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Saturday January 22, 2011 1:17 AM

Memphis Makes Rockets Sing The Blues

Grizzlies dominate down low, rally past Rockets for 115-110 victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Thursday afternoon, while discussing the finer points of interior defense, Rockets’ low post defender extraordinaire Chuck Hayes unwittingly engaged in an ominous bit of foreshadowing.

He had been asked to describe the difference between guarding the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph and New York’s Amar’e Stoudemire, the latter of whom Hayes had done a superior job of controlling Wednesday night.

Randolph, Hayes said, was an altogether different sort of cover. Blessed with strength, length and the best touch of any big man around, Randolph was a nightmare matchup – Hayes even went so far as to say that the Memphis forward, along with Utah’s Al Jefferson, ranked in the top-2 of his own personal toughest-big-men-to-guard list.

Little more than 24 hours later, Randolph proceeded to put on a display that showed precisely why he’d earned that distinction.

Lifting the Grizzlies to their first victory over Houston in eight games, Randolph simply carried his team down the stretch, scoring 12 fourth quarter points to propel Memphis to a 115-110 victory.

The ninth-year forward’s explosion in the final frame was part of a 29 point, 19 rebound performance during which he proved himself to be a force of nature for which the Rockets had no answer. Hayes, as is his custom, did yeoman’s work on Randolph, but foul trouble limited him to just 28 minutes of play. And even when Houston’s interior stopper was on the floor and providing the best defense possible, Randolph still found a way to make exceedingly difficult shots look downright routine down the stretch, crushing the Rockets’ hopes with several hoops that had no business finding the bottom of the net.

“[Randolph] wanted it today,” said Memphis guard Tony Allen, describing his teammate’s mindset come crunch time. “Today I called him, ‘The Little Shop of Horrors.’ They had to feed him. He just kept saying, ‘Feed me Seymour.’”

Indeed, Randolph’s performance was part of a horrific night for Houston down low, as the Grizzlies racked up a whopping 72 points in the paint. Their interior dominance allowed them to rally from a double-digit deficit in the first half, and snap Houston’s 7-game winning streak against the Grizz – a run that had seen the Rockets win each time by 10 points or more.

“I guess if you want to look at it like that, they were due for one,” said Hayes, who finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. “We could have won this game. We were in control the whole game until the end. You have to give them credit, they fought back, they battled. They made stops when they counted.”

Early on, it appeared as if the Rockets’ rule over Memphis were destined to continue. The Grizzlies simply had no answer for Houston’s offense in the first half, as the Rockets racked up 67 points through the first two quarters of play. Kevin Martin, who led all scorers with 32 points, was on fire from the start and Houston shot nearly 60 percent from the floor as a team in the opening half, as its lead ballooned to 11 at one point.

But mid-way through the third quarter, the Grizzlies’ defense began to show signs of life, forcing Houston into far more missed shots and turnovers than they had experienced earlier. And though the Rockets still led 108-105 with 2:25 to go in the fourth quarter, Memphis closed out the game with a 10-2 run, aided by a pair of Randolph buckets that shattered the degree-of-difficulty meter, to finally break through against their nemeses from Houston.

“We could not stop a nose bleed tonight,” said Shane Battier. “They played hard, and we knew if we were up 10 that if we could get the game to 14-15, then we could have knocked it out. But we just could not deliver the knock out and they clawed back into the game. They clawed back into the game and we didn’t have enough cuts and juice to make stops on the floor.”

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN
On the loss:
“In the second half, we didn’t play well offensively. In the third quarter, I thought we turned the ball over, and we didn’t do that the first half. They (Grizzlies) really hammered us around the rim. I don’t know how many points they had in the paint, but it was probably double what we had. We still had a chance to win the game, but they dominated the basket.”

On the Grizzlies:
“They chop; they reach. You’ve got to be strong. They’re not going to get called for every foul, so you’ve got to be strong with the ball. That’s what their repetition is—they lead the league with forcing turnovers. You’ve got to be smart out there because when they’re down, they’re going to be aggressive. We just didn’t do a good job. A lot of our turnovers were unforced. We were just too casual with the ball. We just could not get the rebound. They just kept getting it back. Even that last play with Kyle (Lowry)—it was an offensive rebound. They made some tough shots. That last shot Zach (Randolph) made was a tough shot. That’s what they do. We were under-matched there. You’ve got to be better at the offensive end, and we weren’t tonight.”

KEVIN MARTIN (32 POINTS, 2 STEALS)

On tonight’s game:
“I will have to watch the video of the game later, but Zach (Randolph) made some amazing shots at the end. We just could not keep him off the boards and that was the game right there.”

On Memphis defense in the fourth quarter:
“It was nothing about them. I didn’t check into the fourth until three or four minutes into the game. But no it had nothing to do with them.”

On waiting to check in during the fourth quarter:
“I was just waiting for the referees to blow the whistle. It was a good game. I hate to come out on this end, but we did and we will just have to bounce back tomorrow.”

CHUCK HAYES (10 POINTS, 7 REBOUNDS)

On tonight’s game:
“When you have the best offensive rebounder behind you in the league, it is a chess match. They played great. We battled. The game could have gone either way. We will just have to get them at our place.”

On the Grizzlies snapping the Rockets’ seven-game winning streak in the overall series:
“I guess if you want to look at it like that, they were due for one. We could have won this game. We were in control the whole game until the end. You have to give them credit, they fought back, they battled. They made stops when they counted.”

On Zach Randolph tough to stop in the paint:
“He probably has the best touch for a big man. He creates space with his stretch, his wing span and his touch. That is all he needs is a little bit of space.”

SHANE BATTIER (15 POINTS, 8 REBOUNDS)

On tonight’s game:
“We could not stop a nose bleed tonight. They played hard, and we knew if we were up 10 that if we could get the game to 14-15, then we could have knocked it out. But we just could not deliver the knock out and they clawed back into the game. They clawed back into the game and we didn’t have enough cuts and juice to make stops on the floor.”

On the second half:
“You have to expect that the home team is going to play harder the second half. They are going to come out with more emotion and with fire. Usually we do a good job with matching that fire, but we had a poor end of the third quarter. We let the crowd in the game and we just didn’t play well enough for the win.”

GRIZZLIES HEAD COACH LIONEL HOLLINS

On tonight’s game:
“With the way things went in the first quarter, I told them that we needed to hold them down because they have scored 34, 34 and 38 points against us in the first quarter and they came out and scored 37. Fortunately, we picked it up offensively and scored 32 so we weren’t too far down. In the past we have been down 10, 12 and 15 points. After that we started defending better and making much better efforts. I think this was truly a team bonding win. They made a commitment to play harder, to compete harder, to run harder and to close out and do all the things it takes to win the game. They kept battling when the game was tight and close down the stretch.”

On the team’s effort:
“The total effort was unbelievable. I am proud of them. I told them we have to keep going forward and can’t go back and make this commitment to playing that hard all the time. It is hard for young players with their talent to understand how hard you must play every minute when you are in a game against NBA competition to win.”

On Zach Randolph:
“Once Zach gets it going he doesn’t have to always be in the paint to score. He didn’t settle tonight which was good. I think he took one jump shot and the rest of the time he attacked the basket. The one no-jump, double-clutch that he shot was a highlight. That is something that should be on ESPN.”

On Hasheem Thabeet:
“He is coming up and getting better. His effort is getting much more consistent. I think young players have a hard time understanding that playing hard is just what you do every minute that you are on the court. It is hard for them to focus all that time and play hard. If you are an offensive player it’s kind of easy because the ball is coming to you, but on defense and the other facets of the game…that is something that we are trying to build on so we can be more consistent.”

On defending the Rockets late in the game:
“I thought they would take the three. Some nights they go in and some nights they don’t. You just try to defend them as best you can. You try to not lay on the screens and try to fight through them. I thought we had tremendous effort in all of those areas.”

GRIZZLIES GUARD MIKE CONLEY (17 POINTS, 5 ASSISTS)

On tonight’s game:
“We knew it was going to be a tough night tonight. They really handled their business the last couple times. I think guys came more focused this time. We played with the same type of energy from the first quarter to the fourth. We made big plays that counted tonight in the fourth quarter that we haven’t been able to make lately. I think that was the difference. This game was a huge game for us, especially after the loss in New Orleans. Houston is a team that we’ve lost to the last couple of times, so we needed to get this monkey off of our back and get on this road trip.”

“This game, I think everybody would agree, was one of the bigger games for us this season. It is the make-or-break time of the season. We’re right around the corner from making the playoffs. If we lose this game we’d be even further out of the playoffs. We understand how big this game was for us. We are satisfied with the effort we made to come back after being down. The effort that we gave was tremendous from everybody. The bench, with (Hasheem) Thabeet and Greivis (Vasquez), came in and played great. Those guys came in and gave a lot of effort. That’s what we needed to get the game back.”

GRIZZLIES FORWARD RUDY GAY (22 POINTS, 5 ASSISTS)

On tonight’s game:
“We stayed in it. We didn’t give up. We went to our strengths. Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) came out and hit a couple of shots at the end. We had some big plays and came up with the W. You have to take advantage of when a player is hot. He was hot today. We got the ball to him and he came through. You have to ride the wave while it’s going. We moved the ball, played defense and scored in the transition. We just played well. This wasn’t about history. We made this game tough on ourselves. It feels pretty good. We can’t be on too much of a high. We can’t ride it too long. We face a tough opponent tomorrow.”

GRIZZLIES GUARD TONY ALLEN (6 POINTS, 3 REBOUNDS)

On tonight’s game:
“We came out lackadaisical. In the second half, Coach (Lionel Hollins) gave us a good scolding and we responded. Giving up 65 points in the first half is not how we are going to get to the playoffs. We have to get into that defensive mindset. In the second half, we came out and competed. We got stops when we needed. We got the ball to our scorers down the stretch. (Zach Randolph) wanted it today. Today I called him, ‘The Little Shop of Horrors.’ They had to feed him. He just kept saying, ‘Feed me Seymour.’ So, I called him, ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ We’re just happy about this win. We know every game is key from here on out and we’re just trying to grind it out.”

On the Grizzlies:
“We have to build more consistency on the road and get after these (upcoming) Eastern Conference teams. I know we’ve been having problems with these East teams. We just have to come out with a defensive mindset. Scorers have to be scorers when we need them. We just have to build from today. We have the monkey off of our back. We couldn’t let those guys come in here and get another win. We wanted it more than they did today.”

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