack. We can’t lay back and play from behind with a team like that. They’re dangerous no matter their record; they are still dangerous so we’ve got to play hard.”

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