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Sunday February 5, 2012 0:39 AM

Wolves Hold On For Win Over Rockets

Houston's second-half rally falls short, Rockets lose 100-91

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




MINNEAPOLIS, MN- There might not be three words that are used more frequently in post-game media sessions than are “effort,” “energy” and “intensity.”

Typically those terms are simply part of generic, clichéd responses that are used to casually rationalize a win or loss; after all, it’s far easier – and faster – to blame or give credit to the amount of passion on display as opposed to taking the time to break down the intricate Xs and Os of the game to a pack of reporters that may or may not understand what they’re hearing. That’s not to trivialize the importance of energy and intensity – they obviously matter – but rather to suggest that they’re probably used as scapegoats far more often than they deserve to be.

Sometimes, however, the explanation behind the final result really can be that simple. The Rockets essentially admitted as much following Saturday night’s disappointing 100-91 defeat at the hands of the Timberwolves.

Make no mistake: Minnesota was the better team on this night and the final score was a fair one. But the Rockets did themselves no favors by allowing the T-Wolves to roll to a big first-half lead built largely on the fact that Minnesota took full advantage of Houston’s lack of defensive intensity during the opening 24 minutes. The Timberwolves flirted with the 70 percent shooting mark for much of the first half before finally settling in at 57.5 percent by the break. The end result: Minnesota boasted a 55-42 lead that, quite frankly, could have been even larger.

Again, it’s worth pausing to recognize that this season’s Timberwolves team possesses a lot more bite than did its recent predecessors. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, in particular, are tremendously gifted offensive players. They have made, and will continue to make, plenty of opponents look bad on the defensive end.

But caveats aside, the Rockets’ effort on that end to open the game was lacking; a point they proved and hammered home by ferociously coming out after halftime and instantly cranking up the intensity. Houston forced a turnover on the Wolves’ first possession of the second-half, and went on to force five more during the quarter. Not coincidentally, the Rockets began to rally and chip away at the Minnesota lead.

Gone were the easy, uncontested layups and wide-open looks. The Rockets ramped up the pressure and aggressiveness, and fed off the fighting spirit on display from the likes of Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry and Patrick Patterson. And, accident or no, when Kevin Love’s foot happened to find the front side of Scola’s face toward the mid-way point of the quarter (an act for which Love personally apologized to Scola after the game), Houston’s intensity level rose even further.

As a result, the Rockets gave Minnesota a real scare. They made it a 3-point game around the five-minute mark and limited the Timberwolves to 33.3% shooting in the second half. But when Minnesota answered with a 10-4 run, it became apparent that the Rockets had simply run out of time to atone for their sins from the first two quarters of play.

“We just started out with no defensive intensity,” admitted Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale immediately after the game. “We can’t be a pretty team, we can’t be a team that just goes out there and plays easy; we’ve got to be a team that’s going to go out there and fight like we did when we got mad.”

Because of its back-and-forth nature, basketball fans have a tendency to spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over what takes place during the final few minutes of a tightly contested game. That sort of thinking is certainly understandable but it also leads to giving additional weight to events that occur late while frequently overlooking just as significant moments that transpired in the long-forgotten first couple quarters. But points are points, no matter when they are scored. And games can be lost in the beginning just as easily as they can at the end.

“When the play happened with Scola and Love, we got fired up and used that,” said Chandler Parsons. “But we can’t just have a moment like that in a game and then you start playing like that. We need to play like that right from the jump ball and play that aggressively right from the beginning. We just have to play like that for 48 minutes.”

All of this should swiftly be filed under the “easier said than done” category, of course. Every team is bound to have lulls every game and every season. And this year’s compressed schedule certainly does players no favor in that regard. But if the Rockets are to accomplish the goals they set for themselves this season, they don’t have much choice or much margin for error. They must find a way to summon all the effort, energy and intensity they can muster for the full 48 – and let their opponents lament the lack of those qualities from now on.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(on the play between Kevin Love and Luis Scola): I didn’t see it.

(couldn’t quite get over hump in the second half): No, we just started out with no defensive intensity. We gave up 55 points in the first half but that first quarter we just gave them what they wanted. We tried to battle back and just had one of those crazy nights; we had breaks where we missed layups and it was just a bizarre night, man. We were at the rim and couldn’t get it to go. We had a break late in the game and we threw it out of bounds trying to advance the ball. It was a bizarre series of plays for us for awhile there. We kind of got the ship righted for awhile but then it just went south.

(Parsons-Ridnour matchup): It might have (thrown us out of sync). I was afraid of that a little bit. We wanted to look at it, then you go, ‘Did we look at it too much or not enough?’ It’s hard to say.

(did Love-Scola incident create more defensive intensity?): Yes, it did. It got us to play the way we have to play all the time. We can’t be a pretty team, we can’t be a team that just goes out there and plays easy; we’ve got to be a team that’s going to go out there and fight like we did when we got mad.

LUIS SCOLA

(Could you tell if Love incident was intentional?): No, I can’t. If it was intentional, they didn’t call it so at this point I don’t care.

(how did that change the game from that point on?): I think we were playing better before that. It kind of fired us up a little bit but it was just one play. I’m more angry about the foul that they didn’t call before. I thought it was a clear foul. I just don’t know what happened.

(better energy in the second half?): Yeah, definitely we were better in the second half than we were the first half. We have to find a way to play 48 minutes the same way, the right way. For some reason right now we’re not. In basketball it happens. You give a team on the road a 13-point advantage and it’s really, really hard. You should never let that happen.

(is it a matter of just picking up the energy and intensity then?): I mean, everybody wants to win, everybody wants to play hard – that’s not the question. We just need to find a way to do it because when you do the right thing everything rolls better and you can see how everything goes better and better and better.

KYLE LOWRY

(did Love-Scola incident ramp up the intensity of the game?): I think it riled us up and it got everybody into the game even more. We were all intensely into the game but I think that play definitely was a sparkplug and we need to play like that at all times.

We definitely picked it (the defensive intensity) up but we’ve got to do that in the first half also – not because of the play that happened.

CHANDLER PARSONS

(Did Ridnour matchup throw team out of sync initially?): No, I don’t think so. I think if anybody ever has a mismatch like that we’ve got to try to expose it and take advantage of it. I thought we did well going to it early; just a couple chippies didn’t fall. We don’t have to do it every play but we have to at least acknowledge it. Kevin went back to it and I thought it worked well. Really the first half was all about effort and defense. We need to play like we did in the second half the whole game.

When the play happened with Scola and Love, we got fired up and used that. But we can’t just have a moment like that in a game and then you start playing like that. We need to play like that right from the jump ball and play that aggressively right from the beginning. We just have to play like that for 48 minutes.

TIMBERWOLVES COACH RICK ADELMAN

"I'm just pleased with the way I thought our guys came out at the start of the game, especially in the first half, with a lot of energy. We talked about that, coming out and setting the tempo for the game. We did that. We knew they were going to make a run somewhere and they did. We responded to it. It was about our fourth time trying to get to 500, we finally did it. Now let's see if we can't move ahead."

On the team being .500 for the first time in four years...

"Oh, it has? I didn't know that. I know that it has been all year for us. I think it's our guys, they're locked in and they want to get better. What we haven't done is been able to beat teams consistently here and we've got to do that. We've got to establish a home court situation that's positive. We've kind of let those slip away, so it's good to get those tonight."

On Ridnour...

"He was terrific tonight. We wanted to use him at the start, put the ball in his hands a little bit at the start of the game. Set picks for him and kind of share the ball with Ricky, JJ, and Luke. Luke's a knock-down shooter, last night was a great example, he struggled during the game with his shot and then made the big three when we needed it. That's who he is-- just a solid, solid player."

On the team's physical response tonight...

"We really talked about that this afternoon. We met and invented a situation and before we kind of came out like 'We're supposed to win, we're at home.' We can't play that way. We've got to come out with a sense of urgency at the start. I thought that in the first half we really did that. Everyone was really into the game, we were active, we were really pushing the ball. For a back-to-back game, it was good."

On defenses working against Love...

"I think a lot of it is what happens with our team. If our team is moving the ball and the ball is being moved around, he's going to get up his shots-- like any good player would do. If we get stagnant with the ball, then they can play him differently and take the ball out of his hands. We always say that he's just got to develop an all-around game, where he can go outside and inside, become a passer, you know-- all of those things. He's just got to get better at it."

On Love in comparison to the good players Coach Adelman has coached...

"He's very good. Statistically, averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds is awfully good. That's hard to do night in and night out, and he's done it all year."

KEVIN LOVE

On being .500 for the first time in 6 seasons...

"It is, at least thus far in my career. Me having the longest tenure here, and being the only player around from the McHale era, it does feel good to be at .500 right now. But we still want to come out and keep this thing going in the right direction."

On shaving his beard when the Wolves got to .500...

"JB Bickerstaff has been giving me some grief about it down on the bench and every keeps talking about it. So, I kind of want to keep it; it's something people talk about."

On stepping on Louis Scola's face...

"I mean he fell down after the play, he just kind of laid there and I've got size 19 feet so... I just happened to be there, I had nowhere to go. I got kind of tripped up and I just had nowhere to step, he was right there. It was a heat of the moment type play and he was right there and it happened to be his face, just like in Houston like it happened to be my groin. I've always had a large amount of respect for Luis so ... I'm sure he didn't take it personal; it was nothing personal towards their team. They have a lot of great players, they're well coached. Like I said, it's nothing personal."

RICKY RUBIO

On getting to .500...

"Yeah, we were like four times in that option to get the .500. To finally, we play good 48 minutes and we get that win to make us .500."

On starting quickly tonight...

"Yea, we were playing good on the road and we were playing so-so here at home. We knew that we had to improve so we did today. We beat a good team and now get ready for the next game."

On shooting better personally...

Yeah, I'm working hard in the summer and working in my free time to try to improve, like I do always. Sometimes the ball get in, sometimes not, but you have to took the shots."

On having JJ Barea back...

"It helped a lot. He played very good and he gave us that confidence because he knows how to play. He's a champ. So he knows how to play and how to win."

JJ BAREA

On getting to .500...
Yeah it was awesome. We had our chances, but tonight we knew it was our best chance we did a good job and we came out hard the first couple minutes of the game and we set the tone tonight and I think that helps us.

On being healthy...

"I feel better, way better. Not 100 but getting there. Got to get my rhythm back, but I felt great. My legs are back and I'm just happy to be out there running around."

On there being tension between both teams because of playing each other so often...

"Oh no question, it's good though, we know what we've got to do to beat them and we got to just keep it on them and get another win next time we play them again."

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