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Monday April 4, 2011 0:17 AM

Martin Makes His Mark

Kevin Martin scores game-high 35 to help lift Houston to 114-109 win over Hawks

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - There’s nothing sexy about making one free throw after another. For that matter, few fans get amped over hard cuts and tremendous movement off the ball. Offensive execution? Yawn. Efficiency? Borrrrring. But guess what? Those things win ball games. And few players better illustrate the bounty that can be reaped from putting those characteristics to optimal use the way Kevin Martin does.

He was at it again Sunday night, this time introducing the Atlanta Hawks to his hoops version of Chinese water torture. A simple score off a well-timed curl. Drip. Two free throws resulting from a clever foray from the wing. Drip, drip. Just one splash after another, gaining in potency until the victim screams uncle and begs for mercy. Even on an evening when his normally reliable 3-point stroke was off, he still poured in a game-high 35 points (on just 19 shots, natch) to help his club hold on for a 114-109 victory. One more notch on his belt. Another head coach left shaking his head.

“Yeah, we were trying,” said Hawks’ Coach Larry Drew of his club’s hopeless attempts to stop Martin. “(But) he’s good. He plays well without the ball, he’s always moving. We tried to contain him and we tried to get help from our big guys but he still got away from us.”

Martin is, quite simply, an opposing coach’s nightmare. The subtle way he draws contact, his non-stop movement, the fact his funny-looking shot sets up an endless array of ball fakes – it’s enough to drive anyone batty. A quick look at the numbers shows Martin to be No. 1 in the NBA in free throws made and top-5 in the league in 3-pointers drained, but what they fail to reveal is the fact that he also surely ranks right near the top in terms of clipboards tossed and curse words uttered as a result of his offensive exploits. Searching for a fun in-game diversion? Try keeping track of the myriad looks of disgust on opposing coaches’ faces after Martin slyly draws a whistle. His offensive style doesn’t just rack up fouls, it breeds contempt. And the Rockets are the happy beneficiaries.

“Everybody has a role on this team and everybody knows what Kevin does best,” said Courtney Lee. “He puts that ball in the hole.”

That he does – with the same mind-numbing consistency of a metronome. You say it’s boring? I say it’s an integral part of the team sustaining the powerful, pitch-perfect and nigh unstoppable rhythm the Rockets have established on the offensive end. Their attack is utterly unrelenting now, a wall of sound overwhelming opponents wave upon wave, eroding and eventually eradicating the defenses drawn up and designed to keep them at bay. And at the center of it all stands Martin – rail thin, cat quick, and quiet as a whisper – supplying the steady beat that serves as the backbone of this sonic boom with an efficiency of motion that belies the bedlam all around him.

It’s so easy to take his consistency for granted, not because of what he does but rather the way in which he does it. It’s hard to display flair while living at the free throw line. But so what? His team is winning – the Rockets are now 15-5 since the All Star break – and determined to fight until their dying breath for a playoff spot that seems perpetually and agonizingly just out of reach.

“We can say what we want to say about this team and dissect wins how we want,” said Martin, when asked about the importance of his club’s latest win. “But at the end of the day we’re just a pretty damn good basketball team.”

With every ho-hum 30-point outburst, it’s becoming readily apparent the exact same description applies to Martin, the player, as well. He is a weapon. He is a machine. And his value is as clear as the scowl on the opposing coach’s face.

Drip, drip, drip…

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

(On the win) “Can I just say the same thing I said last time? Our guys are really tough mentally. We challenged them (Rockets) at halftime. We gave up 63 points in the first half and 40 (points) in the second quarter. They (Hawks) did just what we said they were going to do. Isolations, post ups and the pick and roll, that's just what they do and we didn't play any of the situations very good. Then in the second half, 3rd quarter, we came out with a much better effort defensively and then down the stretch there, we switched Courtney (Lee) onto (Joe) Johnson. He did a great job on Johnson the last three minutes. He (Lee) made him take tough shots. We executed really well. We got what we wanted at the end of the period. At the end of the game Luis (Scola) made two big jumpers. It's a great win by our team. We just keep hanging in there. That's all we can keep doing, is winning games like this.”

(On the Rockets halftime talk) “We just talked to them and we talked about everything they did, in the second quarter especially. They isolated, they posted up (Joe) Johnson. They played pick and rolls. We were not doing the right coverage in any of them, not individually on the guy and not in the pick and rolls and we talked to them about our energy level not being where he needed to be to beat a team like this and that's all we talked about. You need to raise you energy level like it was in San Antonio and you need to set the tempo of this game and we need to push it at them and attack them. That's all that we talked about and I think they did that. Our energy level rose in that 3rd quarter. We started attacking offensively and got more active defensively.”

(on Martin): He’s got a good feel as to how he’s going to get open. He worked really nice tonight getting the ball. One thing about him that’s always been a problem is if I play him too long he gets tired. Tonight he played the whole second half and he just hung in there. That’s why we switched Courtney on Johnson, so he [Martin] could play off him, because he was guarding Johnson most of the night.

COURTNEY LEE

(notice a difference in Martin’s fourth quarter approach?): He’s being more aggressive in the fourth quarter. In practice he’s getting his conditioning in when we play against each other so I think that’s helped him. As the season goes on you get in better shape and your legs start to feel a little bit better because you’re used to playing those minutes. Before, he’d have an explosive game early on and then in the fourth quarter he’d probably defer a little bit probably from fatigue, but now that he’s getting in better shape and being more aggressive he understands that he’s one of our main scorers and we’re going to need him to step up – I think he’s starting to realize that.

Everybody has a role on this team and everybody knows what Kevin does best: he puts that ball in the hole. And down the stretch when we get stops we have to score and Kev’s going to be one of those guys we have to go to.

KEVIN MARTIN

(importance of this game): It’s just like the other ones. Ever since after the break, we can say what we want to say about this team and dissect wins how we want, but at the end of the day we’re just a pretty damn good basketball team.

(how much is it playing with this team?): It’s been great ever since the All Star break after we made a couple changes. The guys that are here, they deserve every minute they go out there and it’s just a fun group of guys to play with.

(change in fourth quarter approach): No, not at all. I’m a guy who just stays the same and I’m not going to let anything (affect me). If I take one shot in the fourth or if I take eight, I’m just always going to be the same, no matter if I make or miss them.

I’ve been consistent all year. We made a trade and it gave other guys opportunities to just play consistent minutes so you knew who you were going to be out on the court with. Guys like Kyle, he knows I’m a scorer so he finds me – there’s no secret about that. I think it’s just everybody’s out there with consistent minutes now and ever since the trade we know who’s going to be out on the floor. We know Coach is playing the best players at the end of the game and whatever the case was, that wasn’t always the case before the trades.

(played whole second half – did you feel it?): A little bit. Coach told me if I wanted a break to just let him know so I couldn’t really show any fatigue.

(not hitting outside shots tonight): Once I realized I wasn’t hitting 3s, I was taking one 3 every two times I made field goal to see if I could get going from the 3, but that didn’t happen so at the end I just had to cut out shooting 3-balls. Tonight, it just wasn’t falling.

LUIS SCOLA

(On the win) “Every game from now on is huge for us. We just want to stay alive. All we can do is try to win games. We are five games above .500 for the first time this season and today we guaranteed that we are going to be at least .500 at the end of the year. I think we need to appreciate that. You don't know what's going to happen. We can't control New Orleans or Memphis. We are going to keep playing hard and try to keep winning games.”

(On the Rockets coming back from a 14 point deficit) “I didn't feel good the whole game. We started kind of well then it looked like we were tired. I wasn't feeling good but then somehow in the second half we picked it up. We came back in the game and from then on everything changed. The momentum changed, they (Hawks) hit a lot of shots late in the 4th (quarter) but we were pretty much playing better and we had the momentum on our side. It was a good close of the game. When things don't go well, you need to try to play a little harder and try and dig in and try and do whatever you can to get back into the game and we did that today.”

CHUCK HAYES

(On what changed in the second half) “Our energy. In the first half, they (Hawks) hit a lot of jumpers. Out of 60 points, they only had 20 in the paint. So, they were taking the shots we wanted them to take, they just made them. They made so many that they got into a rhythm and that makes them dangerous. In the second half our energy just picked up and we ran more quick and offensive plays and we got them on the move.”

(On the Rockets outscoring the Hawks in the paint 56 to 38) “Whether they (Hawks) are super tall with 7 footers or undersized, we still have to attack them. It gives ourselves a chance to get the ball in the rim and myself and Jordan(Hill) and Patrick (Patterson), we are good offensive rebounders. We have to attack the paint and also when you do that it opens up wide open threes.”

KYLE LOWRY

(On the Rockets playing better in the second half) “We finished the game strong. Our guys picked it up defensively and in that last possession when we needed a stop, we got one. So, that was huge for us. It's a big win for us just to keep playing and being resilient.”

(On the play when he got injured) “It was a dirty play by him (Zaza Pachulia).”

ATLANTA HAWKS COACH LARRY DREW

(On the game) “Defensively we just did not sustain it. In the second quarter, particularly at the end of the second quarter, as a team we gave up 7 quick points and we gave up 32 points in the third quarter. Looking back on those last 4 wins, we were much better defensively in those quarters. Tonight we didn’t do it. A lot of it started wit our shot selection. We took some bad shots and then they (Houston) got out running on us. At some point you hope that it clicks in to stay with what’s working. I thought that first quarter and half of the second quarter we did a good job at just controlling the tempo with our shot selection, but they sped us up and we took the bait and weren’t able to stop them.”

(On defending Kevin Martin tonight) “Yeah we were trying to, he’s good. He plays well without the ball, he’s always moving. We tried to contain him and we tried to get help from our big guys but he still got away from us.”

JEFF TEAGUE

(On Kevin Martin’s play tonight) “He’s a scorer, that’s what he does. He’s a good scorer, he makes shots and he knows how to get to the free throw line. When someone is putting that much pressure on you at all times, they’re going to be a tough person to guard.”

JOSH SMITH

(On the game) “We gave up too many dribble-drives, too much dribble-penetration. They (Houston) scored 56 points in the paint, that’s way too many points. We’ve got to make it more stingy. I think if we would have closed in some of those gaps and made them kick it out to shooters, I would think it might have been a different outcome.

(On the Hawk’s offensive play tonight against the Rockets) “Just playing unselfish. I think we were making the right decisions out of the double team. I think Joe (Johnson) did a great job of that. I think when the opportunity presented itself we made good moves. I tell them (Hawks) everyday, you’ve got to be able to make quick decisions and we were able to do that tonight the whole night. We just played unselfish basketball, we just couldn’t get it done on the defensive end.”

NOTES

Houston returned from as much as 14 points down tonight for a 114-109 win over Atlanta tonight. After splitting four of the prior five season series, the Rockets sweep the Hawks by shooting .500 in each of their to victories this season. Houston went 47-of-87 (.540) from the field in a 112-106 win at Atlanta (1/15/11) and 43-of-75 (.573) from the floor tonight.

The Rockets have now won seven straight home games, while snapping a four-game overall winning streak by the Hawks. Houston also ended a 10-game home winning streak by the Hawks with a 112-106 win at Atlanta (1/15/11).

Overall, Houston has overcome a double-digit deficit 10 times this season for a victory.

The Rockets had all five starters reach double-figure scoring for a second consecutive game (4/1/11 and 4/3/11), which marked the first time for that to occur this season. Overall, Houston has put all five starters in double-digit scoring seven times this season (Rockets record: 6-1).

Houston had no blocked shots tonight. It marked a third straight season that the Rockets failed to block a shot in a game against Atlanta. The Hawks took an 11-0 edge in blocked shots last season at Atlanta (11/20/09) and Houston was also held without a block in 2008-09 at Atlanta (1/3/09).

The Hawks scored 40 second-quarter points to set Houston’s opponent season high for any quarter in 2010-11. The previous best was 39 third-quarter points by the Magic at Orlando (1/7/11). The highest second-quarter total prior to tonight was 28 points by the Cavaliers at Cleveland (2/23/11).

Kevin Martin registered 35 points (11-19 FG, 12-13 FT) and five assists tonight. Martin now has 20 or more points in 10 of his last 11 games, which includes four 30-point outings.

Chuck Hayes, who recorded 10 points (5-12 FG), 12 rebounds and three steals vs. San Antonio (4/1/11), added 19 points (8-9 FG), 12 rebounds and three steals tonight. Hayes upped his single-season, career-best in double-doubles to nine in 2010-11.

Kyle Lowry finished with 17 points (5-12 FG, 6-6 FT) and eight assists despite taking six stitches to close a cut on the left side of his lip in the first half of tonight’s game. Lowry has now dished out at least eight assists in 25 outings this season (Rockets record: 18-7).

Joe Johnson had a team-high 25 points (11-19 FG, 2-2 FT) and seven assists tonight. Johnson also scored a game-high 30 points (11-24 FG, 4-8 3FG) and handed out seven helpers in the previous meeting at Atlanta (1/15/11).

Josh Smith posted 21 points (8-16 FG, 5-7 FT), 11 rebounds and seven assists tonight. Smith now owns 31 double-doubles on the season (14th in NBA), including one triple-double (11/28/10 at Toronto).

Marvin Williams added 11 points (4-6 FG, 2-2 FT) and six boards tonight, leaving him just one point shy of reaching the 5,000-career point mark.

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