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Sunday January 15, 2012 0:30 AM

Lowry Blazes Trail To Victory

Monster night from Rockets' point guard helps Houston prevail over Portland in OT

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - File this one under the category “Be careful what you wish for.”

Just 24 hours earlier, Kyle Lowry had sat in front of his locker after Houston’s victory over Sacramento – a game that had seen Lowry log 41 minutes of action – and nonchalantly said he’d happily play all 48 minutes of every game if he had to so long as it helped the Rockets rack up win upon win.

Of course, that’s exactly what you’d expect Houston’s bulldog of a point guard to say, as that mentality is an integral part of the package that has transformed Lowry into the All-Star caliber player he is today. Little did he know, however, that just one night later – in the Rockets’ fourth game in five nights, no less – he’d be asked to exceed 48 minutes in his club’s pursuit of its second win in a row and third in four games.

True to form, Lowry answered the call and fought through the considerable fatigue he was feeling to lead his club to a thrilling 107-105 overtime victory over the Trail Blazers. It was a performance that saw Lowry play the entire second half and overtime – 49 minutes in all – while posting another monster stat line filled with gaudy numbers like 33 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds.

Of course, the numbers only tell part of the story. They don’t speak to the grit, determination, perseverance and leadership – or the smarts on display during plays like his clutch 3-pointer in the final minute of regulation; a perfect execution of a 2-for-1 scenario that just so happened to double as one of those memorable frozen moments that sets Toyota Center on fire. That such plays are no longer exceptional but rather expected from Lowry says it all about his performance through the first few weeks of the season. You can make a pretty convincing case, in fact, that he’s been the best point guard in the NBA up this point (he entered Saturday’s game with the highest Player Efficiency Rating of all players at his position).

But part of the story, too, includes an exhausted Lowry having to receive a post-game IV prior to fulfilling his media obligations. He was fine and in good spirits afterward and maintained his willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win. But admirable as that is, it’s obviously not in either the team's or the player’s best interest to see Lowry continue to log such heavy minutes on a regular basis, especially in back-to-back situations.

“They’re playing too many minutes; we’ve got to give them more rest, there’s no doubt,” conceded Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale after the game when asked about the heavy minutes played by his team’s starting backcourt (Kevin Martin played 49 minutes Saturday night as well). “But while they’re getting that rest we’ve got to be able to maintain leads and expand leads. Our second team is really good, we’ve just got to get them playing better, that’s all.

To that end, Houston received a big boost off the bench from its University of Arizona connection, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. Budinger scored a season-high 18 points, looking more comfortable and aggressive than he has in some time. Hill, meanwhile, pitched in 7 points and 7 rebounds during 21 minutes of play, giving his team a sorely-needed lift with foul trouble plaguing the Rockets’ frontcourt for much of the night.

Still, much of the heavy lifting in the second half and overtime was left to the starters; that was especially true on the offensive end, where Lowry and Martin carried the load. Both players were clearly feeling the burn in a fourth quarter that saw them shoot a combined 3-of-12 from the field while the Blazers staged their rally, but still managed to come through when it mattered most – Lowry with his clutch triple toward the end of regulation and Martin with six huge points in overtime.

In fact, perhaps the most encouraging sign emerging from Saturday’s contest from a Rockets’ perspective had to be K-Mart’s rediscovered mojo for getting to the free throw line. Coming into the game, Martin had been shooting five fewer free throws per game on average than he was a season ago. But by employing a more aggressive, attack-oriented mindset, Martin made it to the line 13 times in a signal that that devastating aspect of his offensive arsenal might be back on track.

“It’s really valuable,” said McHale in reference to Martin’s knack for drawing fouls in bulk. “I think there was a little bit of a frustration (earlier in the season) with not getting there but I think Kevin figured it out that you’re going to have to turn corners harder … get low, make the guy foul you and if you never get the shot up, big deal, you still get two free throws. And that’s what he did.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On the 4th quarter) “It was kind of a dog fight in that 4th quarter. It was a dirty, ugly game. We just found a way to win it. Kind of a game where both teams shot 41 percent, well we shot 42 (percent) and they shot 41 (percent). I'll tell you what we did. We did a pretty good job of rebounding the ball against a real active team and Kyle (Lowry), Kevin (Martin) and Chase (Budinger) really stepped up big because we were having problems getting offense out of other places.”

(On the mistakes made) “We made a couple mistakes. We stunted out the tomb. We're supposed to short stunt. We did a little bit of a long stunt and faked out (Gerald) Wallace but we just let Wally shoot. We made some mistakes but you're going to make mistakes. They're going to make some mistakes, you know, players are not perfect.”

(on the heavy minutes for Martin and Lowry): They’re playing too many minutes; we’ve got to give them more rest, there’s no doubt. But while they’re getting that rest we’ve got to be able to maintain leads and expand leads. Our second team is really good, we’ve just got to get them playing better, that’s all.

(On K-Mart getting back to the line a lot): It’s really valuable. I think there was a little bit of a frustration with not getting there but I think Kevin figured it out that you’re going to have to turn corners harder … I think in the past there was a tendency for a lot of the deflection calls they tried to hit and go – now if you have a guy on you, stop and let him run you over; you probably aren’t going to get a lot of and-1s but you get two free throws. I think our guys were trying to get the best of both worlds … you’re just going to have to turn the corner, get low, make the guy foul you and if you never get the shot up, big deal, you get two free throws.

CHASE BUDINGER

(On being aggressive in the first half) “I think it is in my nature to be aggressive. I try to take what the defense was giving me. I feel like in the first half I got a lot of open looks. I got a lot of transition opportunities so what you saw as being more aggressive than not”

(On the importance of this win) “It's huge. Definitely because we're trailing these guys right now. We are trying to catch them. It is always about protecting home court. This year we are going to be a better home team than away team right now. We definitely got to get each and every win at home.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On being aggressive in the first half) “Definitely, I'm starting to adjust to the speed of the game and the physicality of the game. I'm just trying to play my game and take what the defense gives me and keep bringing this team to a defensive mindset and keep trying to bring as much energy as I can to each game and each possession.

(On the Rockets being a young team) “A lot of guys that we've got on this team, we have Chandler (Parsons) starting and then we've got some young guys coming in off the bench, so it never helps the young guys with a shortened season but we're carrying them along and us veterans, we've just got to keep on rolling with the punches and get better as at team. We have no excuses so we just want to go out there and play.”

KYLE LOWRY

(On his playing more than 48 minutes tonight) “It is what it is. We got the win. I did what I had to do to help my team get a victory.”

(On his clutch 3-point shot near the end with 30 seconds left in regulation) “I was shooting the 3 (pointer). I was shooting it no matter what. I was thinking two for one, trying to get a shot up. It was definitely a two for one situation and I got the opportunity to take the shot and I made it. Great screen by (Luis) Scola.”

PORTLAND COACH NATE MCMILLAN

(On the game) “We put ourselves in a position to win the game.  We had to execute both ways and we had open looks and we just didn’t knock them down.  The pick and roll was working for us and we had open looks, we just didn’t make our opportunities.”

(On Batum’s play) “I wanted to try and get him involved early and we ran some sets for him.  He was real aggressive and he got going and was knocking down his shots.”

(On the team’s play) “You have to value the ball, and we had opportunities to knock down shots.  I thought we had better movement than last night.” 

(On Kyle Lowry’s play) “We knew he’s been playing really well, and he is very aggressive.  I thought the biggest play that he made was the board he got in overtime.”

LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE

(On rockets defense) “We did the plays at the end that we are comfortable with.  All my shots felt great, except the one that I made in overtime.  I have to be better in giving us a post presence.  It wasn’t execution at the end, we just missed our shots.  We didn’t shine at the end.  When it’s crunch time, we know what we are going to run.  We had to go to the pick and roll down the stretch because my post-game wasn’t there.”

NICOLAS BATUM

(On his play)  “I got a lot of open shots, some easy lay-ups and I was making free throws.  I let the game come to me, and I was very aggressive.  I am defense first and then the offense comes.”

(On why he wasn’t able to get shots towards the end) “I wasn’t as wide open as was early in the game.  Sometimes they denied me the ball.  You can’t predict what happens on the court.  LA (LaMarcus Aldridge) is our go to guy down the stretch; we should have won the game.”

JAMAL CRAWFORD

(On the game) “It was a tough loss, especially when a team like that had us and then we’d come back.  It’s a learning experience, we have to man up and learn from it, there’s no excuse.  We have to get on our horse and get back to it.  We had to climb back in the second half.  We need to get off to better starts.  It’s a long seasons and there will be bumps along the way.” 

NOTES

The Rockets registered a 107-105 victory in OT over the Trail Blazers tonight, giving Houston consecutive wins for the first time this season.

Houston recorded a season-high 58 first-half points, which included 15 fast-break points. The Rockets have now scored in double-digits off the break in all but one game this season, including a season-best 21 tonight.

The Rockets have now built double-digit leads in each of the last five games, which matches Houston’s longest such streak from all of last season.

Houston pulled down another 54 rebounds in tonight’s game. The Rockets have totaled 50-plus boards in three of their last four games (3-0 record with 50 or more rebounds).

The Rockets poured in another 50 points in the paint tonight. Houston has now reached 50 points down low in three consecutive games.

Kyle Lowry notched a season-high 33 points (13-26 FG, 3-5 3FG), nine assists and eight rebounds tonight, which marked his third career 30-point performance. Lowry also had 22 points (8-19 FG, 3-6 3FG) at San Antonio (1/11/12) and 25 points (7-15 FG, 3-6 3FG, 8-8 FT) vs. Sacramento (1/13/12). It stands as the first time in Lowry’s career to string together three consecutive 20-point games (prev. best: two in a row, 3/1/11-3/2/11 and 3/18/11-3/20/11).

Kevin Martin netted a season-best 28 points tonight powered by a 12-of-13 performance from the free throw line. Kyle Lowry owned the previous high for most free throws made and attempted in a game this season with a 9-of-10 outing from the stripe at Orlando (12/26/11).

Chase Budinger also scored a season-high 18 points (7-16 FG) tonight, surpassing his previous best of 17 points (7-10 FG, 3-4 3FG) set vs. Atlanta (12/31/11).

Samuel Dalembert (16, 12) and Luis Scola (11, 10) have combined for 49 rebounds over the last two games.

Nicolas Batum posted a season-high 29 points (9-15 FG), eight rebounds and four blocks tonight, including a career-high six makes (6-7 3FG) from 3-point range (prev. high: 5, five times: last on 2/5/11 at Cleveland). His previous scoring high this season was 15 points (done twice), which he surpassed with a 20-point first half tonight.

LaMarcus Aldridge continued his streak in Houston with 22 points (7-21 FG), 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Aldridge has now scored at least 20 points in each of his last eight regular season visits to Toyota Center.

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