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Friday February 10, 2012 1:56 AM

Rockets' Reserves Ride To The Rescue Again

Houston's bench brigade comes up big once more, lifts Rockets to third straight road win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




PHOENIX, AZ - One of the best things about basketball is the experience of watching a team come together. There’s just nothing quite like seeing a group grow over time and bearing witness to that sensational singular moment when the light goes on and a squad really starts to ‘get it.’

On offense, the ball moves with pace and alacrity as all five men on the floor operate with one mind. Defensively, meanwhile, there is controlled aggression without a single wasted movement; each sliding step purposeful and steeped in the art of pressuring the opponent into taking the shots you want them to take. And through it all, permeating everything is the sort of selflessness and all-for-one attitude that descends from above when a roster full of ego and individuals truly becomes a team.

That is the ideal to which every NBA club aspires. And the Rockets took another step toward that rarified brand of basketball nirvana during their latest thrilling, exhilarating and heart-pounding roller coaster ride of a road win, this one coming in the form of a 96-89 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

The Rockets’ second unit, in particular, seems to have tapped into something special of late, as the team’s bench brigade once again rode to the rescue in time to ensure Houston emerged from the evening with its third straight triumph away from Toyota Center. All five players who saw action off the Rockets’ bench Thursday night played a pivotal role in determining the ultimate outcome and, not surprisingly, their prolific production drew raves from appreciative teammates after the game.

“Our bench has been amazing – simple as that,” said Kyle Lowry, who shook off a substandard night by his high standards to deliver some game-changing plays himself late in the contest. “Chase, Courtney, Goran, Pat, Jordan – those guys have been amazing. They’re playing unbelievable. Tonight every last one of them went over 50 percent shooting from the field. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Indeed, that quintet was nothing short of brilliant for the second night in a row. They were on the floor for the majority of the game’s second and fourth quarters – two periods in which Houston outscored the Suns by a combined score of 50-28. Most impressive, however, was their ability to step in and turn the tide when it appeared as if the Rockets were in danger of being run out of the gym.

Phoenix began the third quarter with a 26-9 run that rapidly turned a 10-point Houston lead into a 7-point deficit. The Suns were scorching, seemingly scoring at will, with Steve Nash orchestrating the show and picking the Rockets apart with all the ease of a master surgeon performing a standard junior high-level dissection. The Suns smelled blood and so, too, did their fans. Those are the moments when young teams tend to crumble. And given their big win over Portland the night before, the Rockets easily could have packed up their bags then and there, contenting themselves with a solid split of a tough back-to-back.

Instead, the Rockets got greedy in the best possible way. The second unit stemmed the tide, stunted the Suns momentum and trimmed the team’s deficit down to two by the end of the quarter. And in the final frame they dug-in even more, ramping up the defensive pressure and intensity to thoroughly discombobulate the Suns’ suddenly impotent attack.

They produced big plays by the bushel: Courtney Lee connecting from midrange; Chase Budinger hitting a corner trey; Goran Dragic scoring, assisting and defending like a demon; and Patrick Patterson anchoring the interior with his intelligent, rock-solid presence. And when the starters filtered back in, they delivered too, as Lowry, Luis Scola and Chandler Parsons each performed admirably down the stretch as well.

But make no mistake, total team effort that it was, this win belonged to the Houston bench. Their collective confidence is soaring, as well it should. After a slow start to the season, the Rockets’ reserves have officially transformed themselves into a fearsome fivesome; a state of being backed up not just by their play but by their words inside a jubilant post-game locker room as well.

“We look at each other as if we’re going to battle together,” said Patterson, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds. “We’ve got our helmets on and we feel like our second unit can compete with anybody out there. These past two games I think we showed that.”

Added Dragic: “We are sharing the ball, we make stops and it’s just a great feeling playing with all these guys. “We are like family on the court battling for each other and it feels great. I think we have the same chemistry when I was with the Suns when we made the conference finals.”

The Rockets obviously still have a long way to go before reaching that sort of rarified air. But Dragic's feeling should not be quickly dismissed. After all, he's witnessed firsthand what can happen when a team truly comes together: the wins start piling up; spirits soar; the dreams get bigger and bigger. That basketball journey is a beautiful thing to behold. And right now, the Rockets' second unit is showing everyone the way.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

“Our bench has been fantastic. We had 57 points tonight off our bench – the guys played great again tonight. We have a lot of versatile guys who can do a lot of different things; they can switch and keep their men in front of them. Chase had some big defensive stands. They had a great charge by Pat, a great charge by Kyle. We were able to get a little separation there. We had a really nice second quarter. Our first and third is what we’ve got to figure out. We got a little frenetic in that third quarter and turned it over some. We regained our composure and started attacking them in the fourth.

(concerned at all about the starters?): We’re going to have to get better but we’ll address that.

(maintaining composure when things aren’t going your way): There’s a lot of ebbs and flows on the road. I told those guys: when you’re playing teams on the road, they are not just going to roll over and play dead; they’re going to come back and fight. They made runs, we made runs. That’s the whole ebb and flow of the NBA. Veteran teams understand that and we’re trying to get our guys to understand that a team making a run on you, the world doesn’t end and doesn’t crash in on you, you just keep playing a lot of time. We were just able to battle through it.”

KYLE LOWRY

(on his big late-game steal): I missed a wide-open 3 so I had to make up for it. I knew my teammates had all collapsed; we’d been working on that where we wanted everybody to get in the paint since we were going small, so I just got the jump on the ball and went and got it.

(two huge road wins in this back to back): Our bench has been amazing – simple as that. Chase, Courtney, Goran, Pat, Jordan – those guys have been amazing. Those guys have been amazing. They’re playing unbelievable. Tonight every last one of them went over 50 percent shooting from the field. You can’t ask for more than that.

PATRICK PATTERSON

(bench coming up huge back to back nights): I think a lot of it dealt with since we did it last night we felt like we could do it again. We had a great lead going into halftime. The third quarter they started putting it on us a little bit; we started missing shots and missing opportunities and I think rushing it a little bit. As a second unit, we wanted to come out there because we have confidence from last night. We felt like we could do it again. The first half we played so well we thought that second half we could go out there and keep passing and sharing the ball, looking for each other, getting stops on defense and just pushing it in transition. We utilized our weapons out there.

(coming in and turning the tide after the opposing team has caught fire): It’s extremely tough, especially when you have someone like Steve Nash out there and the last game Aldridge and Batum hitting shots. It’s a lot of pressure and we feel the pressure but we look at each other as if we’re going to battle together. We’ve got our helmets on and we feel like our second unit can compete with anybody out there. These past two games I think we showed that out there.

CHASE BUDINGER

“We definitely tightened down our defense and just tried to make it as tough as possible for them and create chaos for them. We were able to make some steals and get in the passing lanes and make it tough for them
We changed up that very last five minutes to switching on him (Nash) so he couldn’t make those pocket passes and find the open guy. That was the difference.”

GORAN DRAGIC

“It’s tough to play like Steve Nash. He’s one of the best point guards in the league. He made the All Star team so I want to congratulate him. We just have played well the last few games. We’ve found a rhythm and share the ball and everybody is dangerous toward the basket. I think that speaks the result.

(second unit putting out fires in the second half of big road games): We are sharing the ball, we make stops and it’s just a great feeling playing with all these guys: Chase, Courtney … we are like family on the court battling for each other and it feels great. I think we have the same chemistry when I was with the Suns when we made the conference finals. You need the bench players to step up and I think this year we have a good chance to make the playoffs.

(on the difference between the bench now and the start of the season): It was a short preseason, short training camp and we didn’t have a lot of time to find out our spots and our plays. But now I think we’ve figured this out and we’re playing much better.

SUNS HEAD COACH ALVIN GENTRY

“I think they kind of established how the game was going to go in the first five to seven minutes which we talked about in pre-game as far as second shots and we didn’t do a very good job of keeping them off the board and I think that’s how it kind of went the whole night. We did a much better job in the second half but it was already established there and you can’t give up 22 points on second chance points and have six. That’s just too much of a discrepancy there. The thing that’s so disheartening there is that first possessions we played great, they shot in the 30s and second chance points they ended up shooting 48 percent because of second chance points. I thought we battled and did a good job but we have to find a way to come up with the ball and on top of that we’ve got to find a way to win games at home.”

(On the Suns’ overall play)
“I think we are turning and observing and we aren’t putting our bodies on guys. These guys are relentless on the board so you’ve got to be able to put your body on them and you have to be able to pursue the ball and go get it. When you have good defensive possessions time after time and they get the ball back time after time it’s a little deflating. We’ve just got to find a way to come up with the basketball.”

CHANNING FRYE

“I think that there were a lot of things that happened. We didn’t take advantage of opportunities, and they did. They established they were going to get on the glass early and I think we just didn’t execute down the stretch. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make every play and be perfect at the end, and we can’t do that. We have to make sure we are in a good rhythm and establish how we’re going to play in the first half.”

(On needing to win at home)
“The fans are doing a great job, coming out here and supporting us and like I said, we just have to take advantage of the opportunities that we have here, and definitely start winning at home. This is starting to really suck and I think the fans want to see us win; they come out, pay good money to see us play well and tonight we just didn’t do it, we didn’t execute, but we’re going to continue to work hard, go on this road trip and do the best we can.”

STEVE NASH

(On Houston’s bench)
“Yeah, their bench played really well. You’ve got to hand it to them, but such a winnable game for us. We didn’t convert in so many areas so it makes it a really disappointing loss.”

(On the Suns’ offensive struggles)
“I think that’s what I meant by such a winnable game. We could have converted - you’re going to have cold patches, but you’ve got to find other ways to stay in the game and I don’t think we should have been in that position. ”

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