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Thursday January 20, 2011 0:36 AM

Knicks No Match For Rockets

Rockets win third straight by knocking off New York 104-89

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Chuck Hayes matches up against All-Star Big Man X in the low post and produces the sort of performance that A.) Leaves you marveling at his extraordinary defensive acumen and B.) Makes you wonder why his name is almost never brought up when the subject of the NBA’s best defenders is brought up.

The guy is just a master, plain and simple. Night after night, Hayes draws the assignment of defending the opponent’s best low-post threat, and night after night he makes up for his vertical limitations by employing lightning quick hands and feet to make life miserable for his counterpart.

Hayes’ Herculean task heading into Wednesday night’s matchup with the Knicks: trying to prevent New York’s MVP candidate Amar’e Stoudemire from wreaking mythological havoc upon the Rockets. As hoops challenges go, they don’t come much tougher than that. Stoudemire entered the contest averaging more than 26 points per game and since the Knicks love to surround him with shooters, the Rockets couldn’t afford to offer Hayes much in the way of help. He was alone on an island.

But if we’ve learned anything about Hayes during his six years in Houston, it’s this: He wouldn’t have it any other way.

True to form, the 6-6 forward produced a tour de force performance from start to finish, anchoring the Rockets’ defense which limited New York, the NBA’s highest scoring team, to just 89 points during Houston’s 104-89 victory – the club’s third consecutive win. Hayes contributed in every facet of the game, finishing with 8 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks on his way to finishing with game-high plus-minus of +23.

“[Chuck] was great tonight,” said Shane Battier, himself a connoisseur of great defense and a long-time admirer of the role Hayes fills for Houston. “We missed him so much when he was out for those couple weeks. There are few better defenders on the low block than Chuck. He’s so smart and he understands angles and how to use his feet and his hands, and he was by far the MVP of tonight’s game.”

Look at the postgame box score and you might be fooled into thinking Hayes only did a so-so job on Stoudemire. After all, Amar’e still finished with 25 points on 11-of-21 shooting from the field. But if you watched the game and looked beyond those basic numbers, you know without a shadow of a doubt that you just bore witness to a superior defensive effort that left New York’s superstar flummoxed and frustrated beyond belief.

Stoudemire recorded five turnovers as Hayes repeatedly stripped him of the ball on drives to the basket. The Chuckwagon also rendered his man meaningless on the offensive glass, as Stoudemire came up empty-handed in that category. Most impressive, however, was the way Hayes made Amar’e work for every inch of real estate on the court; using his quick feet to stay in front of Stoudemire, his powerful base to body up and his magnificent mind to stay one step ahead of his man all night.

“I know the scouting report on him,” said Hayes. “I studied him. I know what he likes to do. He’s just a great player and I just try my best to make it hard.

“I stayed in front of him and kept making him go to his weak hand. He’s not as good going right. And I’ve been blessed with some quick hands myself so if I could get a strip I was going to try to get a strip because once he gets [the ball] past his shoulders, it’s hard for me to contest his shot. So I took gambles and tried to strip him and a lot of times it came through for me.”

With Hayes handling Stoudemire on his own, the rest of his Rockets teammates were able to stay focused on New York’s brigade of 3-point bombers, eliminating the easy outside looks that the Knicks love to prey upon. As a result, New York hit just 8-of-24 from distance and never found the sort of rhythm necessary to overcome the lead Houston established and maintained from the opening minutes of the game.

The Rockets, meanwhile, struggled from beyond the arc as well, connecting on just 8 of their 31 3-point attempts. But because the team’s defense was so strong, Houston enjoyed a margin for error offensively that had been noticeably absent while Hayes missed eight games with a sprained ankle suffered at the tail end of December.

“Chuck’s one of the best defenders in the league,” said Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman. “He doesn’t get the credit for it because he doesn’t play the minutes other people do. Every night he’s got somebody different, especially lately, so it was good to see him here playing because both times we played [New York] he’s done a great job on [Stoudemire].”

By now it’s a familiar refrain here in Houston. This is just what Hayes does. And when he gets in the zone like he did Wednesday night, he can do for the Rockets’ defense what a superstar scorer does for his team’s offense: carry the club and make everyone around him better. We’ve seen it so many times over the years that it’s easy to take him for granted. But after gaining a firsthand glimpse of what life was like without him, there should be little chance of that happening again anytime soon.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

That’s a great win for us. The second half we were really good. You have to really give Chuck so much credit for guarding [Stoudemire] that whole time. That’s a tough job, plus he rebounded well, he just had a great game. It was a win we really needed to get going into this weekend, so big win for us.

(Chuck): He’s just smart. He knows he’s not going to stop [Stoudemire], he’s just trying to make him take tough shots and he really got his hands on a lot of balls when [Stoudemire] tried to take it to the basket. Chuck’s one of the best defenders in the league. He doesn’t get the credit for it because he doesn’t play the minutes other people do. Every night he’s got somebody different, especially lately, so it was good to see him here playing because both times we played [ New York] he’s done a great job on him.

CHUCK HAYES

(defending Amar’e): He’s such a hard guard because his first step is so fast and strong. The only thing I can do is make every shot tough. I will live with him shooting jumpers as long as I keep him out of the paint and off the free throw line. If he knocks a few down then that’s something I’m going to live with.

I tried my best just to deny him but they give him the ball in so many different areas of the court. He’s such a hard guard. I know the scouting report on him. I studied him. I know what he likes to do. He’s just a great player and I just try my best to make it hard.

As a team we played great team defense. To hold them under 100 points, one of the highest scoring teams in the league, we stayed consistent to the game plan. We focused in and our preparation was the key coming into this game. We executed the defensive game plan.

That’s two teams in a row we’ve help under 100 points so hopefully the defense is coming around the second half of the season. Our defense was great. It shows we can do it against the worst offensive team ( Milwaukee) and the best.

(notice Amar’e getting frustrated?): Yeah, he was. I stayed in front of him and kept making him go to his weak hand. He’s not as good going right. And I’ve been blessed with some quick hands myself so if I could get a strip I was going to try to get a strip because once he gets [the ball] past his shoulders, it’s hard for me to contest his shot. So I took gambles and tried to strip him and a lot of times it came through for me.

SHANE BATTIER

(Chuck): He was great tonight. We missed him so much when he was out for those couple weeks. There are few better defenders on the low block than Chuck. He’s so smart and he understands angles and how to use his feet and his hands, and he was by far the MVP of tonight’s game.

“To show that we can come out and maintain our concentration on our rotations and play good individual defense, it says a lot – it shows what we’re capable of doing when we really concentrate on the defensive end.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the Rockets team defense) “I think our defense tonight started with Chuck (Hayes) on Amar’e (Stoudemire). He was giving him fits and the other guys, we were just playing solid and we know that we can do that so that wasn't a surprise to us.”

(On the Rockets controlling the tempo) “You always try to play your own game no matter how the other team plays. One of the keys for us tonight is control that tempo and that's what we did.”

JORDAN HILL

(On the Rockets defense) “ New York is definitely one of the best if not the best scoring team in the league. We did a real good job in the second half by stopping them. We held them to 39 points (in the second half). We came out there and played great team defense and we were aggressive in the second half.”

(On his role) “I'm the long athletic shot blocker. When they throw the ball in the post or if somebody drives, I'm there to try to alter or block shots. I feel like I did a really good job on them, especially when Chuck (Hayes) was on Amar’e (Stoudemire). I came over to help to try to alter a lot of his shots. Overall, we did a real good job.”

LUIS SCOLA

(On the controlling the game for 2 games straight) “We controlled the whole game and we closed it the right way. I think it was a really good game against a really good team. We beat them last time. We were expecting them to really want to come at us and we hung in there and played a good game.”

(On the upcoming games against Memphis and Orlando) “We have Memphis first. It's a very important game for us. It's a team that is right there with us and we want to win. We want to take it to four straight wins and then we can think about Orlando. It's going to be a tough back- to-back but we need both games. We need go out there in Memphis and do a good job. We beat them the two times we played them they'll be ready to play us too.”

COACH MIKE D’ANTONI

(On the game) “ Houston played extremely well. The first quarter determined the outcome of the game and we couldn’t overcome their play. They just made shots. Houston played well and we didn’t play well enough. We didn’t get our rhythm. We can’t start so slowly because we dig ourselves into too big of a hole.”

(On Hayes’ defense of Stoudemire) “He’s really good (Hayes). He’s got a big body and he takes a lot of hits and defensively he played Amar’e very well.

(On team’s recent play) “We’re missing somebody to come in and make shots. I’m always concerned. The last three quarters, we got things together but it was too late and we’ve go to start games better.”

AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE

(On the game) “We didn’t make the effort defensively that we need to. We didn’t rotate and Houston got into a good rhythm themselves. We have to stop talking and we just have to execute. We’re not communicating or playing aggressively and getting after it the way we can.”

(On Chuck Hayes’ defense) “He did a good job. He does a great job of creating contact and he really made it tough on me inside.”

RAYMOND FELTON

(On the key to the game) “Our biggest problem was the first quarter. We got off to a bad start and couldn’t overcome it. They hit a lot of tough, contested shots. We have to figure a way to light a fire under our guys.”

(On the Rockets’ play) “ Houston did dictate the pace of the game and that’s supposed to be what we do. Lowry (Kyle) hit some tough shots. He normally wasn’t a great shooter but he has gotten better. My hat’s off to him, he’s playing well.”

DANILO GALLINARI

(On the team’s play) “We didn’t have our rhythm offensively or defensively. We have to come out stronger. It’s tough to find the reason we start slowly. We know what we are capable of doing. We’ll get things back on track. This team needs to start playing better defense. That’s the reason we lose. It all starts with the defense”

NOTES

Houston captured a third consecutive victory with a 104-89 win tonight over the Knicks. The Rockets now own six straight wins over New York at Toyota Center.

The Rockets outscored the Knicks by a 54-36 count in the paint and limited New York to just six second-chance points tonight. Over Houston’s three-game winning streak, the Rockets have allowed a total of just 20 second-chance points (6.7 ppg).

Houston made eight of a season-high 31 3-point attempts tonight (.258, 8-31 3FG). The Rockets are shooting just .231 (24-104 3FG) from 3-point range over the last five home games.

The Rockets, who netted a season-low 18 first-quarter points vs. Milwaukee (1/17/11), opened tonight’s game with a 36-point first quarter (13-22 FG, 4-8 3FG).

Houston finished with a 60-point first half (23-48 FG) tonight. The Rockets have now hit the 60-point mark in a half 16 times already in 2010-11. The Rockets posted 18 such halves in 2009-10.

The Rockets have now held their last two opponents below 90 points: 84 points vs. Milwaukee (1/17/11) and 89 tonight. The Knicks enter this game averaging an NBA-high 107.5 points per game.

Kevin Martin topped six Rockets in double-figure scoring with 21 points (6-18 FG, 7-8 FT) tonight. Houston is now 17-13 this season when Martin scores at least 20 points.

Kyle Lowry finished with 18 points (8-14 FG, 2-6 3FG) and four assists tonight. Lowry, who hit his first six shots of the game, has now averaged 16.8 points (101 TP) over his last six games on 38-of-78 (.487) shooting.

Chase Budinger scored 13 points (5-11 FG) and tied his season high with eight rebounds tonight. Budinger set his season best with eight boards at Charlotte (11/26/10).

Chuck Hayes recorded eight points (4-5 FG), a game-high 12 rebounds (11 defensive) and four assists, as well as matching his season highs with three steals and two blocked shots. It gives Hayes five double-digit rebounding performances on the season.

Amaré Stoudemire registered a game-high 25 points (11-21 FG) and five rebounds tonight. Stoudemire has now recorded 26 straight 20-point scoring efforts (11/24/10-1/19/11), which currently stands as the third-longest streak in franchise history (#2 Patrick Ewing 28 games from 1/25/90-3/27/90).

Raymond Felton totaled 14 points (5-14 FG) and five assists, while Wilson Chandler had 10 points (4-13 FG), eight rebounds and two blocked shots. Along with Amaré Stoudemire, the third highest scoring trio in the NBA finished a combined 20-of-48 (.417) from the field for 49 points.

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