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Thursday January 26, 2012 0:12 AM

Bucking The Trend

Rockets' rally falls short, win streak ends as Milwaukee escapes with 105-99 victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Every NBA season presents a plethora of lessons to be learned; assignments that must be digested, understood and ultimately mastered. On occasion, some of them will be painful; a few even exceedingly so. It’s a process that’s at times unpleasant but also unavoidable. So when those moments arrive, the best thing that can be done is to sit back, take stock of what just happened and then redouble the effort to improve by making the most of the experience.

Surely that’s the state of mind in which the Rockets find themselves right now as they contemplate what transpired at Toyota Center Wednesday night. The Milwaukee Bucks came into town with an unimpressive record and dearth of big names, but with a reputation for being a gritty, blue-collar team befitting their coach, Scott Skiles. True to form, they brought intensity and their bad intentions from start to finish. The Rockets did, too – but only in sporadic bursts of inspired play. And as a result, Houston’s 7-game win streak eventually fell by the wayside in an evening filled with what-ifs, missed opportunities and a disappointing 101-95 decision to the Bucks.

There are reasons aplenty the game turned out the way it did, not the least of which hinged upon Milwaukee’s abnormally accurate 3-point shooting. The Bucks drained 14 of their 29 shots from beyond the arc Wednesday night – a 48.3 percent clip that far exceeded what one might rightfully expect to see from a club that came in hitting about 30 percent of their attempts from long range while ranking a woeful 25th in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage. The Rockets, meanwhile, suffered through one of their worst shooting nights of the season, knocking down just 8 of their 31 shots from downtown, many of which were of the wide-open variety.

Those sorts of nights are bound to happen every now and then over the course of an NBA season. From time to time you’re going to run into an opponent who will be ridiculously hot while you’re unfathomably cold. It happens. That sort of rationalization doesn’t make the experience any more enjoyable but it does make it more excusable. Could the Rockets have done a better job defensively to increase the degree of difficulty of Milwaukee’s shots? Absolutely. There were defensive errors galore that need to be cleaned up. But there comes a time, too, when you must simply commend your opponent for such a prolonged stretch of prolific shot-making.

Far less commendable, however, is a failure to fully commit to giving all-out effort for the entire 48 minutes. There’s a reason why coaches constantly hammer home the message to their players that while there’s no way to ever ensure that 100 percent of their shots will fall, they do have full and absolute control over their ability to put forth 100 percent effort, focus and intensity every single night.

For whatever reason, the Rockets weren’t able to deliver the goods in that area on Wednesday. Kevin Martin, the game’s leading scorer with 29 points, described his team as being “flat all night” and it’s difficult to argue with that description. Milwaukee ripped off a 12-0 run to start the game and even though Houston recovered, taking advantage of Bucks’ center Andrew Bogut’s first quarter ankle injury to bounce back and eventually assume a 12-point lead, the Rockets grew somewhat listless and lethargic in the second half while failing to put Milwaukee away and ultimately suffered the consequences.

Truth be told, Houston had similarly played with fire during its previous two home games against New Orleans and San Antonio. In both cases, the Rockets let double-digit leads slip away before finally pulling out of the tailspin just in time to emerge victorious. Wednesday night, however, there was no such magic – or rather, not quite enough of it.

Beginning in the final five minutes of the third quarter, the Bucks went on an astounding 32-6 run that transformed a 10-point Rockets’ lead into a 16-point deficit – all in little more than eight minutes of play. And though Houston made an absolutely furious rally to keep its win streak alive – slicing Milwaukee’s advantage to four in the final minute – in some ways all that intense, disruptive and dedicated defense they played in the game's final few minutes only served to shine a white-hot spotlight on precisely what had been missing from the Rockets’ effort earlier in the second half.

“We’ve got to play like that for 48 minutes,” said Chandler Parsons, who was terrific in defeat, stuffing the stat sheet with 16 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. “We can’t expect to play like that for spurts of three-to-six minutes in games and expect to beat teams.”

That, of course, is a lesson that all teams know but occasionally need a refresher course in order to reposition it front and center in their minds once more. Given that this is a hardworking group, a message like the one sent Wednesday night will surely be heard loud and clear. As Luis Scola said afterwards, it’s just one game so there’s no need for overreaction; what’s truly important is not so much the loss itself but the reasons behind it. So rest assured the Rockets coaches will have the players’ full undivided attention when they return to the practice floor Thursday. Everyone understands there are going to be nights like this in the NBA. They key, as it is in any walk of life, is to learn from those mistakes – and do whatever is necessary to ensure they are never repeated.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

We can’t blame this on missing shots. We gave up 63 points in the second half – there’s no excuse for that.

We had plenty of chances out there to take this game and control this game in the third quarter. We just let that thing get away from us in that 30-19 third. Then they started getting momentum and started making shots and that’s just not us. When a team starts making shots and gaining momentum we’ve got to be able to take that away from them. We’ve got to be able to get some stops and run off our stops and we just didn’t do that.

KEVIN MARTIN

We definitely didn’t have our energy tonight. We just tried to come back too late. We were flat all night and a lot of us went back to our old defensive ways tonight. I think that was due to the streak; we just got a little ahead of ourselves.

A lot of us went back to our old defensive ways tonight. We were just pretty complacent with how we were playing and we’ve got to realize those old defensive ways are just not going to work.

LUIS SCOLA

(On the game) “They (Bucks) came to the game earlier than us. They hit a lot of shots. They went ahead and scored more and then we came back and played well for a minute. We came back and got the lead by 10 (points). We just got away from whatever brought us back to the game. We just let them play the way they were playing in the first quarter and they were hitting shots. One thing led to another. We went up a couple (points) and then we were down 16 (points).”

(On what they will take from the loss) “It's just one loss. We didn't think we were going to win every game. We just lost a game. It doesn't matter if we lose one game, it's the things that we did wrong that's important.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(on the intensity that showed up in fourth quarter): We’ve got to play like that for 48 minutes. We can’t expect to play like that for spurts of three-to-six minutes in games and expect to beat teams. We knew coming in that when they got down in the first half they weren’t going to give up. We just have to play better defense. We’ve won games before this year when we were shooting the ball poorly. Defense was obviously the issue tonight so we’ve just got to clean some things up and learn from it. We’re going to watch the film tomorrow and see we have to clean up a lot of things on that end of the floor.

(On the play of the Bucks) “They played pretty well tonight. We can't win games when we play defense like that. We have to have a much better effort on the defensive end. We made shots so that can't be an excuse tonight. Every streak comes to an end so now we just have to start another one and learn from this and get better than before,”

(On what went wrong for the Rockets) “We have to watch the films individually and take ownership of what went wrong. I’m not really sure right now. We're fresh out the game but once we watch the film, I'm sure we'll figure it out. There's just a lot of stuff we have to clean up defensively.”

KYLE LOWRY

(On the Rockets being behind early) “They (Bucks) just made shots and we didn't come back. We just kind of put our heads down and just said forget it. It's just tough. Sometimes you've got games like that but we've got another one Friday so we need to get back to the drawing board tomorrow and start a new streak.”

SAMUEL DALEMBERT

(On what went wrong) “They (Bucks) were making their shots and we weren't making ours. We were open and we got open shots and we didn't make them. This was one of those days where we've got to figure out other ways to win games when things are not going the way we want them to.”

MILWAUKEE COACH SCOTT SKILES

(On the game) “I believe it was they had us on a run in the first half of twenty to two, it was very strange.  They went in at half time and then came out and we didn’t show a whole lot of life. Then we started really moving the ball and knocking down our shots, and we picked up our defense.  We got the lead, but we couldn’t hold it once again, but we were able to hold it long enough to get the W.”

(On his teams play) “Mike was good (hitting threes).  That group out on the court in the second half really did a great job.  They played unselfishly.  We came out and executed and got good looks, and knocked down our shots.”

(On the Rockets) “Houston made a run, but we still hung in there and battled back.  Give our guys a lot of credit because it is hard to see Bogut go down like that. Houston has been playing very well, that’s another reason that makes this a good win.  We started the season 0-8 on the road and now we have won three in a row.  I was proud of the way we hung in there and kept battling, and the way we really took off.”

ANDREW BOGUT

(On his injury) “It was an ankle sprain.  It’s hard to say now, but we’ll see tomorrow.  I just can’t seem to catch a break.  Coming back from injuries is tough; it’s unlucky and frustrating.  Someone has a voodoo doll and is putting pins in me.”

MIKE DUNLEAVY

(On the game) “It was a good win.  We’re starting to play well on the road.  We got a cushion in the fourth quarter and held on to win.  We made shots.  It was nice to see my shots go in.  We have a team that defends well and tonight we made our shots.  We had a great third quarter and finished off the fourth.”

DREW GOODEN

(On the game) “I had to be there when the big guy went down.  It’s unfortunate that we lost the big fellow.  We were in the twilight zone in the second half.  The second group did a great job and lifted us up, and then the starters came back at the end; it was a good victory.”

BRANDON JENNINGS

(On the game) “Our big man went down and it was nice to get the W.  We had shots and we finished them out.  Our bench was the reason we were able to get the win.  It was good to get a win against Houston, as they have been playing well.”

NOTES

Houston dropped a 105-99 decision to Milwaukee tonight, snapping its overall winning streak at seven in a row (1/13/12-1/23/12). The Rockets also saw their home streak of five consecutive victories (1/13/12-1/21/12) come to an end.

Milwaukee continued its success on the road tonight with a third victory in as many away games. The last time the Bucks won three consecutive road games was 4/6/10-4/14/10.

The Bucks also picked up their first regular season win in Toyota Center. Milwaukee was the only opponent that had yet to win a regular season outing at Toyota Center. Overall, it was Milwaukee’s first victory in Houston since 11/2/99. The Rockets had captured the previous 11 straight home regular season games against Milwaukee (8-1 in regular season at Toyota Center).

Houston pulled down 52 boards tonight. Overall, Houston owns five 50-plus rebounding games this season (Rockets record: 4-1).

Milwaukee set Houston’s opponent season high with 14 makes (14-29 3FG) from beyond the arc tonight.

Kevin Martin finished with a game-high 29 points (12-22 FG, 5-12 3FG). Martin now has a season-best four consecutive 20-plus point outings.

Samuel Dalembert, who had 13 boards in the first half alone, recorded 13 points (5-6 FT), a season-best 18 rebounds and two blocks tonight. He has now registered four double-doubles on the season. Dalembert also made 14 consecutive free throws (1/14/12-1/25/12) prior to his first miss tonight.

Luis Scola registered 18 points (7-11 FG) and eight rebounds tonight. Scola posted 19 points (8-25 FG) and 14 boards in the last meeting vs. Milwaukee (1/17/11).

Kyle Lowry dished out another 10 assists tonight. Lowry has now handed out at least eight assists in 12 games this season.

Stephen Jackson came off the bench with 20 points (8-16 FG, 3-6 3FG). He was joined by Mike Dunleavy with 18 points (6-11 FG, 3-5 3FG) and Drew Gooden with 11 points (4-8 FG). For 10 games in a row, 13 total this season, at least one Bucks reserve has come off the bench to contribute 10 or more points. Milwaukee is 7-6 when the team gets that offensive contribution.

Brandon Jennings also netted 20 points (6-14 FG, 4-7 3FG) with six dimes, while Ersan Ilyasova had a career-high 19 rebounds off the bench tonight. Jennings (21 points, 11 assists) and Ilyasova (10 points, 11 rebounds) each recorded a double-double in the last game vs. Atlanta (1/23/12).

Beno Udrih led the Bucks with a season-high seven assists tonight. Overall, the Milwaukee bench recorded 66 points, 30 rebounds and 14 assists.

Andrew Bogut notched three first-half blocks, but left this game early after suffering a sprained ankle. Bogut, who made the 400th start of his career tonight, has now recorded at least one blocked shot in 10 games in a row (12/30/11-1/25/12).

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