Recap: Rockets at Nuggets, April 15, 2012
Mile High Malaise
Rockets roughed up once again as Denver delivers 101-86 thrashing
HOUSTON - The Rockets have long insisted that they play their best basketball with their backs against the wall.
Well consider their backsides firmly pinned against the partition standing between themselves and the playoffs now.
Just a handful of days after looking like postseason locks thanks to an astounding 4-0 road trip, the Rockets now find themselves teetering on the precipice of the Western Conference’s top-8 after dropping their third consecutive game in one-sided fashion with the latest discouraging defeat coming via a 101-86 thrashing at the hands of the Denver Nuggets.
Making Sunday night’s loss all the more disheartening was the fact Houston actually got off to a rather bright start, riding the red-hot shooting of Chase Budinger and Luis Scola to a six-point halftime lead. Budinger in particular gave the Rockets reason to expect an end to their two-game slide as he drained four 3-pointers in the first half alone – the same number of 3s Houston had hit as a team in each of its two previous contests.
But the first sign of trouble appeared right before halftime when Marcus Camby exited the game in the final minute of the second quarter and took off straight for the locker room. Houston’s starting center was diagnosed with a sore back and did not return; an unwelcome sight for a Rockets team that has greatly benefitted from his experience and production, and one that just kicked-off a six-games-in-eight-nights stretch.
Sure enough, Denver launched straight into attack mode at the outset of the third quarter and the Rockets never came close to catching up. The Nuggets bludgeoned Houston’s interior defense, feasting on a vast array of layups, dunks, put-backs and free throws as a result of the Rockets’ inability to protect the paint. Making matters even worse, the second Houston’s shots stopped falling the club’s transition defense got similarly exposed as Denver repeatedly beat the Rockets down the floor on break-outs following missed shots and turnovers. All told, the Nuggets outscored Houston 37-19 in the period, placing the Rockets in the unenviable position of having to rally from a double-digit deficit in the final frame for the third straight game.
Unlike the previous two contests, however, Houston could not even mount any sort of comeback attempt this time. The early part of the fourth quarter simply featured more of the same, prompting Head Coach Kevin McHale to empty his bench with about six minutes left, saving his starters’ energy for what now looms as a near must-win for the Rockets when the two clubs face off once more Monday night at Toyota Center.
“We have to go out and play better tomorrow night,” said McHale. “We had 17 turnovers and they had 26 points off those turnovers. The clock ran down, they turned their defense up a little bit. They got some deflections, they ran out, we missed some shots and it just affects us too much.
“We have to get back (on defense). That was one of the things we talked about. They broke out a little bit in the first half but we were able to contain them – we made some shots and we were OK. The second half, we just missed a ton of shots. They ran off them, got into us and they played better, no question about it – they dominated the game.
“The whole team’s got to get better. We got back-cut by too many guys. We got up on people, we gave them lanes to drive into and we just didn’t do a real good job of containing the paint. They made a few shots and we started coming out on them and opening up space. We just don’t play well defensively when things don’t go our way.”
We have to go out and play better tomorrow night. We had 17 turnovers and they had 26 points off those turnovers. The clock ran down, they turned their defense up a little bit. They got some deflections, they ran out, we missed some shots and it just affects us too much.
We have to get back (on defense). That was one of the things we talked about. They broke out a little bit in the first half but we were able to contain them – we made some shots and we were OK. The second half, we just missed a ton of shots. They ran off them, got into us and they played better, no question about it – they dominated the game.
(interior defense): The whole team’s got to get better. We got back-cut by too many guys. We got up on people, we gave them lanes to drive into and we just didn’t do a real good job of containing the paint. They made a few shots and we started coming out on them and opening up space. We just don’t play well defensively when things don’t go our way.
On Denver’s fast breaks: “We just need to get back. This was a good learning experience for us because they got so many fast break points. Coming into tomorrow we play them again and now we know how fast they like to play, how quick they get the ball up. Our one’s, two’s and three’s need to get back and stop their transitions because that is where they really killed us tonight.”
On whether he was surprised Rockets weren’t prepared for Denver’s fast breaks: “It was very surprising. They looked like they kept just doing it, doing it, doing it. We had no answer for it. For us, two things we have to do for tomorrow is not turn the ball over and give them leak outs and give them two-on-one’s or three-on-one’s. Our one’s, two’s and three’s have to get back.”
On if struggling to score the basketball getting mental for the team: “A little bit, but I think we have six games left, we still have opportunities. Fate is still in our hands, so we just have to go out there and win games.”
On the difference in the third quarter: “They made shots, we missed some shots and they got out in transition. They picked up their intensity defensively and we just missed some shots and they just got out and ran.”
Denver Nuggets Head Coach George Karl:
On difference between first and second half: “The stats showed me [in first half] that we were ok. We weren’t doing much of anything right. But if they weren’t making the three-ball we would have been tied or in the lead. In the second half they still had ten threes but I thought we defended the perimeter better and [Luis] Scola didn’t have an influence. I thought Corey Brewer’s running and defense were very bothersome to them in many ways. Anytime we needed a steal defensively we got it usually with Corey. I think everyone played much better defense. Our running game got involved because we turned them over a lot and got in the open court and got a lot of easy baskets because of it.”
On if he laid into them at halftime: “Not really, other than my emphasis was let’s play simple and solid. We took too many chances. We ran by steals. One time we put Kosta [Koufos] in and [Danilo Gallinari] and Kosta covered Scola and left [Chase] Budinger wide open. We made high school mistakes a little bit. I said ‘clean it up, clean it up.’ We have to play. This is a 24-minutes mentality. You can’t coast through a game with the coolness we started the game with. In the third quarter, I don’t know exactly what happened but we played really good defense and busted out a little bit and got the big scoring lead. Mostly because they missed shots and we ran the court.”
On importance of Andre Miller’s passing: “He’s pretty amazing where he throws the ball. I don’t think many people in basketball think about doing that and to throw it as far as he throws it on the mark is pretty amazing to me. Sometimes he drives me a little crazy because he gets a little risky but for me if he gets me 11 assists and throws it out of bounds a couple of time I think it’s worth it.”
Denver Nuggets forward Corey Brewer:
On setting the tone in the second half: “That is kind of my job on this team. I am the energy guy. I come in the game and pick up the pace, start picking up the ball and try to get these guys to run faster.”
On making Houston uncomfortable by picking up the pace: “We could tell. We got the game going our way, start putting up points really quick. It kind of got us the lead so we know we have to do what we have to do.”
On patience offensively and how the defense led to more offense: “Our defense makes our offense better. When we start playing good defense, offense comes easy. We can score a lot of points, but if we can’t get stops we can’t run.”
Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson:
On running the court against the Rockets: “That was our game plan to run them. They missed shots then we ran. They were getting all offensive boards in the first half and easy transition three’s which slowed us down. Once we started getting defensive stops we were able to run them.”
On Kenneth Faried block on Courtney Lee: “That was huge. It looked like he had a wide-open lay-up. That block ignited us because we came down there and got an open three right after that. It was huge for us.”
On shifting pressure back to Houston: “I think it definitely did. They only go to one game up on Phoenix now. If they don’t win the next game there is a lot of pressure on them. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on them going to their house to get a win there.”