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Tuesday February 28, 2012 11:32 PM

Rockets Grind Way Past Raptors

Lowry's 26 points leads Houston to 88-85 win over Toronto

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Sometimes even the poorest of performances can reveal just how far a team has come.

Make no mistake, the Rockets were far from their best Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors. They got beat on the boards for the seventh straight game. They were doubled up in terms of points in the paint. They hit just 39 percent of their shots. They nearly coughed up a 13-point second-half lead to a Raptors team destined for top-5 pick in Lottery Land. The Rockets were at times ineffective, at others plain listless, and altogether just straight-up out of sync.

And they still found a way to escape with an 88-85 victory.

As a result, Houston wrapped up its longest homestand of the season with a 5-1 mark and now sits tied for 4th place in the Western Conference, a season-high seven games over the .500 mark. Sure, the way they got there was bumpy, uncomfortable and largely unpleasant. But having successfully arrived at their desired destination for the evening, the view still looks pretty sweet.

“We’ve built so much and our team has come together so well that we have the faith in each other to make the plays and make the right decisions for each other to try to win games,” said Kyle Lowry, who was one of the few Rockets who could shoot straight Tuesday, going 8-for-12 from the field while connecting on all four of his 3-point attempts to lead his club with 26 points.

He also hit the mark with his statement as well, as he and his teammates definitely seem to have tapped into a well-stocked supply of confidence and belief that they can make winning plays come crunch time even on nights when their ‘A’ game seems to have skipped town. Chandler Parsons proved his mettle by knocking down a pair of key fourth quarter jumpers after misfiring on his first four shots from the field. Kevin Martin did too, shaking off a miserable 3-for-15 shooting night in time to draw a key foul and score the Rockets’ final three points of the game from the free throw line. Neither player’s stat line looked pretty at the end of the night, but the fact that each was still able to make key contributions with the game on the line speaks to the sort of gutty, gritty performances that have become a team trademark of sorts.

On this homestand alone, the Rockets won four games decided by six points or fewer, improving their mark in such contests to 7-3 for the season. That’s a dangerous way to live to be sure – close games are largely 50-50 propositions, frequently decided just as much by luck as by skill – but there’s certainly something to be said for the confidence that comes with prevailing in the kind of hard-fought, grind-it-out nail-biters the Rockets have found themselves in of late.

Of course, few things help more in such situations than having a take-charge player like Lowry at the helm, and he more than delivered the goods with his team in dire need of his All-Star caliber services. Lowry had his way with the Raptors’ defense, leaving Toronto’s players and coaches with little left to do at the end of the night but to tip their caps and pay tribute to the player he’s become.

“Kyle Lowry is one of my favorites,” said Raptors’ Head Coach Dwane Casey. “He is a hell of a competitor. He is the heart and soul and spirit of their team. I love the way he plays.”

Then James Johnson offered this: “That’s what leaders do when the game is on the line. He knows he’s the leader and one of the best guards in this league. Even though he was not an All-Star, he plays like he is.”

Reading quotes like that, suddenly an ugly win starts to look quite a bit better, doesn’t it? The well-earned respect is coming, for both Kyle Lowry and the Rockets. Keep winning, and much more is sure to come.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(on Kyle): The last few games, when we’ve needed him the most, Kyle has really bulldogged his way into the paint. He turned the corner, got low, and you saw the strength he has, just kind of wedging his way through there. He did a great job of that. That’s really big for us. I’ve said I’ll year long: Kyle and Goran give us about 80 percent of our north-south and we really need those guys going that direction; it just puts so much pressure on the defense.

(On the ugly win) “What we had to do tonight, that was an ugly one, but Kevin (Martin) found a way to do it, Kyle (Lowry) dug it out, Kyle wasn't feeling too good out there, but definitely made some good plays. Great offensive rebound by Chandler (Parsons) coming in from the weak side to get it, and a really fantastic game by Kyle (Lowry) overall just shot the ball really well, but we were not sharp offensively, we missed a lot of shots and we are going to have to be much, much better than that starting really soon, like tomorrow night.”

(On the overall team effort) “Guys did some straight-line driving, we had a very disjointed night, there were times that our defense was fantastic. We had great possessions.  There were times where a guy drove from the wing and laid it in. When you hold the team to 85 points, you can’t complain too much, but yet, we had some break downs that we are going to have to tighten up on. We did not have a lot of flow tonight.”

(On the first part of the game) “I thought defensively our first group came out and really was good, they had some fantastic possessions and I thought that  lasted a little bit, in the third quarter they scored some points, but it was not like they (the Raptors) really ever exploded on us.”

COURTNEY LEE

(On the flow of the game) “You don't want to take anything away from their defensive scheme, and what they were doing as a team, but like you said they made it tough on us. The shots were not falling early. They are a good competitive team and they were playing physical on defense. They had a big line-up in there the whole time, with James Johnson at the three, which he is pretty much a four man. It was going to be one of those games where they continued to get shots and battle the whole game. ”

(On the rebounding of the Raptors) “That's one thing when we came in at half time coach was saying that was on the (dry-erase) board. That to make sure you get the defensive rebound and limit them to one shot per possession.”

LUIS SCOLA

(On losing the 13-point lead) “We were playing well, we got the game under control, and then we started making a lot of mistakes. They even got back in the game and we were lucky. We were lucky to come away with this one.”

(On Raptors big men) “I believe that we kind-of had the game and we just were not executing well and then they just came back. Shooting the distance 6, 7 and 5 and then that’s a different game, the momentum changed and it was more difficult when that is going on. Then the other team feels like they can win it, and everything gets more difficult. I believe we gave them a little hope and it was hard for us to get back where we were, and as I said we were lucky to get away with this one.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(expect to win these type of games now?): We don’t want them to be like this. We had some lapses big time and it shouldn’t have been that close. We’ve just got to move on past this and we’ve got to start focusing on Utah.

We definitely can’t get up like we did and then have lapses like that. Against good teams – I’m not saying the Raptors are a bad team – we can’t be doing that for the rest of the season because teams are going to make runs and we’re not going to be able to stop them. Once we get that lead, we need to keep our foot on the gas.

(5-1 homestand): It was huge. You always want to win at home, you always want to play good at home. Especially with these next three games we have coming up against three good teams and a tough place to play tomorrow night in Utah, tonight was definitely a big step forward getting this first one under our belt.

KYLE LOWRY

(different mentality in close games now?): We’ve built so much and our team has come together so well that we have the faith in each other to make the plays and right decisions for each other to try to win games.

(On his offensive play) “(I was trying to) make the plays, if it’s finding my teammates, I am going to do that. If it’s making a lay-up, I am going to do that. And given the opportunity, if I've got to score, then I am going to score. My teammates are always going to count on me to be there in late game situations.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the key to the win) “Just staying together until the end. The game after the All-Star Break, everybody is trying to get their feel back, so tonight it was just grinding it out to the end, and just getting some stops when we needed them.”

(On Rockets improved performance in the last month) “I think that was when we started playing really well. It was just the first 10 games of the season where we struggled just getting to know each other. We have been a confident group for a while.”

TORONTO RAPTORS COACH DWANE CASEY

(On the 4th quarter comeback) “The number one thing is we have to learn how to close those games out. We’ve had too many of those games as a young team and its something that we have to learn how to do. Any time you turn it over 17 times a lot of those unforced we have to lean as a team. I liked our effort and we competed as a team. Basketball plays and basketball decisions have to get better. Eddy Davis did a great job on the boards. Any time you hold a team to 38% and out rebound them by 10; you would say that you won the basketball game.”

(On Kyle Lowry) “Kyle Lowry is one of my favorites; he is a hell of a competitor. He is there heart and soul and spirit of their team. I love the way he plays.”

JOSE CALDERON

(On the game) “It was a weird game, they started better then we did. We held them to 38% shooting, which was good. But we had too many turnovers and that was the key. We believe in ourselves and we were right there at the end but we couldn’t get it done. We have to try and learn to win possessions at the end of the game.

ANTHONY CARTER

(On the game) “I thought we did a great job at the end. Houston got key rebounds and made the plays and we didn’t. We did a good job in the 4th quarter, but the second chance balls hurt us and we need to get better on that. We need to keep the game closer early because we use way too much energy trying to come back. Our bench was a key and we came ready to plan and gave our team a spark.

JAMES JOHNSON

(On the fourth quarter) “We were down the whole game and its tough to keep coming back, Houston did a great job keeping the lead and they never gave up. They did the little things. We have to work harder to overcome things to get the win.

(On Kyle Lowry’s play) “That’s what leaders do when the game is on the line. He knows he’s the leader and one of the best guards in this league. Even though he was not an all star, he plays like he is.”

NOTES

Houston recorded an 88-85 victory over Toronto tonight, giving the Rockets five wins in a row at home over the Raptors. With a 114-105 win in the last game vs. the Raptors (12/31/10), the Rockets posted the first consecutive wins in this series since Toronto took three straight from 12/21/05-2/28/07. The two clubs had alternated wins and losses over the previous 10 meetings.

The Rockets have posted a 5-2 record over the last seven outings despite getting outrebounded in a season-long seven straight games. It actually stands as the longest streak of consecutive contests Houston has lost the battle of the boards in since a nine-game run from 3/15/10-3/30/10.

With an 88-85 win tonight, Houston stands at 6-1 this season in games decided by four points or fewer. The Rockets also picked up their 25th consecutive victory when holding an opponent under 90 points.

The Rockets, who held the 76ers scoreless from downtown (0-9 3FG) vs. Philadelphia (2/22/12), kept the Raptors to just 2-of-17 from beyond the arc tonight.

Houston shot .387 (29-75 FG) from the field and dropped the battle of the boards by 10 rebounds (37-47) tonight. It was the first time the Rockets won a game when shooting .399 or less and getting outrebounded by double-digits since a 79-66 win (.397 FG% and -10, 42-52 TRB) at Seattle (4/4/08).

The Rockets actually set a season low in field goals made with 29 (29-75 FG), surpassing a 30 make night at Memphis (2/14/12).

Kyle Lowry finished with a game-high 26 points (8-12 FG, 4-4 3FG, 6-7 FT) and five assists tonight. Lowry, who reached double-figure scoring in a career-high 19 consecutive outings last year (2/26/11-4/5/11), now has 10 or more points in each of his last 12 outings (2/4/12-2/28/12).

Luis Scola notched 15 points (5-12 FG, 5-6 FT) and 10 rebounds tonight. Scola also posted 19 points (8-16 FG) and 10 rebounds vs. Philadelphia (2/22/12), giving him consecutive double-doubles for the first time this season.

Samuel Dalembert registered 10 points (4-6 FG) and two blocks tonight. The Rockets now hold a record of 7-2 this season when Dalembert reaches double-figure scoring.

DeMar DeRozan, who registered 37 points (12-21 FG, 13-14 FT) last season at Houston (12/31/10), led the Raptors with 17 points (6-14 FG, 5-6 FT) and two blocks tonight.

James Johnson registered 16 points (6-12 FG, 4-4 FT), eight rebounds, three assists and three steals tonight. Johnson entered this game averaging 10.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 27.1 minutes in his first 19 games as a starter this season.

Ed Davis matched his career high with 15 rebounds (12 defensive) tonight, including 10 boards in the first half alone. It marked his seventh double-digit rebounding game of the season. Davis originally set his career best with 15 boards at New Jersey (3/5/11).

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