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Thursday February 16, 2012 0:26 AM

Rockets Silence The Thunder

Martin's 32 points paces Houston to thrilling 96-95 victory over OKC

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Prior to Wednesday night’s matchup with Oklahoma City, Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale called on his team to tap into its inner toughness; to showcase all the grit, guts and grind it could muster.

Feeling as if his squad had been outcompeted the night before against Memphis, McHale decided the time was right to deliver a call to arms. His message was simple: Missed shots are excusable; anything less than 100 percent effort is not.

For the Rockets to have any chance against the Western Conference leading Thunder, a total team effort would be required. Adversity would have to be overcome. Conquering such strife could only occur by employing a tireless work rate. And when that wasn’t enough, the formula for eventual success changed only ever so slightly: instead of ‘work hard,’ it simply became ‘work harder.’

Little wonder, then, that the look on McHale’s face after Houston’s thrilling 96-95 win over the Thunder was equal parts euphoria and pride. His team had responded in the best way possible, positively grinding out an intense, physical and exceptionally hard-fought game that had fans on the edge of their seats until the final buzzer.

“That type of win shows our toughness and our grittiness down the stretch to keep fighting,” said Kyle Lowry after the game. “They made some big runs and they made some big shots and we stuck with it. It shows that we are growing as a team and getting tougher as a team.”

The Rockets’ victory certainly went a long way in disposing many of the dark feelings that had hovered over the team after two disappointing defeats at the hands of Golden State and Memphis. And to that end, it seemed only appropriate that Houston’s offensive hero Wednesday night was none other than Kevin Martin, the player who had languished the most of late. Martin rediscovered his hyper-efficient form early and was instrumental in leading the Rockets to their most impressive win of the season. He carried the team during a pivotal third quarter stretch when Oklahoma City was threatening to take control of the contest, and drew the decisive foul in the game’s final minute that led to the game-winning free throws he drained to put Houston on top for good.

As Martin said afterward, however, to focus on the number of points he scored misses the, well … point. Yes, his team-high total of 32 was massively important but far more significant was the way in which he tallied that number. K-Mart found his rhythm within the flow of the offense, but was also effectively aggressive, making the most of the opportunities that came his way whether he was spotting up in transition, driving in from the wing, or cutting hard off of curls and pin-downs.  

“He was phenomenal, he really played well,” said McHale, when asked to assess Martin’s performance. “I talked to Kevin a little bit on the plane last night and said we’ve got to do a better job and I think he understands too that, as a player, it’s always incumbent upon you to try to come out and try to get (going). You’ve got to try to work your way into the game and play well. I thought his ball pressure and defense early in the game really got it going.

“He made some shots and I’ll tell you what: basketball is a game where if you play really hard good things happen. When the ball’s not going in it’s not the end of the world. You can grind it out, you can be tough, you can be physical, you can try to turn the other team over – you can do a bunch of different things to win a basketball game without shooting the ball lights out. It just so happened that Kevin shot the ball lights out tonight.”

On the other end of the floor, meanwhile, the Rockets put themselves in position to escape with a win thanks to an exceptional effort defending the Thunder’s dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Both players produced their usual numbers and share of highlight-worthy plays, but neither did so with a high degree of efficiency. Durant required 26 shots to get his 33 points and turned the ball over four times. Westbrook, meanwhile, fared even worse, hoisting 25 shots on his way to scoring 26 points while coughing up the ball a whopping six times. Toss in five more turnovers from James Harden and the high level of aptitude with which the Rockets dealt with Oklahoma City’s primary playmakers becomes crystal clear.

It’s no secret: The Thunder are a handful. They came into Wednesday night’s contest ranked as the league’s No. 2 offense in terms of offensive efficiency, so the Rockets have every right to be proud of the victory they claimed. But it should also serve as a reminder of the validity of McHale’s pregame message. Beating teams like Oklahoma City frequently requires far more than exquisite execution because, the fact of the matter is, it’s downright difficult to consistently demonstrate optimal execution when playing against the NBA’s elite. When things break down, that’s when characteristics like grit and desire are often the difference between winning and losing. And at no point did the Rockets show off their inner toughness more than they did during the game’s final 24 seconds when they dug deep, fed off a frenzied Toyota Center crowd and stopped the Thunder from scoring not once, not twice, but four times before the final buzzer sounded and the celebration ensued.

“It was huge,” said Chandler Parson who, for the second time this season, did an admirable job defending Durant. “I think it was the biggest win of the year with what we just went through with a long stretch, not a lot of rest and not a lot of preparation for this. The crowd was unbelievable tonight; that was the loudest by far I’ve ever heard it and it really played a factor. This was a big win. We need to build on this going forward.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(on grinding out a win): When the ball’s not going in it’s not the end of the world. You can grind it out, you can be tough, you can be physical, you can try to turn the other team over – you can do a bunch of different things to win a basketball game without shooting the ball lights out. It just so happened that Kevin shot the ball lights out tonight.

(on K-Mart’s big game): He was phenomenal, he really played well. I talked to Kevin a little bit on the plane last night and said we’ve got to do a better job and I think he understands too that, as a player, it’s always incumbent upon you to try to come out and try to get (going). You’ve got to try to work your way into the game and play well. I thought his ball pressure and defense early in the game really got it going. He made some shots and I’ll tell you what: basketball is a game where if you play really hard good things happen.

This team has to play hard. It’s not like we’re saying we’ve got five All-Stars on this team and we can just go out there, step on the floor and (win) – we’ve got to work hard every single night.

KEVIN MARTIN

(were you looking for your shot more?): No. I was just in the flow of the offense – that’s how I’ve been so efficient over my career.

(relief to put up 32 tonight?): It’s not even about the points. Yesterday we got beat and that wasn’t pleasant. Tonight it was good to be out there and it was a total team effort starting with our preparation; the way our coaches managed the game and the way the players played the game.

(on the win): The crowd was behind us tonight. You don’t beat a team with the best record in the Western Conference without a total team effort so it’s good that we were on the same page tonight and we all fought until the very end.

(On the defense Chandler Parsons play on Kevin Durant) “He (Durant) is one of the best scorers in the league and I told (Parsons) you’re never going to shut the guy down, especially if he is being aggressive, but you can make him less effective and that’s what he did tonight.”

(On the Thunders 21 turnovers) “That was a main concern. We knew that we couldn’t turn the ball over so that was key number one.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(on the win): It was huge. I think it was the biggest win of the year with what we just went through with a long stretch, not a lot of rest and not a lot of preparation for this. The crowd was unbelievable tonight; that was the loudest by far I’ve ever heard it and it really played a factor. This was a big win. We need to build on this going forward.

(On playing Kevin Durant) “He’s an incredible player. When you play a guy of his caliber, you just try to make it as hard as possible for him but understand he’s going to hit some ridiculous shots like every night like he did tonight. You just trying to make it not easy for him and just try and not get him in the spots where he wants the ball. I had great help defense tonight. Every time I tried to get up in him and force him to put in on the floor the guys were there trying to block shots. Sam (Dalembert), Jordan (Hill), Pat (Patterson), so it was an all around team effort but he’s (Durant) a great player.”

KYLE LOWRY

(On the slug it out win) “Every win is a slug it out win for us but that type of win shows our toughness and our grittiness down the stretch to keep fighting. They (Thunder) made some big runs and they made some big shots and we stuck with it. It shows that we are growing as a team and getting tougher as a team.”

(On defending Russell Westbrook in 4th quarter) “I was just trying to keep grinding. I got good help from my teammates. Russell is a very tough player and you just have to try and contain him. You’re not going to stop a guy like that. You’ve got to try to contain him and make sure he doesn’t get to where he wants to get to every opportunity.”

OKLAHOMA CITY COACH SCOTT BROOKS

(On the game)  “Down the stretch we missed some shots that were good looks and we normally make a few of them. We had good rhythm in the 4th quarter. We just couldn’t make a basket at the end. Our execution was good. We must get better on our turnovers. We gave up the ball 22 times and put ourselves with a chance to win on the road at the end. Twenty-two turnovers will just not let us do it. Houston made shots down the stretch. Give them credit. They made a couple of shots at the end. It’s a tough league. Houston, I’m satisfied with our shot that Kevin (Durant) had. He had a good look on the baseline and he had a decent look up top and had a good drive to the basket. At end of games, those are all great looks not just good looks.”

(On the play of Kevin Martin) “We did not have a handle on him all game. He had a good game going throughout the game. He was aggressive, attacking our defenders and we didn’t do a good job on Kevin. Kevin is one of the best offensive guards in this league. I know he hasn’t scored a lot of points lately but he can score and he does it well at a high level and he had a great game tonight.”

RUSSELL WESTBROOK

(On the game) “I wouldn’t say we were cold but we just couldn’t get any stops at the end or knock down shots. Our bench did a good job to help us get back in the game. It wasn’t a bad loss. We fought hard but things like this happen.”

KEVIN DURANT

(On 4th quarter shots) “I got where I wanted to get. I missed the shots. That’s the difference. I missed shots. That’s what happens. Guys can’t expect you to make every shot at the end or you’re setting yourself up for failure. We got unbelievable looks. Better looks than we usually get. I missed a wide open 3 (pointer), a wide open curled jump shot and another floater shot going to the rim. Things like that happen. We have to move on and can’t beat ourselves up for it.”

NOTES

Houston opened its six-game homestand with a sellout crowd of 18,274 tonight.

The Rockets, who led by as much as 18 points, held off a second-half rally by the Thunder en route to a 96-95 win tonight. The Thunder overcame a 12-point, third-quarter deficit for a 98-95 victory in the last meeting at Toyota Center (1/7/12).

Houston is now 3-0 this season in games decided by two points or fewer.

The Rockets finished with a season-best 13 steals tonight, exceeding a 12-theft performance vs. Washington (1/27/12). Houston has now reached double-digit steals in each of the last two games (10 on 2/14/12 at Memphis).

Houston limited Oklahoma City to an opponent season-low 13 first-quarter points tonight, outdoing the previous low of 16 points by the Spurs at San Antonio (2/1/12).

Kevin Martin matched his season high of 32 points (10-18 FG, 4-7 3FG, 8-8 FT) tonight, hitting a game-deciding two free throws with 23.6 seconds left in the game. He originally netted a season-best 32 points (12-27 FG) vs. New Orleans (1/19/12). Martin actually went without a point in 18:48 of action last night at Memphis (2/14/12), marking the first time in his career to be held scoreless as a starter.

Luis Scola, who had 15 points (7-16 FG) and four boards tonight, also recorded a season-high 28 points (12-28 FG) and seven rebounds in the last meeting with vs. Oklahoma City (1/7/12).

Chandler Parsons registered 14 points (6-12 FG), seven rebounds and two steals tonight. He has now notched two or more steals in 12 games this season, which is second on the team to Kyle Lowry’s 20.

Samuel Dalembert grabbed 11 of his 12 rebounds in the first half tonight. He also had 12-board first half vs. Milwaukee (1/25/12). Dalembert added a season-high three steals and had all three of Houston’s blocked shots tonight.

Kyle Lowry recorded 11 points (5-12 FG), nine assists and two steals tonight. Lowry has now handed out at least eight assists in 16 games this season (Rockets record: 10-6).

Kevin Durant notched 33 points (12-26 FG, 7-7 FT) and eight rebounds tonight, marking his best point total ever against the Rockets. His previous high was 32 point on Dec. 15, 2010. Including tonight, Durant has scored 25 or more points 13 times against the Rockets in his career, including three 30-point outings.

Russell Westbrook totaled 26 points (11-25 FG), eight boards and four assists tonight. It marked his 19th 20-point game of the season.

James Harden added 17 points (3-8 3FG), four rebounds, four assists and two steals tonight. Harden has come off the bench in 27 of 29 games this season for Oklahoma City, and in all but two instances, has gone on to score in double figures.

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