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Tuesday February 15, 2011 0:06 AM

Rockets Roll Past Nuggets

Bench comes up big for Houston as Rockets romp while recording 121-102 win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Like love and luck, momentum can be a rather fickle friend. One moment you’re riding the wave on top of the world; the next sends you crashing with nothing to show for your efforts save for a mouthful of sand.

So perhaps it’s only appropriate that on a day dedicated to those lucky in love, the Rockets and Nuggets would team up to illustrate precisely how fleeting the concept of momentum truly can be.

Buoyed by a tremendous effort from its oft-maligned bench, Houston didn’t just overcome an early 15-point deficit, it cruised past it with ease, soaring as if shot from the very bow of Cupid himself. And by the time the carnage had cleared, the Rockets had recorded their very own version of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, dispatching Denver en route to a 121-102 win.

“I really have to group off the bench a lot of credit,” said Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman after the game. “They came in and changed the whole energy of that game. They got us going up and down the court, they shot the ball really well and they were active defensively.”

The Rockets’ reserves rode to the rescue at the start of the second quarter, following a dreadful opening frame that saw Houston commit the always lethal hoops sin of failing to hit shots on one end while neglecting to get stops on the other. But the Rockets recovered, in large part thanks to the sparkling second quarter play of Courtney Lee, Aaron Brooks and Chase Budinger. The trio combined to tally 32 of Houston’s 39 points in the period while igniting the Rockets on an astounding 27-9 run to close out the half, allowing the home team to head into the break with a 58-54 lead.

Lee, who led all scorers with 22 points on the evening, delivered 14 in the second quarter alone, hitting 5 of the 8 shots he took, including 3-of-4 from 3-point land. Budinger threw down a vicious two-handed slam that whipped the crowd into a frenzy that would feed the Rockets’ rally the rest of the night. And Brooks broke out of an agonizing slump that had weighed heavily upon his psyche for weeks.

“Chuck [Hayes] said they took me off the milk carton today,” quipped Brooks, while cracking a smile at long last. “It felt good to make a shot and hopefully it keeps going. I think as a team in that second quarter we came in and did a great job. Courtney Lee had an outstanding game and Jordan Hill has put two good games together, so it was a real good day for the bench.”

More importantly, the Rockets’ starters picked up right where the team’s bench had left off when the second half began. Houston continued to make it rain from downtown, draining 5 of the 11 3-pointers the team took in the third quarter. And the Rockets’ transition game came alive as well, leading to easy buckets which served to expand Houston’s lead and incite the Toyota Center faithful even further.

Meanwhile, the Rockets’ success on the offensive end triggered an equally dynamic effort defensively as Houston held the high-powered Nuggets to a mere 14 points in the period. Even Carmelo Anthony, who had tortured the Rockets during his 50-point explosion just one week ago, was made to seem somewhat human, as he finished with a pedestrian 16 points on 4-14 shooting from the field. Much of the credit for that, of course, goes to Shane Battier, who rose to the occasion in this rematch of sorts after being plagued by foul trouble when the two clubs faced off last week. Battier made ‘Melo work on every possession – even on the opposite end of the floor where the Duke grad enjoyed a Christian Laettner-esque evening, going a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor while outscoring Anthony 17-16.

“The crowd was in the game, the ball was moving and that’s when the shots fall easily,” said Battier. “When you feel good and passing is contagious and you get open shots, you wish you could bottle that feeling and bring it out for every game. When a team has that, it usually leads to good offense.

“We feed off our home crowd and sometimes it takes a spectacular play, like Chase’s dunk, to get us going. There’s no question that kick started a nice run for us. Our energy level was raised which in turn raised our defensive level and good things followed after that.”

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

I really have to group off the bench a lot of credit. They came in and changed the whole energy of that game. They got us going up and down the court, they shot the ball really well and they were active defensively. In that second and third quarter, the starters came out and did the same thing. That second and third quarter was about as good as we can play. Give our guys credit, this was a game we needed really badly and now we have to get one more before the All-Star break.

(on Shane): Carmelo is going score, he’s just too talented. But you have to make him work. You can’t give him easy opportunities. You can’t have a mental breakdown against him and that’s what Shane does best. He knows what he wants to do, he knows the guy’s going to score, but he’s going to make him work. Then Shane at the other end was terrific. When I put him at the 4-spot again, I think he’s going to ask to play that every night because he gets a lot of open shots that he normally doesn’t get. But he sets the tone for us.

(pushing the pace on offense): We’ve been getting in the habit when we run our stuff that we look for the very first option and then we just stop. The ball stops, everybody starts looking at the ball and then all we have is just pick and roll. We talked about how we have to take it one more step: you cannot stop moving – you come off a flare pick, you have to keep moving. We didn’t do that in the first quarter but we did it after that. And a lot of the stuff we did was just on the run, with no calls and no plays, they were just playing basketball. That’s when we’re at our best. We’re at our worst when we stand around and stare at one guy and think we can go one-on-one. We’re not that type of team.

(Courtney): He’s been very aggressive. I really think he’s come in with a lot of energy. One thing he does, and this is something we have to keep talking to all our guys, the wing people have to run the floor or we can’t push the ball. Some of our guys have a tendency that when they don’t have the ball, they just kind of jog. Courtney will run and that opens it up; it opens it up for Kyle and Aaron and the guys with the ball. And he’s shot it well so I think he’s really come out aggressive. He’s earned the minutes he’s gotten and he’s been a real key. If he can continue to do that, that’s huge because he’ll fight you defensively – he’s not going to give anything away at the other end. And when he’s making shots and running the floor like that and making cuts, it helps his teammates. And that’s what we talk about all the time: don’t just play for yourself, play for your teammates.

AARON BROOKS

Chuck said they took me off the milk carton today. It felt good to make a shot and hopefully it keeps going. I think as a team in that second quarter we came in and did a great job. Courtney Lee had an outstanding game and Jordan Hill has put two good games together, so it was a real good day for the bench.

SHANE BATTIER

The crowd was in the game, the ball was moving and that’s when the shots fall easily. When you feel good and passing is contagious and you get open shots, you wish you could bottle that feeling and bring it out for every game. When a team has that, it usually leads to good offense.

We feed off our home crowd and sometimes it takes a spectacular play, like Chase’s dunk, to get us going. There’s no question that kick started a nice run for us. Our energy level was raised which in turn raised our defensive level and good things followed after that.

(On the Rockets comeback in the second quarter) “We couldn't buy a shot and they (Nuggets) just weren't missing in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the bench did a fantastic job of pushing the tempo. We said we're going to score points against this team, we just need a few stops and we did a great job of getting it into the open court. We found our rhythm and it's been a long time since we had a game like this.”

CHASE BUDINGER

(on the momentum gained following his dunk): That’s the game of basketball. Sometimes it’s very contagious. Your team gets on a roll, they start making a couple shots, everybody starts feeling it and you just get that confidence as a team where you feel like nothing can go wrong and every shot is going in.

(On the play of the Rockets bench) “I think the bench really came in and stepped up the tempo for us and once the bench did that then in the second half the starters just carried on with it. We played a great second half.”

(On the key to the win) “For us, with our style of play, we just got to get up and down the court as fast as we can and shoot open shots. We have to change the tempo of the game and that's what we did tonight. Everybody was knocking down shots. Courtney (Lee), Shane (Battier), Aaron (Brooks) and myself, we did what we needed to do to get this win.”

COURTNEY LEE

(On his play tonight) “You can say that, you can say that (that it might be his Air Jordan Retro three's). We just came in and we wanted to bring energy to the game. We started off a little bit slow, our shots weren't falling so we wanted to just get stops and attack. When we started doing that, we started having fun and then when you are having fun, the shots start falling and things start going your way.”

(On the importance of the win) “It's important, like our last game against Dallas. We got down early on and then we fought our way back. We were one possession away from getting a win that game. It (tonight's game) kind of started that way this game so coach made adjustments so we couldn't slip all the way away and we just came in it. Like you said, a win is very important and we have one more to get before All-Star break.”

NUGGETS COACH GEORGE KARL

(On what turned the game around) “Their ( Houston) bench turned it around in the second quarter. In the third quarter we came out flat offensively and we got buried when they made threes the way they did. Definitely our bench didn’t get the job done.”

(On his team’s play in the first half) “My job is to stay focused every game and to get the team ready. We have to burn this game and move on to the next. We have to stay away from the negative things. We have to complete games and play all 48 minutes.”

CHAUNCEY BILLUPS

(On the key to Houston’s turn around) “They made a run in the second quarter and picked up the tempo of the game and when they got into a zone that hurt us. Their bench came in and dominated the game.”

(On his team’s play) “I’m not satisfied with how we’re playing. Talent wise we are a lot better than this. We are really not in a bad spot record wise, but we have to start playing better.”

CARMELO ANTHONY

(On the game) “It was a crazy game. We were up 12 or something and then you blink and the Rocket’s are up 12.”

(On the Rockets) “They beat us twice in 10 days and they beat us up pretty good. This is a team that always plays hard and when they get into their transition game, they can be very tough.”

(On his shoulder injury) “My right shoulder hurts pretty bad. I have a deep contusion. Hopefully I’ll be alright.”

NOTES

The Rockets returned from 15 points down in the second quarter to take a 121-102 triumph over the Nuggets tonight, marking Houston’s biggest comeback win of the season. It was actually the largest deficit overcome in a victory since climbing back from 17 points down to win 116-112 at New York (3/21/10).

The Nuggets, who also led by as many as 17 in a 116-108 loss last night at Memphis (2/13/11), marked their 11th time this season to drop a double-digit lead in a losing effort (did so 13 times all of last season).

The Rockets and Nuggets have now been involved in the two largest turnarounds in the NBA this season. Denver trailed by 14 points and went on to a 34-point victory (132-98) in a 48-point turnaround vs. Phoenix (1/11/11). Tonight’s game would rank second at 34 points, going from a 15-point deficit to a 19-point win (121-102).

Houston recorded a 39-point second quarter. The only higher second-quarter point total in 2010-11 came in a season-high 42-point second stanza vs. Toronto (12/31/10).

The Rockets tied their season high with 31 assists tonight. Houston has now dished out at least 31 assists four times in 2010-11 (Rockets record: 3-1): 31 vs. Phoenix (11/22/10), 31 vs. Sacramento (12/14/10) and 31 at Golden State (12/20/10).

Houston limited Denver to just 14 points in the third quarter to match the opponent season low for that frame. The Rockets then went on to score 63 points in the second half. Houston has now hit the 60-point mark in a half 20 times already in 2010-11.

Courtney Lee led seven Rockets in double-figure scoring with 22 points (8-14 FG, 5-7 3FG), six rebounds, four assists and two steals tonight, including 14 points (5-9 FG, 3-4 3FG) in the second quarter alone. Lee, who netted a season-high 23 points (9-15 FG, 4-4 FT) vs. Minnesota (2/8/11), tied his career best in 3-pointers made tonight.

Aaron Brooks notched 18 points (6-13 FG, 4-5 FT) off the bench tonight. Brooks entered this game with a total of 18 points (5-28 FG, 7-8 FT) in his last three games combined.

Shane Battier, who scored 14 points (4-6 3FG) vs. Dallas (2/12/11), went a perfect 7-of-7 (3-3 3FG) from the field for 17 points tonight. He is now 9-of-14 (.643) from beyond the arc over the last three games.

Carmelo Anthony finished with just 16 points (4-14 FG, 0-3 3FG, 8-10 FT), three rebounds and three assists tonight. It marked his lowest scoring output since a 12-point (3-12 FG) outing at Philadelphia (1/30/11). Anthony’s career-high-tying 50 points at Denver (2/7/11) marked the 14th time in Rockets history for an opponent to score at least 50 in a game against Houston.

Chauncey Billups, who scored five points in nine minutes before leaving in the first quarter with a left knee strain in the last meeting at Denver (2/7/11), had 15 points (5-11 FG, 2-4 3FG) and three assists tonight.

Arron Afflalo led six Nuggets in double-digit scoring with 17 points (5-10 FG, 5-5 FT) tonight. Carmelo Anthony (50), Ty Lawson (19) and Al Harrington (10) were the only Nuggets to score in double figures in the prior game at Denver (2/7/11).

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