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Tuesday February 8, 2011 0:58 AM

Rocky Mountain High

Rockets win third straight by knocking off Nuggets 108-103

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Carmelo Anthony won the scoring battle. But the Rockets won the war.

Surviving a night when Denver’s superstar was at his very best, the Rockets came through with a total team effort en route to recording their third straight win, this time courtesy of a 108-103 victory over the Nuggets.

And while Anthony’s career high-tying 50-point outburst will no doubt grab most of the headlines even in defeat, Houston’s Kevin Martin was most assuredly the top performer on the floor Monday night. Martin was marvelous in the mile high altitude, dropping 37 points on Denver, while dishing out a season-high 7 assists to go along with 4 rebounds and 3 steals.

Perhaps most impressive of all was the fact Martin produced those eye-popping numbers on a night that saw him start out severely struggling to locate his shot. Houston’s scoring leader began the game just 2-of-8 from the floor, though he stayed productive during that stretch by consistently setting up his teammates for open looks with quality passes.

But after tallying just 7 points in the first half of play, Martin had no such issues after the break as he singlehandedly outscored the Nuggets 18-16 in the third quarter. The seventh-year shooting guard was practically perfect in the period, routinely torching Denver every which way while sparking his club to a 15-2 run that helped the Rockets establish some breathing room between them and their opponent.

“I think it was a mental thing, said Martin of his early struggles shooting the ball. “I was focusing on missing shots up here the last couple times and I had to get it out of my head mentally. I did that at halftime and finally started playing in the third. I felt strong the whole game.”

Houston’s defense rose to the challenge after halftime as well, taking advantage of a Nuggets team forced to play the entire game without starting center Nene (flu) and the final three quarters without the services of Chauncey Billups, who did not return after straining his left knee. As a result, Denver was completely discombobulated in the third quarter, going nearly nine minutes in between field goal makes as the Rockets opened up a 15-point lead.

Denver did recover in time to make it a game, however, thanks to Anthony’s heroics and a comically foul-filled final frame which pushed the contest close to the two-and-a-half-hour mark. All told, the two teams combined to take 78 shots from the free throw line during an evening in which a whopping 61 fouls were called. But while Denver inched closer and the game crept along at a snail’s pace, the Rockets never relented as Luis Scola (25 points, 8 rebounds), Chuck Hayes (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Martin made sure their club brought home a much-needed victory.

“It was a great win on the road,” said Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman. “We had to withstand Anthony who was unbelievable. We hung in there, made the plays, got the lead and held on. [Denver was] going to the basket and going to the free-throw line, and the clock is stopping every time down. You have got to keep scoring in that case. I give our guys credit. We came in here, we needed a road win against a good team and we got it.”

And 1s: The Rockets played without point guard Aaron Brooks, who was serving a one-game suspension for leaving the court in the fourth quarter of the team's win over Memphis on Saturday. Prior to the game, Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced that the team recalled guard Ishmael Smith from Houston’s single-affiliation NBA D-League partner Rio Grande Valley. Smith, who had been re-assigned to the Vipers on Feb. 1, rejoined the Rockets in Denver and registered 6 assists and 3 rebounds during 12 minutes of action Monday night.

Smith (6-0, 175, Wake Forest) has averaged 12.5 points, 7.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.50 steals over eight games (five starts) in a pair of stints with the Vipers this season. He was originally assigned to Rio Grande Valley on Jan. 17 and recalled by Houston on Jan. 24. Prior to Monday’s game, the undrafted rookie free agent had averaged 2.8 points and 2.2 assists in 26 games (three starts) with the Rockets.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

“It was a great win on the road. We had to withstand Anthony who was unbelievable. We hung in there, made the plays, got the lead and held on. They are going to the basket and going to the free-throw line, the clock is stopping every time down. You have got to keep scoring in that case. I give our guys credit. We came in here, we needed a road win against a good team and we got it.

(Melo) He made every shot. He was putting his head down and going, just being aggressive and going. We don’t have a lot of resistance at the basket and Shane got in foul trouble. That is the first time I have seen Shane have fouls like that since I have been in Houston. Chase got in foul trouble and we had to put Chuck on him. He put his head down and went to the basket.”

KEVIN MARTIN

I’ve been having trouble shooting the ball up here, but I just had to get it out of my head mentally and just keep on shooting and they started to fall.

We’re a confident group right now. We’re playing together and our defensive rotations are a lot better.

“I think it was a mental thing. I was focusing on missing shots up here the last couple times and I had to get it out of my head mentally. I did that at halftime and finally started playing in the third. I felt strong the whole game. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t. We played a great game as a team. Outside of Carmelo, nobody really did anything.

(Big team lift) They are a play-off team, so that is always going to give you a little confidence. They have a lot going on around here. Chauncey left the game in the third and Nene was out. It was just a game we had to have.

(Trying to keep up with Melo’s scoring) No, I think when people guard me you just try to make it tough, tough to score. That is what we were doing and he was getting to the free-throw line. He had an excellent game.”

LUIS SCOLA

“(Overall comments about game) It was a pretty good game for us. We needed this win. Denver is one of those teams that is way ahead of us. We needed it. We played well through out the whole game. We held their late push and won the game. It was a huge win. (Personal performance) It was a good game. I just feel good about the win and by the way I played.”

SHANE BATTIER

There’s not so much you can do when he puts his head down and goes to the hoop. I thought we played pretty good defense when he went to the hoop but there was some contact there and he got to the free throw line [18] times and when he gets to the free throw line that many times he’s going to put up a big number. Our main plan was to make him hit his jumpers, he made a few. But I’m just glad we did a better job on the rest of the guys… let ‘Melo score his points and just concentrate on everybody else.

(How tough would it be to trade a guy that scores 50 points) If I was a GM it would a tough trigger to pull. I am glad I am on the other side of that.

(Melo scoring in high digits against Rockets multiple times) He does a great job getting to the basket. We don’t have the biggest team and shot blockers.”

George Karl – Nuggets Head Coach

“To me this was a weird game that had too many wholes, too many places and too faces. Ty was questionable to play, Arron gets some foul trouble. Going small I thought was the best way to go. Maybe we should have went big. Their little guys played better than our little guys and their big guys were effective too. Scola had a nice game for one. We never got any points out of our front line. Melo was the only horse we had in the flow and we weren’t passing the ball well enough to create an energy that would build any confidence. We were searching for confidence and kind of got some in the fourth quarter, but we would make a defensive stop then turn it over make a good play and then foul. The room for error was short and we have a lot of guys playing at a high level.

(Expect more than 14 assists) At 14 assists, you have 43 free-throws; there is a mistake because you don’t get an assist for passing to a guy that gets fouled. I should say that 14 assists is a little embarrassing on your home court. I think we know how much passing is important to our flow and our togetherness. I thought Houston had a much better rhythm to their offense than we had.”

Carmelo Anthony – Nuggets Forward

“(Personal game) The shot felt good. I was just attacking the rim. When the jump shot was falling it was opening it up for drives to the rack. 50 doesn’t mean anything tonight. I would give it back.

(Missing Chauncey and Nene) Well of course. Coming to the game we knew we had Chauncey and I don’t know what happened. Then not to have Nene coming to the game, I think George was scrabbling with the rotations and figuring it out throughout the game. It was something we needed to figure out as well. I can say it is because we didn’t have Chauncey or Nene, but I don’t think that was the case. (Personal game) When you score 50 points and lose, you start thinking why. Why the 50? If we would have won, it would have been the difference.

(Not being double teamed) It was the first time I had seen that in a long, long time; especially, with a big guy on me in Chuck Hayes. For them to just play me straight up and bring the opposite, big over, to take a charge. I mean, some shots felt good tonight, but it wasn’t enough.

(Losing two home games) We are ok. I don’t want anybody to put their heads down. There is no need for anyone to hang their heads right now. I hope we learn from this game.

(Nuggets in Western Conference) We are right there. We always compete, we are right there. Record wise a lot of teams might be better than us, but as far as competing and the level of talent on our team compared to other teams we are right there.”

Arron Afflalo – Nuggets Forward

“(What could the team do differently) I don’t know, they played better than us tonight. I honestly don’t know.

(Lack of intensity) The atmosphere, the crowd and our energy level wasn’t really where it needed to be tonight.

(Losing Chauncey) Obviously, we need Chauncey, but when anybody goes down we all have to play hard. Give them credit; they did what they needed to do to win tonight.

(Missed free-throws) We did miss a lot of free-throws tonight. We knew coming in to this game tonight that Houston is not a team that usually gets blown out. They are usually a team that competes even in their losses. With that in mind, free-throws are very important.

(Defending Kevin Martin) It happens. I try not to get frustrated, it is just one game. I played 28 minutes and got some fouls and a couple turnovers. That is not really careless. It is what I do on a night to night basis. It is just unfortunate.

(Comparing last game against Martin) I was in foul trouble. I can’t really pinpoint it. Whether I agree with the calls or not, it happens. Some of them are my fault, offensive fouls. It is just part of the game. He played well tonight.”

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