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Thursday February 23, 2012 0:13 AM

Rockets Keep Rolling

Rockets rally in fourth, finally figure out Philly en route to 93-87 win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - In so many ways, the Philadelphia 76ers were an ideal opponent for the Rockets to face in their final game before the All-Star break.

The Sixers represented a stern challenge and a stiff test; an opportunity for the Rockets to face their demons, display their toughness – both physical and mental – and a chance to showcase just how much they’ve grown from the start of the season.

There would be nothing easy about a home date with Philly – which is precisely what a proper test should look like. The Sixers came into town boasting the league’s No. 1 ranked defense and armed with the knowledge that they had owned Houston over the past four years, having won seven of the last eight meetings between the two teams. They are long, athletic and extremely well-coached. Acing this exam would require the Rockets to rely on everything they had learned through the season’s previous 33 games.

How satisfied, then, Houston’s players, coaches and fans must have felt after grinding out a 93-87 victory – the Rockets’ third win in a row and a result that elevated them a season-high six games over the .500 mark. During a game that was filled with dozens of pitfalls, stumbling blocks and opportunities to fall flat, the Rockets rose above them all, rallying together to produce a total team win thanks to a fantastic fourth quarter flurry that left Head Coach Kevin McHale feeling both proud and reflective after all was said and done.

“That was a good win,” he said. “To come where we came from that first five-minute scrimmage on December 9th when it was actually frightening; where I literally went home and almost cried myself to sleep. That was like the worst basketball I’d ever seen in my life. We had 10 guys holding their shorts after a minute-and-a-half and I thought, ‘Oh my word, we might not win a game this year. We look like we’re going to go 0-66.’

“Those guys have worked really hard and they’ve battled and I’m proud of them. We’re buying in to the fact that we’re going to just sometimes win ugly. It was just a gutty win.”

Understand that the word ‘gutty’ is one of the highest compliments in the McHale lexicon. Ever since assuming the club’s head coaching mantle, he has preached the merits of toughness, determination and displaying an unbreakable will to win. He was even back at it pregame, telling the assembled media that one of his biggest goals for this team was for them to get better, grow together and to enjoy the daily fight and grind that is an NBA regular season. So to see his club fight back from a fourth quarter deficit the way they did had to be a sight for sore eyes.

There was Kyle Lowry, bulldozing his way to the rim for two massive and-one buckets that put the Rockets on their way to victory.

There was Kevin Martin, entering the fourth quarter with a mere two points to his name and facing the prospect of another 12 minutes of being shadowed by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Andre Iguodala, breaking out in the biggest way imaginable, scoring 14 points in the final frame to rescue the Rockets’ offense when it was really struggling to find ways to put the ball in the basket.

There was Luis Scola, consistent as ever, indefatigably fighting and showcasing the sort of resolve that will make him a fan favorite for eternity, hustling and muscling his way to 19 points and 10 rebounds.

There was Chandler Parsons, doing that Shane Battier thing again, defending like a demon and hitting a clutch, where-did-that-come-from fourth quarter fadeaway 3-pointer.

There was Goran Dragic, finally feeling somewhat human again after a weeks-long battle with the flu, keeping the Rockets afloat in the first half by hitting his first five shots.

And there was Patrick Patterson, providing the rock solid defense and all-around skills that have made him such an integral part of this team’s success – both now and in the future.

Go up and down this roster, and those are the sort of efforts the Rockets are getting on a near nightly basis now. Sometimes it’s this guy, others it’s that guy – but isn’t that what being a team is all about? Picking each other up, filling in when needed, fighting for every loose ball, focusing on every possession, playing heavy minutes or just waving a towel and screaming for your teammates from the bench – these are the things teams do. Check that. These are the things winning teams do. They just find a way, no matter who’s on the floor or who’s finishing the game.

“We’re getting the feeling that we can win different games different ways,” said McHale. “We can close with different lineups. We’re very, very similar honestly to Philadelphia. I said earlier that I admire Doug Collins as a person and a coach a lot. I looked at what he did last year and when I took over I said we’re going to close with the guys who are playing; we don’t have set lineups. If we close with four or five bench guys, who cares? I don’t care about that stuff – you just have to win. If you keep preaching team first, team first, everybody buys in and that’s what you want.

“All we talk about is trying to become a team that can win when you can’t throw it in the ocean. Can you fight the other team? How big is your heart? I always tell those guys that the blind guy in the last row of the arena knows when you’re 19-for-20 because he hears your name quite a bit over the P.A. announcer. But can you help your team win games when the ball’s not going in? Can you do other things? Our guys are starting to get better at that. We’ve got a long way to go yet but I’m proud of the guys.

“I’ll be honest with you: they went from a group that was really, really, really hard for me to coach, to a group I’m actually starting to enjoy a little bit. But I don’t want to enjoy them too much – we’ll lose our edge.”

McHale chucked to himself as he delivered that last line, almost as if he were the only one truly in on the joke. And maybe he was. After all, he’s the only one in the room who knows what it takes and what it means to be an NBA champion; to hold the Larry O’Brien up high; to share the game’s ultimate triumph with teammates who feel more like brothers.

Yes, the Rockets passed this test, revealing just how far they’ve come from that frightful first day of camp in December. But McHale knows how much more work, how much more improvement remains. Two months ago he was afraid his team might never win a game. Now they’ve won 20. But that number’s not the point and never was. The true key lies in where this team stands in another two months. More challenges, tougher tests await. That is the nature of the grind. And as McHale knows all too well, the best way – perhaps the only way – to tackle it is to stand tall; to stand together; to stand as a team.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

That was a good win. To come where we came from that first five-minute scrimmage on December 9th when it was actually frightening; where I literally went home and almost cried myself to sleep. That was like the worst basketball I’d ever seen in my life. We had 10 guys holding their shorts after a minute-and-a-half and I thought, ‘Oh my word, we might not win a game this year. We look like we’re going to go 0-66.’ Those guys have worked really hard and they’ve battled and I’m proud of them. We’re buying in to the fact that we’re going to just sometimes win ugly. It was just a gutty win.

We’re getting the feeling that we can win different games different ways … we can close with different lineups. We’re very, very similar honestly to Philadelphia. I said earlier that I admire Dough Collins as a person and a coach a lot. I looked at what he did last year and when I took over I said we’re going to close with the guys who are playing; we don’t have set lineups. If we close with four or five bench guys, who cares? I don’t care about that stuff – you just have to win. If you keep preaching team first, team first, everybody buys in and that’s what you want.

That’s all we talk about is trying to become a team that can win when you can’t throw it in the ocean. Can you just fight the other team? How big is your heart? I always tell those guys that the blind guy in the last row of the arena knows when you’re 19-for-20 because he hears your name quite a bit over the P.A. announcer. But can you help your team win games when the ball’s not going in? Can you do other things? Our guys are starting to get better at that. We’ve got a long way to go yet but I’m proud of the guys. I’ll be honest with you: they went from a group that was really, really, really hard for me to coach, to a group I’m actually starting to enjoy a little bit. But I don’t want to enjoy them too much – we’ll lose our edge (laughs).

(On the game and the importance of the win before All-Star Break) “I was really concerned at the end of that 3rd quarter. K-Mart (Kevin Martin) hit some shots in the 4th, Kyle (Lowry) had a couple of huge hoops. We were getting some stops but they were getting offensive rebounds and we should have controlled the defensive glass a little more, but all in all, those games scare you just because their minds on their break going to Tahiti or wherever.”

(On the play of the Rockets) “(Luis) Scola was good all game, just rebounding. K-Mart had some shots in the 4th quarter. Kyle (Lowry) finished the game for us. I thought Goran (Dragic) held us in there early and Patrick (Patterson) is getting his legs underneath him and he's starting to do some stuff defensively that you can really count on. We're getting the feeling that we can win different games. Just the fact that Chandler (Parsons) can play different positions. Chandler can guard two, threes and fours and he can go big in the back court. It was a good Wednesday before All Star Break win.

PATRICK PATTERSON

(On the key to the win) “The first half was lackadaisical. We made some good runs but in the second half, specifically in the 4th quarter, it just seemed like our defense stepped up a little more. Kyle (Lowry) took over the game. Kevin (Martin) was hitting shots when we needed it and Luis (Scola) and Sam (Dalembert) were just taking over and we were hitting some key shots, getting some key stops. It seemed like the ball was rolling in our direction.”

(On winning before the All-Star Break) “We beat two playoff teams. Two great teams with great players and that is great momentum for us. It is something we can hang our heads high on and just keep the momentum, keep pushing forward, stay positive and just focus on the task at hand.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On what changed for him in the 4th quarter) “I finally woke up. All Star break, the closer it gets, it can kind of mess with your mind. So, maybe I forgot about it but it was a good thing we won because that would have been a bad loss for us and we played a little bit of fire that game but not showing the leadership to come out and put the game away from the get go.

(On Philadelphia being a touch match up) “Yeah, you go out there everyday. You just want to win and that's what we did. We have to learn that, to take the game a little bit more professionally than what we did, including myself, in the first three quarters.”

KYLE LOWRY

(On the physicality of the game) “It was a tough physical game with a tough physical team who likes to grind it out and we pulled the victory out. This is a team (76ers) that is going to play hard and they are going to be physical and that is what they did down the stretch. Hit the floor a few times, but it doesn't matter. We got the win and we're going into the break on a high note.”

(On the 76ers) “They are a low turnover team and we definitely turn the ball over a little too much. They have great defenders. (Andre) Igoudala and (Jrue) Holiday and Thaddeus Young, they've got guys who get out and get their arms up and keep the ball alive and they get into the passing lanes. We gave them some breaks and they got some hands on the ball but at the end of the day, we won.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the importance of the win) “We knew they (76ers) weren't going to give up and we knew that they were going to play for 48 minutes. We understood that we have four days off coming up here so we wanted to end this first half of the season with a big win at home and now it's time for us to enjoy time with our family.”

(On the play of the Rockets bench) “We really don't miss a beat anytime those guys check in. Goran (Dragic) and Courtney (Lee) and Pat (Patterson) and Chase (Budinger), those guys have been doing an unbelievable job and even the other guys that don't get the minutes, they push us everyday in practice and they've been real supportive. Our entire team is one right now and we are together and we've got to keep it up for the rest of the season to make a big run here.”

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS COACH DOUG COLLINS

(On the game) “I told our guys tonight it’s unacceptable to get used to playing like this. We made two critical errors on Kevin Martin that costs us. We had him well in hand, he had only two points in the first three quarts. We made two bad mistakes defensively on him that let him hit a three. We wanted him to dribble the ball and we didn’t do that the fourth quarter. Those two shots really got Kevin going. Kyle Lowry made three good plays and that was the difference in the game.”

(On Holidays foul trouble) “That one foul really hurt us because I had to play Lou too many minutes. We started out the game and hit our first shot and then we were 3 of 17. Its mind boggling how you go through stretches like that.

(On Chandler Parsons play) “He’s a real good young player, he hit a big three and that was a real big shot. We were up one against the clock and he hit one and he hit a three right in front of our bench with the shot clock going off, he’s a good young player.”

ANDRE IGUODALA

(On the teams first half play) “I would say that we’d be happy to be where we are now when the season started. We put ourselves in position to be one of the top teams in our division we are where we want to be, but not playing the way we want to now. Every team is going through tough stretches like this.”

(On Rockets play) “Houston made key shots and got it going offensively, they started making threes, they were clicking as a unit, and it wasn’t just one guy, it was the whole team.”

THADDEUS YOUNG

(On the game) “We made a lot of mistakes, not individually, but as a whole team. We didn’t finish the game out. Houston hit threes and Kyle Lowry got it going down the stretch.”

(On teams losing streak) “Nobody is happy losing, everybody is down. It’s been a tough long first half of the season, it’s been ridiculous.”

LOU WILLIAMS

(On the game)  “I think they were good shots we had at the basket down the stretch, we would usually make those shots, for whatever reason you go through these stretches when you are just not making shots. We’ve been through that these past five games.”

(On the Rockets)” They are playing good basketball, Kyle Lowry is doing a great job leading those guys and everybody else is playing well for them.”

NOTES

The Rockets head into the All-Star Break with a mark of 20-14. It is the third time in the past five seasons that Houston has reached at least 20 wins after 34 games (21-13 in 2008-09, 20-14 in 2009-10 and 20-14 in 2011-12).

Houston prevailed 93-87 over Philadelphia tonight, snapping a four-game home losing streak to the 76ers. The last win by the Rockets at Toyota Center was a 105-84 decision vs. Philadelphia (1/29/07). Overall, Houston moves to 2-7 over the last nine meeting with Philadelphia.

The Rockets closed out tonight’s game with a season-high 32 fourth-quarter points. The previous best was 31 points at Minnesota (1/23/12). It also marked just the second time Houston has won this season when trailing after three quarters of play (2-12).

Houston held Philadelphia scoreless from downtown tonight (0-9 3FG). The Rockets also kept the Grizzlies off the board from beyond the arc (0-5 3FG) earlier this season at Memphis (12/30/12). Philadelphia’s previous low for 3-pointers made was one vs. Dallas (2/17/12).

The Rockets have posted a 4-2 record over the last six outings despite getting outrebounded in a season-long six consecutive games. The first 27 rebounds for the Rockets tonight came off the defensive glass, which included 22 defensive boards in the first half alone.

Houston has now recorded 24 consecutive victories when holding an opponent under 90 points (last loss: 81-84 on 3/3/10 vs. Sacramento), which ranks as the third longest active streak in the NBA (29 by Oklahoma City and 28 by Chicago).

Luis Scola finished with 19 points (8-16 FG) and 10 rebounds tonight. Scola now has a double-double in five of his last seven meetings with the 76ers.

Kyle Lowry recorded 13 points (5-11 FG, 3-4 FT), eight rebounds and five assists tonight. Lowry did miss his first free throw attempt tonight, snapping his string at 25 consecutive makes (2/14/12-2/20/12).

Chandler Parsons registered 12 points (5-8 FG), going 2-of-4 from beyond the arc tonight. Parsons has now netted at least one 3-pointer in each of the last eight games (2/9/12-2/22/12), which currently stands as Houston’s longest active streak heading into the All-Star Break.

Goran Dragic had 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting (1-3 3FG) tonight. Dragic was a combined 5-of-19 (.263) from the field over the previous four games.

Nikola Vucevic posted a career-high 18 points (8-12 FG), eight rebounds (5 offensive) and three blocks tonight. He set his previous season high in scoring with 16 points vs. Dallas (2/17/12). Including tonight, Vucevic has scored in double-digits in four of the past seven games.

Lou Williams notched 17 points (4-13 FG, 9-11 FT) and six rebounds tonight. Over the last three games heading into tonight’s outing, Williams averaged 11.0 points on .275 shooting after averaging 20.0 points on .452 shooting in the prior six contests.

Andre Iguodala had 11 points (4-12 FG) to go with Houston’s opponent season-high five steals tonight. Iguodala had a triple-double of 13 points (6-6 FT), 12 boards, 10 assists and four steals last year at Houston (2/16/11).

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