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Sunday February 19, 2012 10:42 PM

Rockets Roll Past Jazz

Lowry, Scola come up big as Houston pulls away late for 101-85 win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Every once in awhile, players experience nights when the hoop looks as wide as the Grand Canyon and tossing in shots seems as simple as placing one wad of paper after another into a wicker basket. Those are evenings to be savored for sure since they are capricious by their very nature, making it even more important to make the most of them when they arrive. After all, the high that comes with hitting those shots surely starts to feel pretty hollow if it doesn’t coincide with a win.

What doesn’t need to be an “every once in awhile” thing, however: focus, toughness, effort and intensity. It’s a message that Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale continues to hammer home to his team day after day. And if Houston’s 101-85 victory over the Utah Jazz is any indication, that lesson, little by little, is starting to sink in and take hold.

Take a look at the box score from Sunday night’s box score and the first thing that leaps out at you is certain to be the incredible offensive performances turned in by Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola. Make no mistake, they were phenomenal. The longest-tenured Rockets lit up their rivals from Utah all night long, combining to score 58 points on 64 percent shooting from the field. Lowry was especially scorching, hitting 7-of-8 from beyond the arc, while tossing in 9 assists for good measure. Both players undoubtedly deserve game balls and any other plaudits that come their way. They were that good.

But what should not be overlooked is the defensive effort every single Rockets player put forth in making sure Lowry’s and Scola’s production was not wasted. Houston forced the Jazz to take the kind of shots the Rockets wanted them to take all night long. Given Utah’s propensity for pounding opponents inside along the interior with its plethora of talented bigs, the Rockets knew it would be imperative to keep them out of the paint as much as possible. So Houston’s players and coaches had to be buoyed, even when the Jazz offense got rolling early, because so much of Utah’s scoring came courtesy of contested-yet-made mid-range and perimeter jumpers.

“I thought our first half defense was good to be truthful,” said McHale after the game. “They made some contested shots. We contested about 75 percent of their shots in the first half which is good for us – they just made them. I thought, well, it’s either going to be one of those nights or, eventually, those are going to go in our favor because it’s hard to consistently make contested shots in this league.”

Sure enough, when the second half rolled around and the Rockets packed the paint even more, Utah’s misses began to pile up, allowing Houston to ultimately take control of what was largely a tightly-contested game and win by a comfortable final margin. How good was the Rockets’ defense during the last two quarters? Houston limited the Jazz to 28 percent shooting from the field and allowed a mere eight points in the paint; this, after conceding 28 in the first half of play.

It was the sort of tough, physical and focused effort the Rockets needed, while serving as a strong response to Friday night’s defeat at the hands of Minnesota. After that game, many of the Rockets players had accused themselves of not displaying enough of those aforementioned attributes, making Sunday’s contest a statement game of sorts, and one which is made all the more timely given Monday’s upcoming meeting with yet another smash-mouth team, the Memphis Grizzlies.

“We can’t be out of tune and walking around there not focused on what we need to do,” said McHale. “We’re not the kind of team that can just show up at the arena and win it. We have to show up with an edge, with a purpose and be ready to go out there and compete.”

And 1s: Sunday's game featured a different starting lineup than usual for the Rockets, with Patrick Patterson starting at center in place of Samuel Dalembert. The change is expected to be short-lived, however, as Kevin McHale said it was simply the result of Dalembert showing up late for the team's shootaround earlier in the day.

Also noteworthy was the fact that Sunday's game marked the first NBA minutes of Rockets' rookie Greg Smith's career. Smith made his debut late in the first quarter and quickly made his presence felt, blocking two shots in his first three minutes of action. All told, the 6-10 forward out of Fresno State finished with 2 points, 3 rebounds and 4 blocked shots.

"I felt good," said Smith. "I got into some foul trouble but that’s going to happen your first game when you’re anxious to do a lot of things. I was trying to do a little too much, trying to block every shot, get some offensive boards. But that’s something I’ll learn. I’m 21-years-old, I’ve got a lot to learn in this league. I talked to the guys on the court and they love how I play so I’m going to keep bringing it every night so hopefully I’ll see some more action.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(on improved second half defense): I thought our first half defense was good to be truthful. They made some contested shots. We contested about 75 percent of their shots in the first half which is good for us – they made them. I thought well, it’s either going to be one of those nights or, eventually, those are going to go in our favor because it’s hard to consistently make contested shots in this league. Our defense was way, way, way better tonight that it was the other night.

(on the rotation of the bigs): I knew Greg was going to play a little bit. Sammy D. forgot what time shootaround was today so he got a chance to rest a little bit in that first quarter. Greg did a nice job. Big fella had four blocks for us, he’s smart, he knows what we’re doing – practice probably wouldn’t hurt him. He’s just another big body – he sets a really nice screen which is good, we need that – and Pat had a little bit of a leg issue – he had some stiffness.

(keeping the Jazz to the perimeter): Well they got in there enough. Big Al is clever, he’s tricky and Kanter is a big body going in there rebounding, but we didn’t a pretty good job. Our guys were in tune; they practiced really hard yesterday. They were in tune and that’s what we’ve got to be. We can’t be out of tune and walking around there not focused on what we need to do. We’re not the kind of team that can just show up at the arena and win it. We have to show up with an edge, with a purpose and be ready to go out there and compete.

(On Kyle): He was really making shots but I thought the best thing he did was the way he turned the corner on the pick-and-roll. He had 9 assists and he put pressure on the paint.

(On the Rockets being aggressive) “We've got to get more aggressive. It's the one thing we didn't do last game. We've got to buck up. This game is not about schemes. This game is about going out there and knocking the guy out of the paint and trying to be aggressive. You can bring help but you can't bring help when guys are as low as they get.”

GREG SMITH

I felt good. I got into some foul trouble but that’s going to happen your first game when you’re anxious to do a lot of things. I was trying to do a little too much, trying to block every shot, get some offensive boards. But that’s something I’ll learn. I’m 21-years-old, I’ve got a lot to learn in this league. I talked to the guys on the court and they love how I play so I’m going to keep bringing it every night so hopefully I’ll see some more action.

(surprised at the minutes you got?): Yeah, I was very surprised but as a player, when the coach calls on you, you’ve got to go out there and perform. So I thought that, once he called my name, it was my time to shine and show them I can play so that I can get more minutes and it worked out.

KYLE LOWRY

(on his big night): I made some shots. I felt good out there; that’s the best my legs have felt in a long time. The thing that really matters is we won and we played great defense in the second half.

(on his 3-point shooting): I got going. I hit more first couple and kind of got rolling. I got in one of those rhythms where your legs are feeling good and you’re confident in your shot. I felt like I could make them from anywhere, anytime, any place.

(on the defense): We locked in. We worked hard yesterday and we made some adjustments at halftime to help the bigs and make them shoot over the top – packed it in for us.

LUIS SCOLA

(On the play of Kyle Lowry) “Kyle played awesome. He was really, really focused. He hit shots and he found people on his passes too. It was a great game for him.”

(On the Jazz) “They are a good team. They are always in the mix and usually, it is a game that really counts. Today's game was really important for us and it probably was for them too. It was a fun game to play.”

COURTNEY LEE

(On his play time) “I registered twenty minutes. I don't know what to expect, some nights I play thirty (minutes). I had a couple of forty (minute plays). You never know. It is the coach's decision. You go with the flow of the game with what's needed and what's going on out there. So, he makes the subs where he feels is necessary.”

(On his shooting) “I didn't have the shooting touch. Kyle (Lowry) had the shooting touch. He went 7-for-8 from 3-point land. I shook his hand when I checked in and it kind of rubbed off on me.”

PATRICK PATTERSON

(On his first start of the season) “It was unexpected. I walked in here and I looked on the board. The next thing I know, coach said to me 'Alright, you're starting on (Al) Jefferson.' I was like, 'what?' I wasn't ready, I wasn't mentally prepared for that but it's a great thing, especially when coach called my name.”

(On the importance of the Rockets win after loss to Minnesota) “It's just because of the game that we had against them (Minnesota). Kevin Love and (Nikola) Pekovic, the type of play they had against us, it was just horrible the way we played. We had a great practice the other day and we had the key points that coach was emphasizing and we came out here and just executed.”

UTAH JAZZ COACH TYRONE CORBIN

(On the game) “We got it down to 2 or 3 points in the fourth. Then we didn’t make shots and they made a 3-pointer and then got fouled and then we missed a couple of shots and then things got away from us. We just didn’t make shots at the end of the fourth quarter. In the second half we got away from what we were doing early in the game. We just didn’t have enough to finish.”

(On the Rockets and Lowry) “You look at the shots he made in the first quarter and our defense was good and they kicked the ball to him and he made the first 3 or 4 (3-pointers). I was satisfied with our defense. He made a couple of big shots down the stretch. Our guys fought but we just came up short. Houston got physical and played a little more aggressive. Bottom line was we just didn’t make shots.”

AL JEFFERSON

(On his injury at the end of the game) “I’m good. I just had a sharp pain in my stomach and had to come out.”

(On the game) “We didn’t pull it out. I was very disappointed in our play and my own play. We have to do a better job. Houston picked it up as a team physically and they hit their shots.”

(On the Jazz play) “We all have to get better. It’s a long season. There are no excuses. We have to play like we want to be a playoff team. We have to play better defensively.”

RAJA BELL

(On the game) “They made shots at the end. That kid (Lowry) made a lot of big shots. Scola is crafty and very talented. Houston was playing better offensively than we were defensively.”

EARL WATSON

(On the opposing guards play) “The point guards can’t keep having 20-plus point games. We have to be more physical with them. We have to start adjusting to the personnel we’re playing. I have to be more physical. It really bothers me what the point guards are scoring against us.”

NOTES

Houston outscored Utah by a 56-39 margin in the second half to take a 101-85 victory tonight. The Rockets now own a three-game winning streak over the Jazz (2/2/11-2/19/12).

The Rockets made 37-of-72 (.514) from the field tonight, moving to 4-0 this season when shooting .500 or better. Houston was also a perfect 13-0 last season in such games.

Houston has now recorded 23 consecutive victories when holding an opponent under 90 points, which ranks as the third longest active streak in the NBA.

The Rockets, who hit 10-of-20 (.500) from beyond the arc vs. Minnesota (2/17/12), netted another 10-of-19 (.526) from 3-point range tonight. Houston is currently 3-4 this season when reaching double-digits from downtown. The Rockets recorded a 19-5 mark in 2010-11 when hitting 10 or more 3-pointers in a game.

Houston limited Utah to just 32-of-81 (.395) from the floor tonight. The Rockets are a perfect 6-0 this season when the opponent shoots .399 or less.

Kyle Lowry topped all scorers with 32 points (9-13 FG, 7-7 FT) and dished out a game-high nine assists, as well as matching his career high of seven made 3-pointers (7-8 3FG). Lowry was actually the last Houston player to make seven treys in a game when he set his career best at Phoenix (3/8/11). Overall, Lowry owns four career 30-point performances, with two coming this season. It also marked his ninth 20-point game of 2011-12.

Luis Scola finished with 26 points (12-20 FG) and a team-high nine rebounds. Scola now has eight 20-point outings this season.

Patrick Patterson made his first start of the season tonight (seventh career). He recorded eight points (4-9 FG) and seven rebounds, including a game-high four offensive boards.

Greg Smith, who was recalled today from Houston’s single-affiliation NBA D-League partner Rio Grande Valley, posted a game-high four blocked shots in his NBA debut.

Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 23 points (10-20 FG) and 11 rebounds tonight. Utah moved to 8-5 this season when Jefferson records at least 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Paul Millsap added 22 points (8-16 FG, 6-6 FT) and three steals tonight. Millsap entered this contest as Utah’s steals leader with 1.38 per game over his first 29 outings.

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