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Saturday December 31, 2011 10:45 PM

Rockets Soar Past Hawks

Houston ends 2011 on winning note, knocking off Atlanta 95-84

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Kyle Lowry called it luck. Nothing more than an attempt at making a mere basketball play.

But take a look at this block. Then decide whether or not luck had anything at all to do with it. More than likely you’ll come to the same conclusion everyone else did during Houston’s 95-84 win over Atlanta Saturday night: that was one heck of a special play made by a guy who is rapidly becoming one heck of a special player.

That Kyle would dismiss his heroics – occurring in the fourth quarter of the Rockets’ third game in as many nights, no less – is not at all surprising. That’s just him: understated off the court; speaking volumes with his play on it. His numbers from the season’s first week are loud and clear: 13.3 points, 11.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. But those basic stats can only say so much – which is why plays like that spectacular swat are so profound; because those are the moments that perhaps best encapsulate the boost, the jolt and the non-stop energy he brings to his team every night.

“Oh man, it was definitely a great play,” gushed Jordan Hill when asked for his reaction to Lowry’s rejection of Jannero Pargo. “A lot of people probably would have given up on it, I’ll tell you that right now. But Kyle, that’s what makes Kyle so special: he’s got a lot of heart.”

Hill, however, only had it half right. Yes, Kyle’s grit and determination have gone a long way in making him the player he is today but what truly makes him special is his ability to lift the level of play of his teammates as well. That block was much more the exception rather than the rule in terms of getting to the core of the secret behind his success. Far more often, Lowry's greatness can be found in the game's beautiful subtleties rather than the highlight reel.

Watch the way he pushes the ball up the floor on the fastbreak with his head on a swivel, darting into the lane to draw in the defense before delivering a pass right into Kevin Martin’s shooting pocket for the sort of transition trey that K-Mart seemingly buries every time. See the way he quarterbacks his team in the half-court, routinely making the right read and proper decisions. Those are the kind of characteristics that have made him such a dynamic floor general; a player capable of having an immense impact on the game despite scoring only 2 points because he is also capable of simultaneously supplementing that number with a whopping 18 assists (as he did Saturday night). And isn’t that what great point guards are supposed to do?

“He’s grown a lot,” says Hill, who has witnessed firsthand Lowry’s maturation as a player over the last two years. “He’s definitely a great point guard. He tries to find as many openings in the opponent’s defense as possible. He’s a team leader, he just wants to win, he’s a workhorse – he just wants to go out there to do what he can do to get a win and hopefully make us a playoff team.”

Make no mistake, Lowry would likely cringe at the contents of this column, spotlight-avoider that he is, especially on a night when so many of his teammates were similarly strong in support. Martin was money all night from long-range, finishing with 27 points to lead all scorers. Chase Budinger broke out with 17. Luis Scola was consistent as ever, playing exceptionally well down the stretch. And Hill and Samuel Dalembert delivered a dominating performance on the boards, combining for 25 hard-fought rebounds as Hill set a career-high with 15.

But try as he might, Lowry won’t be able to hide from the spotlight much longer; his play is simply shining too brightly for that. Keep it up, and that glimmer will soon be a dead giveaway; an irrefutable sign that the Rockets’ young point guard has become a full-fledged star.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

That’s more of the style of game that we’re going to have to win; kind of a dirt worker game. I like winning those type of games. I think that this team will win more than their share of the “we’re making lots of shots” nights.

(On the play of the team) “I thought there were a couple of plays tonight that really topped off the night. I thought that when Kyle (Lowry) ran back and blocked that shot and Patrick (Patterson) followed it up with another dunk from behind, then Jordan Hill was rebounding everything in sight. Sam (Dalembert) did a great job on the offensive boards in 20 minutes and really did a nice job.”

(what did you learn about your team during this stretch?): If we get on them hard, they respond. We had a little meeting at our shootaround this afternoon and it was pretty pointed – a lot of stuff we didn’t like. We saw some things we didn’t like, they heard about it and they responded very well.

JORDAN HILL

It was definitely an embarrassing game last night. We came out here and did a lot better. We had a lot of good defensive presence in the paint and the outside; we just came out here and banded together.

(On his role) “We have a lot of scorers with Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Chase (Budinger), Courtney Lee, we have all those and all we need now is rebounders and that is what me and Sam (Dalembert) bring to the table. We try to alter shots, block shots and that's Sam's game, he tries to block all the shots as possible. We come out here and work hard and help each other out, especially on defense.”

(on his career-high rebounding night): I just went after every one – that’s what I love to do.

(his reaction to Kyle’s block): Oh man, it was definitely a great play. A lot of people probably would have given up on it, I’ll tell you that right now. But Kyle, that’s what makes Kyle so special: he’s got a lot of heart.

He’s grown a lot. He’s definitely a great point guard. He tries to find as many openings in the opponent’s defense. He’s a team leader, he just wants to win, he’s a workhorse – he just wants to go out there to what he can do to get a win and hopefully make us a playoff team.

KYLE LOWRY

(On the key to the win) “I think the defense was the key to tonight. We held a really good scoring offensive team (Hawks) to 84 points and with the weapons that they have, that's pretty impressive.”

(On his 18 assists) “It's a win. That's all that matters. As long as we get wins and my teammates are doing what they are supposed to do and we get a ‘W’ at the end of the day, I'm happy.”

(on his block): Plays like that always give you a little bit of an oomph. I think the crowd got energized and everybody got energized so it was definitely a play that was well-needed.

LUIS SCOLA

(On the game tonight) “It was a really good game. I think so far in the season we've been showing two faces. In the two homes game we've won, we played really well. We focused on defense and playing team defense and team offense. In the two games we played on the road we didn't play that way, that's why we won those two games and that's why we lost the other two.”

(On the play of Kyle Lowry) “It was a great play (the block of Lowry). It got the crowd involved, it was a great play and he didn't hit shots today. He made everyone else hit shots. He did a great job. It was a big part of our win even with his two points. He had a great game.”

CHASE BUDINGER

(On the game) “The biggest thing is we had a disappointing night last night. We wanted to turn around this game. Straight from the start we played with a lot of energy. Our defense is great and our rebounding was also awesome as well. Jordan (Hill), Luis (Scola) and Kevin (Martin) played real well for us.”

(On the play of Kyle Lowry) “That's what he'll do for you. His shot wasn't falling, so he got everyone else involved and had 18 assists. It feels like that block he had, he does that once a year and it's always a spectacular play. I couldn't do it. I don't know how he does it. It was just one of those game changing moments that he had for us and it was huge for us.”

ATLANTA HAWKS COACH LARRY DREW

(On the game) “I thought they (Houston) played with an enormous amount of energy, if you watch the first half, you would’ve thought we (Atlanta) were the team that got in at three o’ clock in the morning. I didn’t think we played with the energy; they (Houston) were playing at a totally different speed. You have got to give credit, where credit is due. They played hard and we were a step slow in everything that we did.”

(On Kyle Lowry) “Lowry is a good player, he had a really good night. I hope my young guys (Teague) can take a look at that and see how you can still impact the game and not score points. Good point guards still find a way to impact the game whether they score or not.”

JEFF TEAGUE

(On the game) “The way they played, they’re going to get up and down. They took big shots. We’re going to have to step it up.”

TRACY McGRADY

(On crowd reaction) “It’s only my second time back to Houston. It is what is, I’m used to it. I’ve been there before.”

(On the game) “They (Houston) pushed the tempo on us, we didn’t have any energy on the defensive end. We let Kyle Lowry push the ball up, Martin’s shooting, Scola’s playing well, Kevin Martin is hitting threes all over the place and Chase Budinger starting up in the corner, it’s going to be tough. We thought that they’d have tired legs getting in a three o’clock … they came out and played good, you have to give them credit.

NOTES

Houston scored the first bucket of the night and went wire-to-wire for a 95-84 win over Atlanta. The Rockets have not relinquished the lead at home this season. Houston also never gave up the lead in a 105-85 win vs. San Antonio (12/29/11).

The Rockets have been streak busters for the Hawks in recent meeting. Atlanta came into this game 3-0 on the season. Last season, the Rockets snapped a four-game overall winning streak for the Hawks with a 114-109 win over Atlanta (4/3/11). Houston also ended a 10-game home winning streak by the Hawks with a 112-106 win at Atlanta (1/15/11).

Houston upped its all-time record to 8-4 (8-2 home, 0-2 away) in games played on New Year’s Eve.

The Rockets finished their three games in three nights with a 2-1 mark. Houston opened with a 105-85 victory vs. San Antonio (12/29/11), dropped a 113-93 decision at Memphis (12/30/11) and closed out the calendar year tonight with a 95-84 win vs. Atlanta (12/31/11). It is Houston’s lone back-to-back-to-back of the season.

Houston, which went 11-0 in 2010-11 when keeping their opponent below 90 points, has started off 2-0 in such games this season.

 Kevin Martin topped the Rockets again with 27 points (9-20 FG, 6-11 3FG, 3-3 FT) tonight, marking his third consecutive 20-point outing. Martin also had a team-high 21 points (7-11 FG) last night at Memphis (12/30/11) and led the team with 25 points (10-17 FG, 4-8 3FG) vs. San Antonio (12/29/11).

Luis Scola posted 21 points (9-19 FG), seven rebounds and two steals tonight, marking his first 20-point outing of the season. Scola recorded a single-season career best 32 20-point games last season.

Chase Budinger had 17 points (7-10 FG, 3-4 3FG) tonight. Budinger also totaled 11 points (4-9 FG) and two steals last night at Memphis (12/30/11).

Jordan Hill finished with 11 points (5-8 FG) and a career-high 15 boards tonight. Hill, who scored a career-best 16 points (8-12 FG) last season at Atlanta (1/15/11), set his previous career high with a pair of 10-rebound games in 2010-11 (last: 1/17/11 vs. Milwaukee). He now owns three career double-doubles.

Kyle Lowry, who has handed out at least eight assists in all four games this season, matched his career high with 18 assists tonight. Lowry dished out at least eight assists in 26 outings last season (Rockets record: 18-8). Lowry totaled a career-high 18 assists (10 in first half) last season vs. Memphis (12/17/10).

Samuel Dalembert notched his first double-digit rebounding total as a member of the Rockets by pulling down a season-high 10 boards tonight.

Joe Johnson recorded 15 points (7-15 FG), four boards, three assists and two blocks tonight. Al Horford matched his scoring total with 15 points (6-11 FG) and six rebounds tonight.

Josh Smith, who posted 21 points (8-16 FG), 11 rebounds and seven assists last season at Houston (4/3/11), has 12 points (4-12 FG) and a team-high seven boards tonight.

Tracy McGrady, who averaged 22.7 points over his six seasons with the Rockets (2004-10), came off the bench with 13 points (6-11 FG) and six rebounds for the Hawks tonight.

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