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Tuesday February 7, 2012 3:31 AM

Rockets Grind Way Past Nuggets

Houston bounces back from rocky start, holds on for 99-90 win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




DENVER, CO - Funny thing about winning: Regardless of how you get there, no matter how ugly the journey may be along the way, that ‘W’ in the win column at the end of the night always manages to look like a work of art.

That sentiment certainly sums up the Rockets’ feelings after escaping Denver with a much-needed 99-90 road win over the shorthanded Nuggets Monday night during a game that frequently possessed about as much flavor as a plate filled to the brim with day-old cucumber.

There were stops and starts aplenty, turnovers galore and enough missed layups and free throws to send basketball purists into a deep, dark depression. But the Rockets rose to the occasion when it mattered most and, as a result, they were able to look back and laugh at the comedy of errors they survived en route to recording their 14th win of the season.

“You know what? We had to make a run at some point and we did,” said Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale, who jokingly admitted to having a headache after the game from what he had just witnessed. “I said to those guys: a lot more games get thrown in the trash, like this one will be, than go to Springfield – they won’t be looping this game in Springfield, I’ll tell you that. But that’s the way this league is. Someone had to win this game tonight and I’m just glad it was us.”

For quite some time it certainly appeared as if neither team possessed the wherewithal to emerge victorious. The Rockets couldn’t shoot straight in the first half and the Nuggets couldn’t hold on to the ball – Houston hit just 37 percent of its shots from the field in the first two quarters while Denver turned the ball over a whopping 13 times. And though the Rockets eventually started to find their shooting stroke in the third quarter, they, too, fell victim to a rash of turnovers, preventing them from taking full advantage of a Nuggets team that lost Danilo Gallinari to injury in the period – an especially cruel blow given the fact Denver had already entered the game with four regulars on the inactive list.

With so much going wrong, perhaps then it was only appropriate that one of the few things that went right would later be attributed to little more than luck. After an Al Harrington jump hook had given Denver a 71-70 lead with 3. 7 seconds left in the third quarter, the Rockets quickly advanced the ball to Chase Budinger for one last fling at the basket before the buzzer sounded. Budinger thought his heave had no chance from the second it left his hand. Naturally, the ball found nothing but net.

“To be honest, when I shot that and was looking at it, I really didn’t think it was going in,” said the third-year forward. “It didn’t feel good, I thought it was a little to the left. But the basketball gods made it go in for me.

“Our team was more energized because of that lucky, lucky shot.”

Budinger laughed as he delivered that last line but, lucky or not, there’s little doubting the apparent impact his big shot had on the ensuing action. The Rockets went on a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter, finally seizing some semblance of control on a game that had previously known only chaos as its master. Budinger rained in a couple more triples – including a massive dagger trey at the one-minute mark to put the game away – and Kyle Lowry knocked down a pair from downtown as well to help Houston deliver the knockout blow in the final frame.

It hadn’t been easy. The road the Rockets had taken was often rocky and occasionally downright repulsive. But all that fell by the wayside the moment the team reached its desired destination.

“The game was gritty and nobody was really getting it going and it wasn’t looking good but we were right there,” said Luis Scola, who finished with game-high 25 points. “Coach said a great thing during a timeout: whoever makes the first run is going to have a good chance to win the game. We made the first run and here we are.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

You know what? We had to make a run at some point and we did; we made a little bit of a run in the fourth quarter. We got a couple hoops in a row, Chase made a couple big hoops and we won the game. I said to those guys: a lot more games get thrown in the trash, like this one will be, than go to Springfield – they won’t be looping this game in Springfield, I’ll tell you that. But that’s the way this league is. Someone had to win this game tonight and I’m just glad it was us.

(what went into Jeff Adrien moving into rotation?): We had no zip. Jeff’s been practicing hard and he’s a good kid. Tonight we just had no energy and no zip and he came in for us and got 9 rebounds.

(on big 3s made in fourth quarter): We were just trying so hard to get some misdirection and get them to tag our bigs but I tell you what – it was like Rubik’s cube there for awhile trying to get the ball from one side to the other.

LUIS SCOLA

The game was gritty and nobody was really getting it going and it wasn’t looking good but we were right there. Coach said a great thing during a timeout: whoever makes the first run is going to have a good chance to win the game. We made the first run and here we are.

CHASE BUDINGER

(Can one shot change the dynamic and flow of the game? That 3 at the end of the third quarter seemed to signify a major shift): Always, Especially in a game like tonight where it was sloppy and there was no flow to it. Just to get that little spark like a dunk or a last second shot – those little things will spark a team going into the fourth quarter. I think it definitely helped us going into the fourth quarter. Our team was more energized because of that lucky, lucky shot that I made because, to be honest, when I shot that and was looking at it, I really didn’t think it was going in. It didn’t feel good, I thought it was a little to the left. But the basketball gods made it go in for me.

(more confident after that?): Definitely. That 3 boosted my confidence on my 3s and it’s also one of my strengths. They kept on leaving me in the corner and I was able to shoot them and knock them down.

On improved shooting in the second half:
“I think we just kept taking our normal shots. Sometimes in games you just don’t make shots and what’s great is you play two halves of basketball. I think we just kept shooting and didn’t think about that we’ve been missing so we just came out like we always do and made shots in the second half.”

On the Nuggets injuries:
“We definitely thought we could take advantage of them just because they have so many guys hurt. Our thing was to just keep executing and play tough defense and I think in the fourth quarter we did a much better job of that. We won the game by getting stops.”

On stealing one on the road:
“Anytime you can get a win on the road it’s huge. Definitely with all the injuries the Nuggets have, we felt more confident coming in here and trying to get that win.”

Denver Nuggets Head Coach George Karl:

On Gallinari’s injury:
“I think they are going to do some tests tomorrow. As of right now, there is nothing definitive.”

On if he can sense anything after talking to team physicians:
“I didn’t talk to either doctor or Jim [Gillen] so I don’t know.”

On how the game was for him:
“There were some strange things dealt at our hand and we fought through a lot of them. If we would have pulled it out it would have been an incredible win for us. But it’s still a very difficult loss. No one is going to feel sorry for us except ourselves and if we feel sorry too much for ourselves we’re not going to bounce back. It is a loss on our home court. You can’t have too many more of them. We’ve already had five. I think we lost the game in the first half, not the second. I think the second half we competed but in the end they scored a lot of points but it came when we were scrambling and trying to win the game. In the first half, I thought we were kind of cruising and pacing ourselves. Then we lost our confidence shooting the ball on a combination of missed free-throws and open three’s and 20 turnovers. It is tough to win a game.”

Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried:

On first career start:
“I was shaky and kind of scared for the first part, like first three or four minutes. After that I was like it was time to play.”

On the injury bug hitting suddenly:
“That’s how this NBA season is going to go. Game in game out, people play hard they get injured. We have to pick up the slack and get this monkey off of our back and stop losing games. But I think we are going to pull it together because we are a great team.”

On missing free throws and turnovers:
“I think a lot of guys’ legs are going. The season is taking its toll but we are a great team and we got great chemistry. We have great players on this team so we are going to stay focus and keep grinding. We are going to try and get the maintenance days and get our guys to rest their days”

Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson:

On schedule causing outbreak of injury:
“It looked like both teams were dragging out there. I know I was feeling it a little bit but that’s no excuse. We didn’t make shots today and people went down, it’s a tough schedule.”

On was it tough emotionally when Gallinari got injured:
“It’s tough. You got Aaron [Afflalo] out, Nene’s foot is bothering him, [Timofey Mozgov] just went down and then Gallo went down with an ankle sprain. It’s just tough to see him go down because he is such a tough player. He would normally get back up from that but this time he had to leave the game.”

On still looking better than Rockets at times with certain lineups:
“I thought Kenneth [Faried] looked good. He owned the boards. Everything that came off the rim he was getting. Julian [Stone] played good minutes, I mean the rookies played well today.”

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