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Sunday January 22, 2012 1:10 AM

The Joy Of Six

Rockets win sixth straight, hold on for 105-102 victory over Spurs

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Sometimes winning close games is just as much about being on the receiving end of a little well-timed luck as it is about showcasing superior skill. A bounce here or a bounce there – tightly contested contests frequently hinge upon such seemingly random acts of fortune. That is, after all, why they tend to be little more than 50-50 propositions.

In no way, however, is the preceding paragraph meant to take anything at all away from the victorious side. The wining team still has to put itself in position to receive that kiss from Lady Luck. And then, once embraced, it must take full advantage in order to seal its date with destiny.

Such was the story of the Rockets’ Saturday night, an evening which ended with the club recording its second straight heart-stopping victory and, far more importantly, its sixth straight win overall. Houston accomplished the feat by holding off the hard-charging San Antonio Spurs 105-102, using a tremendous fourth quarter effort on the offensive end and, yes, a little good fortune as well, to ultimately triumph.

The Rockets’ big guns came through with their customary strong performances: Kyle Lowry shook off a slow start to deliver 10 huge points come crunch time; Samuel Dalembert swatted a season-high six shots (while impacting at least a half-dozen more); and Kevin Martin paced Houston’s prolific attack with 25 points. But it was a pair of role players, Goran Dragic and Patrick Patterson, who may very well have been the ones to preserve the Rockets’ latest win.

With the game hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter, Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale made the decision to go small, pairing Patterson and Dragic with Lowry, Dalembert and Courtney Lee. It was a gamble of sorts, though certainly not an outrageous one as San Antonio’s lineup featured a far different look than normal as well due to the Spurs’ pre-game decision to sit Tim Duncan in an effort to provide him with some much-needed rest. And sure enough, Houston’s small-ball quintet came up big, rapidly transforming a 5-point deficit into a 7-point lead thanks to a 15-3 Rockets run which featured a few big buckets from Patterson.

That the second-year forward would make such an impact is not a surprise; Patterson frequently made his presence felt during the second half of the season a year ago. What stood out Saturday, however, was how he managed to do so. The Kentucky product is still feeling the effects of offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his right ankle, meaning he’s had to get by more on the strength of his impressive basketball IQ as opposed to his natural athleticism. And against the Spurs he put his smarts on full display, placing himself in the right spots over and over again so that he could be ideally-positioned to make plays on both ends of the floor.

“I have to focus more on being in the right places and using my body to help out my teammates rather than trying to make huge athletic plays and out-jump everybody or block shots,” said Patterson, who finished the game with 12 points and 5 rebounds. He then added that for the time being he’s even making a concerted effort to take more charges rather than go for the shot block opportunity every time. That sort of style sound familiar? It should. Patterson even calls it, “the Chuck Hayes model.”

As for Dragic, his heroics Saturday night didn’t hearken back to a former Rocket but rather his own history as a Spurs-killer extraordinaire. After San Antonio had trimmed Houston’s lead back down to two with about a minute to go, the Rockets found themselves stuck in a possession that seemed destined for disaster.

It started with Dragic losing control of a Kyle Lowry pass before barely saving it just as the ball was about to cross mid-court. Then with the ball back in Lowry’s hands and the shot clock winding down, Houston’s point guard split the San Antonio double-team but nearly lost the ball in the process, barely deflecting it in Dragic’s general direction. With no time left but to simply hoist a shot in the general direction of the hoop, Dragic tossed up a 12-foot prayer of a floater … that hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

Four-point lead. Order restored. And the Rockets back in control and in prime position to close out a Spurs team that has hated the sight of Dragic ever since he dropped 23 points on them in the fourth quarter of a 2010 playoff game during his days with Phoenix.  

“I don’t know,” he said with a laugh and a huge smile. “It just feels right. It’s great to play against them.”

And it's even better to beat them.

Lady Luck may have provided an assist, but the Rockets still had to have the wherewithal to knock down the shot. That they stepped up and did so with confidence says a lot about how far this team has come in such a short amount of time. Ten days ago they were 3-7 after an OT loss in San Antonio. Now they're 9-7, a mere half game out of the West's playoff picture and just four games back of conference-leading Oklahoma City. It's the sort of run that speaks to the skill and resolve this Rockets team possesses. And those characteristics, even more so than good fortune, will ultimately determine just how far this club can go.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On the game) “Tony was kind of in the one-man-game thing, going mid screen. He was just making plays. We collapsed a lot. What killed us was not so much our collapsing. Kawhi Leonard had 7 offensive rebounds and it was their offensive rebounding that really bothered us tonight. Had we been able to take care of that I think we would have been able to pull away and get some separation.”

(On the Spurs) “Tiago Splitter did his best Tim Duncan impression. We started attacking a little bit more. What they (Spurs) did the other night, their big got out and started trying to play space. We got to turn the corner on them (Spurs). We'll get there faster. That's what I was telling the guards. You have no idea how uncomfortable that big is out there five feet above Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry. Attack them, attack them, attack them.”

PATRICK PATTERSON

(on playing while less than 100%): It has its ups and downs but I’m trying to see it as a positive. I have to focus more on being in the right places and using my body to help out my teammates, rather than trying to make huge athletic plays and out-jump everybody or block shots. I’m starting to take charges more and more rather than what I did last year. Trying to be more like Chuck Hayes since I don’t have all that athletic ability.

(On the win) “I really don't know what it is but whenever we play them, it's always a close game whether it is them winning a close game or us winning a close game. It's always a hard fought game, a hard fought battle. I think we played pretty well tonight. I think Kevin (Martin) and Kyle (Lowry) stepped up in big moments for us.”

GORAN DRAGIC

(on his last minute shot): I saw there were two seconds on the clock so I just threw up the floater and it went in, so lucky shot.

(on his success against the Spurs): I don’t know, it just feels right. It’s great to play against them.

(on winning 6 in a row): It means a lot, especially since we did not have a long training camp. At the beginning we struggled a little bit, especially on the defensive end. We couldn’t find a rhythm and we didn’t communicate well on defense. Now we’ve established that, we’re playing good defense. If they don’t score, we don’t have pressure on the offense. If we miss a shot, we know we’re going to defend and I think that’s good for us.

(On the win) “It was a tough game for us. We knew that playing at home we had to put our energy on the floor and just play hard. Now we have won six (games) in a row. This was a big victory for us. The end was really tight when (Richard) Jefferson made that 3 pointer but we were able to make it.”

(On the play of Lowry) “Kyle is playing great. He played a lot of minutes and every game somebody has to step in from the bench and give him some minutes to recover. Today we played me, Courtney (Lee) and Kyle, three small guys. We were pressuring the ball and we know that Tony Parker is going to make some plays. We did a good job.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the victory) “Anytime we can beat anybody in the NBA, it feels like a quality win. It was a hard fought game between both teams. Both teams played well and we were the team that came out on top.”

(On the Rockets team effort) “Guys were making plays. Kyle (Lowry) played great. Goran (Dragic) played great and defensively we were at our best once again.”

SAMUEL DALEMBERT

(On the win) “It was huge. Like we said from the get go, we have to take care of home and that's what we've been doing. That's what our focus is on. We've got this whole stretch coming up and we've got to keep getting these home games before we go on the road. That's really important.”

(On their play down the stretch in the 4th quarter) “I mean it's good and bad. It's good to the point where I feel like we take the long road and a lot of times we don't make things easy for ourselves. Throughout the game, like today, we shouldn't have put ourselves in that situation and sometimes in a game like that, one shot or two shots or a single possession can change the outcome of a game. That's something we're going to have to work on and learn to keep the lead going.”

SPURS COACH GREGG POPOVICH

(On the fatigue factor) “There is never really fatigue that is going to be a factor. All the teams in this league have to play a lot of games. The schedule is what it is.”

(On the Rockets and their play)  “Houston is a good basketball team. They’re talented, they’re deep and they are physical. Lowry does a great job running the show. Martin is one of the toughest covers in the league. Their big guys are working hard and their role players are doing a good job. Kevin (McHale) has them playing well and they are doing a wonderful job.”

(On Tiago Splitter) “He is a true professional. It’s hard to get him on the court anymore than he is because he is playing a lot. There are only two bigs at a time and sometimes only one because teams play small. He’s getting as much time as I can play him. He basically didn’t play last season but he is a good student of the game.”

RICHARD JEFFERSON

(On the key to the game)  “Houston made shots at the end. We had good looks but they just didn’t fall. They made plays at the end and we didn’t. We didn’t have a bad game. Lowry and Dragic made big shots. We had a shot to get the job done and it didn’t go in.”

MATT BONNER

(On the team being short handed)  “We believe we can win with whatever line-up we put out there. We knew we were shorthanded and we had to bring energy and we left it on the court. Houston made tough shots at the end and that is the difference in winning in this league. We need to play smart, execute our offense and try to get the win every night.”

TIAGO SPLITTER

(On the game) “This was a tough one. We did a good job but they hit unbelievable shots at the end. You have to give them credit for the win.”

(On his play)  “Today I got to play more minutes with Tim (Duncan) out and I tried to be aggressive. I was playing defense and I tried to do my job I am still trying to get a feel for the game and to do my best on the court.”

NOTES

Houston recorded a 105-102 triumph over San Antonio tonight, winning both home meetings with the Spurs this season. The Rockets also extended their overall winning streak to six in a row (1/13/12-1/21/12), while pushing their home streak to five consecutive victories (1/13/12-1/21/12).

The last time the Rockets captured six straight games was back in 2008-09 (2/11/09-2/26/09).

Houston finished a season-best .557 (44-79 FG) from the floor tonight. The Rockets also hit 43-of-85 (.506) from the field in a 105-85 win in the last home meeting vs. San Antonio (12/29/11). Houston, which was a perfect 13-0 last season when shooting .500 or better, has started off 2-0 in such games this season.

The Rockets never trailed in the preseason outing vs. San Antonio (12/17/11) or the last home meeting vs. the Spurs (12/29/11). San Antonio actually took its first lead over the Rockets at Toyota Center this season at 82-79 in the fourth quarter tonight.

San Antonio took a 60-48 edge in the paint tonight, marking just the second time Houston has surrendered 60-plus down low this season (62 on 1/4/12 at L.A. Clippers).

Kevin Martin led Houston with 25 points (10-21 FG) tonight. Martin has recorded 24-plus points in seven of his last 10 games against the Spurs, including 25 points (10-17 FG, 4-8 3FG) in the previous home outing vs. San Antonio (12/29/11).

Samuel Dalembert, who swatted away four Spurs shots vs. San Antonio (12/29/11), had a season-high six blocked shots to go with 12 points (4-6 FG) tonight.

Luis Scola notched 12 points (6-8 FG) and a team-high seven rebounds, while Goran Dragic added 14 points (6-10 FG) and four assists. The two helped the Rockets place six players in double-figure scoring tonight.

Kyle Lowry totaled 14 points (2-5 3FG) and eight assists tonight. Lowry has now handed out at least eight assists in 10 games this season (Rockets record: 7-3).

Patrick Patterson matched his season-high 12 points (6-7 FG) tonight. He now owns five double-digit scoring performances on the season.

Tiago Splitter, who had a double-double with 10 points (4-8 FG) and 11 rebounds in the last game at Houston (12/29/11), posted a career-high 25 points (11-13 FG) and 10 boards tonight.

Tony Parker had another 24 points (10-23 FG), a season-best 13 assists, four rebounds and one theft tonight. Parker entered this game averaging 22.0 points, 7.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.42 steals over the previous seven contests.

Matt Bonner netted 16 points (4-11 3FG) and five boards tonight. Bonner had a combined 10 points over the first two meetings this season with the Rockets.

Kawhi Leonard pulled down a career-best 11 rebounds (7 offensive), leading the Spurs to a 43-32 (+11) edge off the glass tonight.

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