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Thursday February 3, 2011 3:13 AM

Rockets End Road Trip On Winning Note

Houston comes up big when it counts, escapes Salt Lake with 97-96 victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

SALT LAKE CITY - Shane Battier evoked the name Tom Brady.

Kevin Martin made reference to David Tyree’s unforgettable helmet catch.

And though the two Houston players got their gridiron metaphors a bit mixed, there were no such issues with their on court connection as they teamed up to deliver a memorable moment of their own that lifted the Rockets to a heart-stopping 97-96 win over the Utah Jazz.

The last-second victory brought a euphoric and merciful end to Houston’s most grueling road trip of the season, a stretch in which the Rockets had faced some of the toughest competition the Western Conference has to offer. And though the club could only muster a single win after four games and seven days on the road, Wednesday’s result offered hope that a brighter future now awaits.

“We knew this trip was going to be tough and to be honest we should be inspired by the way we played,” said Chuck Hayes, following another big night on both ends of the floor that included 13 points, 12 rebounds and his usual hard-nosed interior defense. “We fought every team. The only game that got away from us was San Antonio late in the third. But the way we battled against Dallas, the Lakers and tonight against Utah, we have to take that momentum and that inspiration and bring it home and rack up some wins right before the All-Star break.”

The Rockets had to fight tooth and nail for that momentum as Utah, despite being without the services of Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur, gave Houston all it could handle right from the start. The Jazz led 55-54 at halftime and managed to survive the scorching third quarter shooting of Kyle Lowry (16 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) thanks to a 19-7 run that allowed them to head to the final frame with a 3-point lead – a seemingly significant development given the fact Utah came into the game boasting a 19-1 record this season when leading after three quarters of play.

Houston, however, conceded nothing and, after seeing its deficit expand to seven in the early going of the fourth, began chipping away at the Jazz lead until a Lowry 3-pointer – his fourth of the second half – put the Rockets on top 91-88 with 5:34 remaining.

From that point forward, neither team proved capable of pulling any further away as the game ground to a halt, transforming into a contest to see which team could execute better in the half court. And though that style certainly seemed to favor Utah, it was the Rockets who ultimately delivered the biggest play of the game.

Trailing by two with 15.3 seconds to go and desperate for a bucket to tie or take the lead, Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman reinserted Kevin Martin, who had been on the bench for nearly seven minutes, back into his five on the floor. Adelman called a play that had worked well for the Rockets in the past, and one that Martin was especially adept at finishing. The call put Battier in a read and react situation near the top of the key and it was his bounce pass that Martin miraculously corralled, allowing Houston’s scoring leader to dart through the lane, draw contact and a foul, and finish off the 3-point play which put Houston ahead to stay with 6.9 seconds to go.

The pass was as risky as it was perfectly placed, and even Battier admitted he had doubts about whether or not it would actually connect with his well-covered target.

“No, I was not confident but that play’s been very good for us the last couple of years and sometimes it’s just a blind pass, just like Tom Brady trusting that his receiver’s going to be in the right spot.

“It is almost like a football play: the curl is the first option, but then if that’s not there you check down and I knew I had Kyle coming off a ball screen, and if Kyle wasn’t open I knew I had Luis down in the post. But you have to go through those progressions pretty quick and the key was [Utah's Al] Jefferson: once I saw him step up and guard Chuck on the flare screen, I knew that we had a small lane and Kevin made a heck of a play.”

Martin, however, downplayed his part in the game's pivotal play, though just one look at the replay reveals the supreme degree of difficulty involved. “Shane was the quarterback right there and I was the wide receiver in triple coverage," he explained. "It was a pass like the Giants made when they beat the Patriots. Shane made a great pass and that was the only place you could put it. I just threw something up and it went in.”

From there, Houston’s defense took care of the rest, as Scola expertly switched onto C.J. Miles and provided blanket coverage, forcing him into a desperation, off balance jumper from the wing which bounced off the iron, sending the Rockets back home with a much-needed and well-deserved win beneath their belts.

“It’s a big win,” said Luis Scola. “We were close the first game against Dallas and then again against LA. I think we deserve at least one win. Losing today would have been very, very disappointing. We’re going back home now, we play 6 games at home and 1 away before the All-Star break, so this is where we need to move forward.”

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

Just a great win, a win we really needed. It wasn’t pretty but we made a great play down the stretch and had a really good defensive possession on the last play.

(putting Kevin back in for last play): You tell me what to do with this group? It’s really difficult. I thought Aaron was doing a good job with Kyle when we were ahead, but I knew what I wanted to run and Kevin’s the best doing it, so I just went with it and it worked out. Then Luis made a great switch, stayed down and made Miles take a tough shot. It’s been a long week, so it’s good to get a win before we come home.

(how did you know what you wanted to run?): We’ve run it in key situations and it’s worked – good timing. If he wasn’t open, we were going to look for a different option but it’s something our guys are comfortable with.

(was Kevin open?): I don’t know. I don’t know how [Shane] got the pass through, and then Kevin fortunately had enough body control when they came down on him to create the foul and get the shot.

(how valuable is a win like this?): It’s huge. I think every time we can get a win on the road against a good team it’s big, even though they were shorthanded. It especially sets it up now where we’re going home for the next two weeks for five out of six games. This is a huge win for us because it breaks the losing streak, we’re going home, have time to practice for the next two weeks and hopefully it will re-energize us a little bit going into this.

LUIS SCOLA

I think the most important was Kevin. He made a great catch first of all – it was a very difficult pass to catch and then he drew the contact and made a great finish, got the foul and then made the free throw.

It’s a big win. We were close the first game against Dallas and then again against LA. I think we deserve at least one win. Losing today would have been very, very disappointing. We’re going back home now, we play 6 games at home and 1 away before the All-Star break, so this is where we need to move forward.

CHUCK HAYES

We knew this trip was going to be tough and to be honest we should be inspired by the way we played. We fought every team. The only game that got away from us was San Antonio late in the third. But the way we battled against Dallas, the Lakers and tonight against Utah, we have to take that momentum and that inspiration and bring it home and rack up some wins right before the All-Star break.

It could have been [a 3-1] road trip. Somehow the basketball gods didn’t want us to win in Dallas or against the Lakers. Same situation, late game, the and-one we got tonight with Kevin, we weren’t getting those plays down in the end in Dallas and Los Angeles. So it’s just a great game and it feels good because we worked hard this whole trip.

SHANE BATTIER

(the pass to Kevin for the winning bucket – confident when it left your hand?): No, I was not confident but that play’s been very good for us the last couple of years and sometimes it’s just a blind pass, just like Tom Brady trusting that his receiver’s going to be in the right spot. Not that I’m comparing myself to Tom Brady, there are a lot of parallels, though not in that instance (laughs). But it’s sort of a blind pass and I could only put it in one spot so I’m glad Kevin made a heck of a play to catch it, finish it and finish up the three-point play.

(were there other options?): It is almost like a football play: the curl is the first option, but then if that’s not there you check down and I knew I had Kyle coming off a ball screen, and if Kyle wasn’t open I knew I had Luis down in the post. But you have to go through those progressions pretty quick and the key was Jefferson: once I saw him step up and guard Chuck on the flare screen, I knew that we had a small lane and Kevin made a heck of a play.

KEVIN MARTIN

Shane was the quarterback right there and I was the wide receiver in triple coverage. It was a pass like the Giants made when they beat the Patriots. Shane made a great pass and that was the only place you could put it. I just threw something up and it went in.

It was exactly drawn up like that but the other team is still trying to stop it so it’s not going to go as smooth in a game as it is on a chalkboard when Coach draws it up, but that’s our fourth quarter play. We won many games on that earlier in the season so we brought it back and it’s a great play.

I think it’s always a confidence booster for our team because we have a lot of different combinations that can play down the stretch. Tonight coach put out the right combinations and it paid off.

JAZZ HEAD COACH JERRY SLOAN

On the game
“This was a tough loss. We gave them a three-point play coming down the stretch. I didn’t have a problem with
(the foul on the play), but we didn’t want to foul them on the lay-up. It was what we talked about during the
timeout, but that happens and I think guys are trying to do the right thing… when you’ve got to execute and
continue to do what we are supposed to do. Give (Houston) credit though. They played a tough game last night
and came in here and beat us.”

On the last second shot attempt by C.J. Miles
“They weren’t going to give us a lay-up. They weren’t going to give us anything. C.J. got something though. I
thought it was going in the basket from where I was, but obviously it didn’t go.”

On the team’s effort despite being shorthanded
“(Houston) was shorthanded as well and they played last night. I thought they out-rebounded us a couple times
in crucial situations and came up with the ball. That’s when we’ve got to be a little bit tougher. I think our guys
are (always) trying to fight back. I don’t think they are (lacking) desire. They played as hard as they could, but
made a few mistakes that cost us the ballgame.”

C.J. MILES

On the tough loss
“It’s definitely tough on your home floor with them getting the lead and then fighting back, knowing they were
going to hang around. Kyle Lowry hits some big shots, some big threes, that kept them in there and then hit
one that put them up. And then, especially when you have that look at it to win the game, it makes it even
tougher.”

On the effort of the team tonight
“We definitely played hard, but we didn’t win a game, and that’s the objective, to go out there and win a game.
We had a lot of looks too, we missed a lot of shots too, we had some good looks that if we hit them we probably
could have sealed it.”

EARL WATSON

On the game
“We just lost the game. They did a good play down the stretch, got a good layup, got an and one. It’s just a loss.
I can’t point out one thing that’s disappointing.”

On his last second shot that missed
“Yeah it felt good when it left my hands, I just missed it.”

On worrying about the division race
“You think about that tomorrow. Tonight you just focus on the game. You reflect on the tough loss and you just
think about that later.”

On his near triple-double
“Right now all I care about is losing. I don’t care about the individual performance.”

AL JEFFERSON

On the Rockets’ three-point play late in the game
“We just missed that one play. That could have been an easy steal because he really didn’t have control of the
ball except for that split second he got it and made a big play. They wanted it more and they got it.”

On the team’s recent play
“It’s frustrating to lose. I thought we played well (despite) missing some of our key guys. We still put ourselves in
a position to win, but couldn’t seal the deal and (the next two games) are big games, tough games and we’ve
got to fight and play like we did tonight and hopefully things work out well.”

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