• Print
Friday December 30, 2011 0:06 AM

No Place Like Home

Rockets win home opener in style, crush Spurs 105-85

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Remember that 72-hour period everyone spent fussing and fretting over Kevin Martin’s supposed shooting slump?

That sure was time well spent.

Thanks to a splendid second quarter that saw K-Mart shoot holes in the surrounding conspiracy theories just as rapidly as his team plugged the holes in its defense, the Rockets took care of their home opener in grand style, spanking the San Antonio Spurs 105-85 at Toyota Center.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine the Rockets could have scripted Thursday night’s game any better if they had tried. From Martin’s return to scoring machine status to the Rockets’ rediscovered defensive mojo, the contest had the feel of a mantra made real, as if all the themes Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale has spent the last several weeks repeating ad nauseum magnificently came to life all at once.

Simply put: Houston might not have played perfectly Thursday night. But at times it sure felt that way.

The Rockets were the more energetic team right from the opening tip. Give credit to the fans for sure; the excitement in the building for the club’s home opener was palpable. But give credit, too, to Luis Scola, that destroyer of Spurs and bane of San Antonio; the man whose presence in Houston – and not the Alamo City – still makes Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich mad “enough to make you spit.” Scola was money once more against the team who once held his draft rights, scoring eight quick points right off the bat to get the Rockets rolling.

Then it was Martin’s time to shine and shed himself of whatever burden remained from his 1-for-10 shooting performance during Monday’s season-opening loss to Orlando. After missing his first two shots Thursday, K-Mart broke through with a 3-pointer from the wing about five minutes in and the quick fist pump that followed told you all you needed to know about his mindset going forward. Martin was aggressive but never overzealous, always taking what the defense and his point guard – we’ll get to him in a moment – delivered. By halftime he had 20 points, the Rockets owned an 18-point lead and Monday’s nightmare was so far gone it couldn’t even be seen in the rearview mirror.

“I felt like myself tonight,” said Martin, who finished with a game-high 25 points in just 24 minutes of action. “Kyle (Lowry), our All-Star point guard, he knew what to do. He got our team going.”

That’s right, two games in and the All-Star chatter for Lowry has already started. Martin may have subtly snuck that little label into the conversation but, let’s face it, there’s been nothing subtle about Lowry’s play dating back to the last few months of last season. And the Rockets’ sparkplug was at it again against the Spurs, slicing and dicing San Antonio’s defense to the tune of 16 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists – all accumulated in just three quarters of play.

Will Lowry need to provide more than a stellar 2-game sample size when submitting his All-Star credentials? Of course. But any lingering doubts about his ability to do so surely must be fading fast. He is a dynamo on both ends now and his ability to push the pace, to make the smart play and the right read, is what has him ascending the ranks of the point guard elite – even at a time when the position is enjoying what has to be considered a golden age in terms of both depth and superlative talent.

All this and still so little mention of the Rockets’ tremendous defensive effort – a performance so good it even surprised McHale? Yes, it truly was that kind of night for the hometown team. There was just so much to like on Thursday. The defense was great, generating eight blocks and limiting the Spurs to just 37.6 percent shooting from the field. The rotations were tighter, close-outs were faster and Houston’s energy and activity rates were sky-high. The Rockets gave up way too many offensive rebounds but, overall, it was impossible not to walk away thoroughly impressed with the significant strides this team had made in a mere matter of days since getting torn asunder by Orlando.

To be sure, Houston’s defense is still a work in progress and there will undoubtedly be setbacks along the way. This team and its coaching staff are still getting to know each other and there are inherent challenges that lie within that lack of familiarity – to say nothing of the brutal schedule that awaits the Rockets over the course of the next few weeks. Unlike Martin’s shooting stroke, building a great team defense typically requires far more of a kick start than just the sight of a jumper swishing through some twine. But the Rockets saw what happens when both are working at optimum efficiency levels Thursday night. And, oh, what a sight it was.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On the Rockets effort) “Really good effort tonight. (We were) playing with a lot of carry over from the last couple days of practice, really attentive. We gave up 22 offensive rebounds. Our ability to sag-in and to rotate and to get hands up and to challenge shots, they can do it. They showed it tonight.”

(On the play of the team) “I thought Kyle (Lowry) was fantastic. I thought Luis (Scola) got us off to a good start and then K-Mart (Kevin Martin) does what he does. He (Martin) got 25 points in less than 24 minutes.”

I’ve said it all along about this group: they’re a very intelligent group. And it’s a very deep group so I think they understand that if they’re not bringing it someone else will. I think competition inside the team is very good. At a certain point, people will beat other people out – that’s just the way it’s always worked and always will. But that competition is good because I think they understand that you have to go bring it on the defensive end.

It will be interesting to see how we bounce back tomorrow. I will tell you that the last two days in practice we’ve humped it pretty hard and tonight was by far there was much more energy than we had in the Orlando game; we had much more drive and much more attack. But tomorrow night we’re going to have our hands full with Memphis. Those guys get after it and they compete.

KEVIN MARTIN

I felt like myself tonight. Kyle, our All-Star point guard, he knew what to do. He got our team going. It was a total team effort tonight on both ends of the court and we knew they had played last night so we just wanted to get out running.

This coaching staff has put in a great defensive system. We know offense is not our problem – it was defense. And this year, with the addition of Dalembert and also Jordan Hill coming along, now we have rim protectors back there in case we do get beat on the perimeter. In this system we want to have a packed paint and that’s what we did tonight.

KYLE LOWRY

(on getting Kevin Martin going tonight): We talked. Everybody was all worried about him. I told him he just missed shots in Orlando – that was it. And once he made shots, you see what he does. It’s that simple.

(On his near triple-double) “To be honest, I don't care about those stats. I just want to get the wins. “

(On the win) “It was a big win. Kevin (Martin) got back on page and Luis (Scola) had an awesome game. Sam (Dalembert) came in and did what he did in a limited amount of minutes. Four blocked shots and seven rebounds in 20 minutes is an effective big for us. Our team is based on defense and that's what we're trying to do.”

LUIS SCOLA

(On the game) “Yeah, it was a good game. We hit a lot of shots, we played with a good intensity. We worked hard in back-to-back just like in Orlando last game but this time we punished them. So, we played aggressively, played up-tempo going up and down and made them (San Antonio) feel the back-to-back. We did it, we had a good game and we won.”

(On the upcoming games) “Today's game gave us a good chance to not burn a lot of legs and be a little bit fresher for tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be tough, probably, then Saturday we have our third game in a row but it will be the last and only time we do it the whole season so I feel after the 31st we have to try to play well in our back-to-backs.”

SAMUEL DALEMBERT

(On the key to the win) “We realize that when we start focusing on defense, it makes things so much easier for us on offense.

SAN ANTONIO COACH GREGG POPOVICH

(On resting Duncan, Parker and Ginobili in the second half) ”We were down 18 points. We had had 3 games in four nights and we were playing on the road. We were not playing well and I decided to not play them and I was able to work other guys and get some other looks.”

(On the Rockets) “Houston did a great job. They were making their shots. They played well and just kicked our butts.”

(On his team’s bright spots) “DeJuan (Blair) and Tiago (Splitter) played great and executed very well defensively. Tiago is a great competitor that has been on a bunch of international teams. He’s a blue collar guy that works his butt off.” 

TONY PARKER

(On the Rockets) “Houston played better than we did. They shot the ball and defensively and had a good game plan. Definitely, Houston looks a bit different this year. They are a very solid team with Scola and Martin and they have all the pieces to be a good team this season. Everything was going their way.”

(On Coach resting players in second half) “Pop always does that when we are behind. He doesn’t want to force it. I’m used to it and I was not at all surprised.”

MANU GINOBILI

(On the team’s play) “My thinking was that it was a regression on our team’s play. Today we were below where we want to be. In a season like this we will have to wait and see if this might happen more often. You have to be smart and let it go and think about the next game.”

(On the Rockets) “Houston played terrific. They just killed us. They had more energy and that was very frustrating. We played bad. Houston was very sharp and they were making all their shots.”

NOTES

Tonight’s crowd of 18,267 is a home-opening sellout.

The Rockets opened their 2011-12 home slate with a 105-85 win over the Spurs tonight. Overall, Houston stands at 119-25 (.826) all-time in games when they hit the century mark at Toyota Center.

Houston hit 43-of-85 (.506) from the field tonight. Houston was a perfect 13-0 last season when shooting .500 or better. The Rockets also limited the Spurs to just 85 points on 35-of-93 (.376) shooting tonight. Houston went 11-0 in 2010-11 when keeping their opponent below 90 points.

The Rockets never gave up the lead in tonight’s contest. Houston completed six outings last season where it did not trail in a game.

Kevin Martin scored 25 points (10-17 FG, 4-8 3FG) in just 23:40 of action tonight after netting just four points at Orlando (12/26/11). Martin had just three single-digit scoring performances last season. In the three contests following those games, Martin averaged 29.3 points on 24-of-45 (.533) shooting, including 9-of-18 (.500) from beyond the arc.

Luis Scola recorded 18 points (9-12 FG) and five rebounds tonight. Scola has hit 17-of-30 (.567) from the field for 18.5 points per game over his first two outings.

Kyle Lowry finished with 16 points (5-10 FG, 2-4 3FG), nine rebounds, eight assists and three steals tonight. Lowry, who has topped the Rockets in rebounds the first two games of the season, also dished out at least eight assists in 26 outings last season (Rockets record: 18-8).

Samuel Dalembert, who had a team-high three blocks at Orlando (12/26/11), picked up another four blocked shots tonight.

DeJuan Blair led the Spurs with 22 points (8-17 FG) and 12 rebounds tonight. Including the pair of preseason outings with the Rockets, tonight marked Blair’s first double-double of the season.

Tony Parker had 12 points (6-15 FG) and just two assists tonight. Parker averaged 22.5 points (.536, 37-69 FG) and 7.8 assists in four games against the Rockets last season.

Tiago Splitter also had a double-double tonight with 10 points (4-8 FG), 11 rebounds and a team-high three assists.

Tim Duncan, who owns 35 career points-rebounds double-doubles against the Rockets, was limited to four points (1-8 FG) and one rebound tonight.

Got a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman. And for up to the second news and injury updates follow the Rockets and Jason on Twitter.