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Saturday January 15, 2011 1:22 AM

Hornets Sting Rockets In OT

New Orleans overcomes 16-point deficit, prevails 110-105 in overtime

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - The Gods of Greek mythology were not the type to be trifled with. Cross them the wrong way or test their patience, and lesser beings were likely to suffer serious consequences.

Take Prometheus, a Titan, the champion of mankind. He made the grave mistake of stealing fire from Zeus in order to share it with mortals. As punishment, Zeus had the thief bound to a rock while a giant eagle came to devour his liver, with the truly twisted part of the punishment lying in the fact that Prometheus’ organ would repeatedly grow back only to be eaten by the eagle every day.

You know where this is headed. And needless to say, when your favorite basketball team is making you a feel a bit like poor Prometheus, chances are the experience isn’t particularly pleasant.

Such is life right now for the Houston Rockets and their fans, as Friday night saw the team have its collective liver excruciatingly removed once more, this time by a swarm of giant Hornets who were only too happy to play the role of the nightmarish eagle.

And though the Rockets’ season is still far from assuming the full gravitas of a true Greek tragedy – Houston is, after all, still just a mere three games out of the Western Conference playoff picture – a few more déjà vu losses like this agonizing 110-105 overtime defeat and everyone connected to the team will surely be clutching their sides and begging for mercy.

The storyline is so familiar by this point that fans can probably close their eyes and recite it by heart. The Rockets were in position to win. Correction: the Rockets appeared to have a stranglehold on this game. Down three at the start of the third quarter, Houston absolutely blitzed the Hornets for the vast majority of the period on both ends of the floor. That’s right, the Rockets defended like demons, forcing New Orleans into eight turnovers which in turn sparked Houston's potent transition attack. Even Kevin Martin, not exactly known for his defensive acumen, got in on the act, recording three steals in the span of 70 seconds as the Rockets’ lead ballooned to a whopping 16 points. Throw in the fact that Hornets’ stars Chris Paul and David West were limping around on sore ankles and having off nights, and it looked for all the world as if the Rockets had their first home win of 2011 in the bag.

Then that giant eagle appeared on the horizon and started swooping in for the kill.

Starting with a pair of seemingly benign free throws and a dubious goaltending call at the end of the third period, New Orleans set about on a 14-0 run over a three-and-a-half minute stretch to let the Rockets know that nothing would be easy the rest of the way. Suddenly West was a scoring machine once again. Trevor Ariza was doing work scoring and rebounding the ball. Jarrett Jack, a thorn in the Rockets’ side all night, capably helped the ailing Paul orchestrate New Orleans’ offense. And all the while Houston struggled to find anyone capable of consistently putting the ball in the basket.

“It’s like a broken record,” said Shane Battier. “We become very stagnant on offense, miss some shots and stop running. We have to attack almost to the final buzzer because we’re just not an execution team that just carves you up in the fourth. When we get away from that we sometimes struggle.”

Eventually the Rockets did rediscover their offense. A soaring Battier tip-in helped lift Houston to an 8-point lead at the 5:07 mark and though the Hornets did claw their way back, Kyle Lowry (28 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds) and Kevin Martin (26 points) put points on the board for Houston with big plays in the final minute. What the Rockets could not do, however, was get stops as New Orleans answered each time with West on the other end. Needing a bucket before the buzzer to win it in regulation, Lowry’s 20-footer caromed off the rim as the game clock expired, sending the contest to overtime.

And in the extra period, it was but a mere variation of the same theme: an early Rockets’ advantage followed by a little back-and-forth before New Orleans finally seized hold of the lead for good.

The loss dropped Houston’s record in games decided by 6 points or fewer to a cringe-worthy 4-11; a whole host of opportunities that could have been, should have been, seized – only to see them slip away and vanish into thin air like phantoms destined to haunt your playoff dreams.

“We haven’t really deserved to win these games because we’re not executing in the fourth quarter,” said Battier. “We’ve played good teams but we’ve had leads in the fourth quarters of almost all these games and it comes down to the last three or four minutes when it’s our best against their best – and our best hasn’t been good enough.”

It’s torture, it really is. As Prometheus would attest, the Greek Gods were plenty cruel. But the Rockets are finding out the hard way that the basketball gods have a pretty twisted sense of humor as well.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

Another disappointing loss at home. That’s the third one we’ve had since the start of the year. I wish I could explain it.

(what changed after going up 16?): I have no idea. Seriously, I have no idea. We have to have people step up and make plays. They just took full control of the game. It’s not like it was a 4-minute stretch, it was a minute and a half. We’ve got to be better than that. You have to execute at the offensive end and you’ve got to defend somebody and we didn’t do either one.

(making plays down the stretch): They’ve got two All-Stars. They have Chris Paul and David West. (West) had 29 points and Chris Paul does the pick and roll really good and he’s smart. They’ve been together awhile and a lot of it’s that. But I don’t know any way but to just keep after it and try to figure out what we’re going to do when the game is on the line. I thought we got some shots and some pretty good looks and we just didn’t make them.

(sense of here we go again?): I thought there was a little bit of that and I thought we got a little bit tight when the game was on the line, then when we scored a few baskets and took the lead again we seemed to relax little bit. I thought we were okay but then you get to the fourth quarter and it’s a one or two possession game, it’s anybody’s game at that point and the team that makes the plays is going to win – they did and we didn’t.

There’s a lot of what ifs and should’ves, wish I would have did this and a lot of stuff goes on like that when you lose a game like this. I feel for our guys. This is the third game we’ve had since the first of the year where we were in a position to win and just didn’t get it done.

There are just so many little things. We had Chris Paul trapped out there, I don’t know if we were tied or 2-up, but we had him trapped and both guys – the guard and the big guy – both went for the steal or something and he spins and gets a basket. Those are things you just can’t do. You have to have mental toughness to stay with the play and make them make a play – don’t give them opportunities. And those type of things really hurt us when we get down the stretch. We just don’t stay disciplined enough. It is what it is. Our guys played their (butts) off and we didn’t get a win. Now we’ve got to try to get one tomorrow.

SHANE BATTIER

I think our issue is execution down the stretch in the fourth. We just continually have stagnation and the last few minutes of a ball game we have to find ways to get better shots when the pressure is rising.

When you have a team such as ours, we have to rely on movement to get shots. We struggle to get Kevin Martin the ball at the end of games because the pressure is high and we haven’t found a good way to get him the ball in crunch time. We had some success with Luis but the pick and roll was a tough play for us tonight. We’re just trying to find something we can go to which is tough, because teams scout and take things away, so we have to figure something else out. But we have to run our cuts harder, set tougher screens and just be tougher.

It’s like a broken record: we become very stagnant on offense, miss some shots and stop running. We have to attack almost to the final buzzer because we’re just not an execution team that just carves you up in the fourth. When we get away from that we sometimes struggle.

(struggles in close games: bad luck or just not good enough?): We haven’t really deserved to win these games because we’re not executing in the fourth quarter. We’ve played good teams but we’ve had leads in the fourth quarters of almost all these games and it comes down to the last three or four minutes when it’s our best against their best – and our best hasn’t been good enough.

I think we have a tendency to waver from who we are. We get out of character and try to walk the ball up the floor and try to overpower teams and that’s a tough way for to survive in this league. That’s not us. We’ve got to keep reminding ourselves: push the ball, push the ball, push the ball. If we take 30 or 35 3s a game, we’ll live because we have good shooters and we’re going to hit a percentage of those and that’s the way we have to win. It’s a message we keep trying to harp on: push the ball, attack and get timely stops.

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the Rockets difficulty of getting quality shots late in the game) “In the flow of the game we got quality shots at the end of the 4th (quarter) and we had two possessions to get one stop and it just didn't happen so I can't blame it on the quality of shots there.”

(On the loss) “We had a 16 point lead and we stopped playing that way for some reason. David West had a marvelous game tonight. We have to learn from this and hopefully it gets better.”

KYLE LOWRY

(On the Rockets not finishing games strong) “You've got to make it not happen (relinquishing the lead). You've got to take some type of stand and not let that happen. We went through a good stretch where we were finishing games very good but we're going back through a stretch where we are finishing games bad.”

(On how the Rockets can improve) “We've got guys who know how to win games but we've got to find a way to put it together and finish games. It's tough to explain. It's a tough stretch that we are going through right now.”

LUIS SCOLA

(On their pattern of play) “I guess it is. It's been happening quite a few times right now and we don't know how to fix it.”

(On if the pattern of losing the lead is felt during game play) “Yes, a little bit. It makes it tougher during the game and it's been happening since the beginning of the season too. It's been affecting us in close games. We're right there and have the games under control then they (opponent) comes back and it makes things difficult.”

HORNETS COACH MONTY WILLIAMS

(on the key to the game) “Down the stretch we made a ton of big plays. We dug a big hole with too many turnovers in the third quarter. We made plays and our defense picked up and that was the big difference.”

(on his team’s play) “I told our team to take better care of the ball and I knew if we did we would have a chance to win the game. We’ve been a very resilient team all year long. Chris (Paul) did a tremendous job defensively on Kevin Martin to slow him down. Jack’s play carried us all game long. When we play like this it will only help us as a team.”

DAVID WEST

(on the game) “I thought in the third quarter we were playing back on our heels. We fought back as a team to get a big road win. We closed the game and made big plays down the stretch.”

(on why do you seem to have big games against Houston?) “I’m not really sure. I try to play and be very aggressive and it seems ever “time we come to Houston we are on a win streak. Everybody chipped in with a great effort.

CHRIS PAUL

(on his injury) “It was my ankle. It’s had better days but I will be okay. It was the way I came down and I was lucky I caught myself.”

(on the team’s comeback) “I told coach we were coming back. It was ugly but we made shots and won the game. Jarrett (Jack) was outstanding. The guy almost single-handedly kept us going.”

JARRETT JACK

(on his play) “I really didn’t know if I was going to play or not. I was ready when I was called. This was probably the best game I have had with the Hornets. We never say die, we never say quit. That is our mindset as a team.”

NOTES

The Hornets overcame a 16-point, third-quarter deficit to take a 110-105 decision over the Rockets in overtime. New Orleans has now won five straight games over Houston (1/2/10-11/3/10), which sets the longest winning streak by the Hornets in the history of this series (prev. high was four done twice before, last 4/1/05-1/14/06).

The Rockets outscored the Hornets, 29-14, in the third quarter, matching Houston’s opponent season low in points for that quarter (14 by Chicago on 11/16/ 10 at Houston). The Hornets responded with a 31-19 advantage in the fourth quarter to send this game into overtime, which included New Orleans overcoming a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit.

Houston had 20 fast-break points tonight, giving Houston at least 20 points off the break in nine games in 2010-11.

Kyle Lowry tied his career best with 28 points (10-20 FG, 6-6 FT), adding six rebounds, seven assists and three steals tonight. He originally set his high with 28 points (11-15 FG, 2-2 FT) and 12 assists at Memphis (12/3/10). Lowry also recorded double-digit scoring totals in each of the last two games (17.5 ppg).

Kevin Martin returned to the lineup tonight after a two-game absence with a sore right wrist. Martin finished with 26 points (9-17 FG, 5-6 FT) and three steals.

Chuck Hayes also returned tonight after missing the last eight games (12/31/10-1/12/11) with a moderate to severe right ankle sprain. Hayes had nine points (3-6 FG, 3-5 FT) and seven rebounds.

Luis Scola posted 14 points (4-12 FG, 6-10 FT) and 11 rebounds tonight. He now has a double-double in three of his last four games.

Aaron Brooks, who had nine points (3-6 FG, 2-2 FT) tonight, is a perfect 9-of-9 from the free throw line since returning to the lineup at Boston (1/10/11).

Chris Paul notched 11 points (4-11 FG, 2-2 FT), eight assists and fives steals, giving him 12 games this season with five or more steals (only NBA player to do so). Dating back to the 2006-07 campaign, Paul has at least one point-assist double-double in nine of the last 13 games against the Rockets.

David West, who had 29 points (9-20 FG, 11-12 FT), averaged 30.3 points (.585, 48-82 FG) in four games against the Rockets last season. West is actually the only Hornets player with a 30-point game this season (has two 30-point performances).

Emeka Okafor, who had 15 points (7-12 FT), nine rebounds and five blocks in the last game at Houston (11/3/10), had 17 points (7-8 FG, 3-3 FT) and a season-high-tying 15 boards. Okafor has now reached double-digit rebounds in 12 of the last 15 games with tonight’s performance.

Jarrett Jack netted 23 points (8-14 FG, 2-2 3FG, 5-5 FT) and dished seven assists tonight, which stands as his best scoring game since joining the Hornets on Nov. 20.

Trevor Ariza recorded 14 points (5-14 FG, 3-5 FT) and a season-high-tying 10 rebounds. He has now posted five straight double-digit scoring games.

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