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Saturday January 7, 2012 11:37 PM

Different Story, Same Result

Rockets show big improvement but still fall short to OKC, 98-95

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Kevin McHale demanded effort.

Speaking to the media prior to Saturday’s rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston’s head coach wasn’t searching so much for perfection as he was more passion after seeing his club get clobbered in back-to-back road games. He knew his team was better than it had recently shown and now he wanted them to prove it in front of their home fans.

The Rockets gave him what he wanted. For 48 minutes they fought and hung tough, going all-out in an effort to steal a victory while playing shorthanded against OKC.

With Kyle Lowry (foot) and Courtney Lee (calf) sidelined due to injury once more, the Rockets still managed to give the Thunder all they could handle. The defensive breakdowns that had so plagued Houston during their 0-3 road trip were limited this time, as the Rockets did a significantly better job protecting the paint, forcing the Thunder to forgo the layups and dunks they had feasted on Friday for dozens of difficult perimeter jumpers instead. In fact, Houston actually won the battle of paint points 40-38; a massive turnaround from the Rockets’ previous three games. And by aggressively forcing more turnovers, Houston came out on top 19-6 in fastbreak points, too.

What Houston could not win, however, was the game itself. For all of their improvements – and they were legion – the Rockets still fell short in a thrilling but ultimately disappointing defeat by a final score of 98-95. Russell Westbrook was simply too dynamic, James Harden too poised and Kevin Durant too clutch down the stretch.

So, yes, the end result remained the same as Houston dropped its fourth straight to fall to 2-6 on the season. The story of how they got there, however, was significantly different enough from the previous three games to provide hope that better days are likely in store.

“I think we competed,” said Luis Scola, who led all scorers with 28 points on the night. “We played hard and we were ready to play. I think we played a great game. (Oklahoma City) is one of the best teams in the NBA right here, with all of their talent. At the end, we put ourselves in a situation to win the game. They were just too good. They made some great plays and at the end of the game it comes down to great players making great plays.”

The Rockets started the game with a dramatically different look as McHale went in search of something to spark his sagging club. Goran Dragic received his second straight start in place of the injured Lowry and he sparkled with his play and energy throughout, tallying 20 points on just ten shots from the field, while also adding 8 assists and four rebounds. Starting alongside him, meanwhile, were two other new additions to the Rockets’ starting five, as Samuel Dalembert and rookie Chandler Parsons each made their first-ever starts in a Houston uniform.

While Dalembert was largely quiet in his continuing quest to find his form, Parsons acquitted himself quite well despite drawing a nightmarish defensive matchup against Durant. The rookie’s shooting stroke was off as he hit just one of his six shots from the field, but he did contribute a team-leading 8 rebounds, three steals and some rather effective defense on the NBA’s reigning scoring champ. Parsons, with plenty of help from his teammates, did well to limit Durant’s driving lines, forcing him instead to exist on little more than a steady diet of long-range jumpers which were missing the mark far more often than not through three quarters of play. Such is his greatness, however, that the Oklahoma City star shook off his shooting slump and caught fire in the fourth, pouring in the Thunder’s final 13 points of the game.

The Rockets, however, still had a chance to answer in the final minute but simply couldn’t get anything to fall. Parsons misfired on a wide-open 3 that would have given Houston the lead before Dragic followed that up by coming up short on a midrange jumper. And on their final possession, the Rockets’ point guard made one of his only mistakes of the night, sailing a pass intended for Luis Scola out of bounds, ensuring an Oklahoma City sweep of the two teams’ home-and-home weekend series.

“(Durant) hit some ridiculously tough shots,” said Parsons. “A lot of shots I was right there with the contest but that’s what makes him one of the best players in the game so you’ve just got to give credit to him because I thought our guys really came out and battled; every time he had an iso I had help – he just used his length and his some shots right over me.

“Losing never feels good. It’s hard to take a positive out of losing like that but definitely on an effort level it’s something to build on because I think we played extremely hard for 48 minutes all the way up to the last play. I think when we watch the film, we can correct some things obviously but I think we really left it all out there tonight and we’re going to win a lot of games if we play like that.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On the end of the game) “We tried to get the hammer for K-Mart (Kevin Martin) in the corner, then they both went to K-Mart (Kevin Martin), Luis was open.  Goran (Dragic) too at the top.  We probably should (of) told the guys at that point, Goran we had an extra twenty.  Goran could have laid that one in and played the foul game one more time.”

(On starting lineup changes) “Chandler (Parsons) gave us great energy. I thought that we would get Chase (Bundinger) with that second unit more aggressive with some shots, and use him a little bit more effectively, hopefully.”

LUIS SCOLA

(On the loss) “I think we competed.  We played hard and we were ready to play.  I think we played a great game.  This is one of the best teams in the NBA right here (Thunder), with all of their talent. At the end, we put ourselves in a situation to win the game.  They were just too good.  They made some great plays and at the end of the game it comes down to great players making great plays.”

(On the Rockets missed shots at the end of the game) “We had two finals plays, one was perfect.  We had a wide open shot from the corner, and Chandler (Parsons) missed it, no big deal. It was a good play.  That is as much as you can ask. It was a wide open three point shot form the corner, from a guy who can shoot. The other one was pretty much the same.  It was Patrick Patterson picking and popping. The guy can make nine out of ten of those shots, he just missed it, and that happens.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

I felt great. Obviously I was excited to get the start and to get some big minutes. I just wanted to go out there and play with tremendous effort. (Durant) hit some ridiculously tough shots; a lot of shots I was right there with the contest but that’s what makes him one of the best players in the game so you’ve just got to give credit to him because I thought our guys really came out and battled; every time he had an iso I had help – he just used his length and his some shots right over me. I was happy the way everybody played. The bench contributed and everyone played extremely hard tonight and I think this is good going forward.

(what happened on the open 3?): I just have to shoot the ball with confidence. It was a great pass by Scola. It would have been a big shot for us if it went in. Those are shots I need to make when I’m open. It felt good … Obviously there was a little bit too much on it but it all came down to stops – we just couldn’t get enough on Durant.

(not the result you wanted but does it give the team a boost to bounce back with a much better performance?): Losing never feels good. It’s hard to take a positive out of losing like that but definitely on an effort level it’s definitely something to build on because I think we played extremely hard for 48 minutes all the way up to the last play. I think when we watch the film, we can correct some things obviously but I think we really left it all out there tonight and we’re going to win a lot of games if we play like that.

GORAN DRAGIC

(on the final play): It was for K-Mart, they switched on K-Mart then I saw Luis wide open but the ball just slipped and went way high. It was a good play; Luis was open but I just couldn’t make the pass. It was my fault so that’s it.

(not the result you wanted but does it give the team a boost to bounce back with a much better performance?): Yeah, especially the last two games against the Clippers and Oklahoma we played really bad, especially on the defensive end and in offense. We were down in both games 25 or 30 points and it’s tough for everybody. But today we played well. At the beginning of the game we were more aggressive, especially on the defensive end. We scored some easy baskets and then we just have to be more solid on defense. Kevin Durant made some tough shots at the end of the game but still, we had an opportunity, an open 3 and a wide-open middle jumper but we couldn’t make it.

(biggest difference on defense just being aggressive?): Yeah, because last game we were way too far from our player and didn’t pressure the ball. They shot some easy shots and the ball was moving from the left to the right of the court. Today, we just tried to limit those passes and just tried to break up those plays.

KEVIN MARTIN

We just competed tonight – that’s what Coach wanted us to do. Guys were helping each other in every area tonight.

We trusted each other tonight and we played hard, so that can make up for a lot of other things.

We’ve got a group that, we know we started off 1-5 last year and we know how the year ended. That was definitely a darker time than it is now so I think we’re fine around here.

OKLAHOMA CITY COACH SCOTT BROOKS

(On the game) “Going in, we knew Houston would give us their best shot. They were making adjustments after the last game and we were fortunate to come out with a win. Our effort is always there and that effort was the key in the fourth quarter. We had a moment of truth when we were down by twelve. It is fun to coach this team, we are mentally, very tough. Houston made a couple of tough shots in the fourth quarter, but the three stops at the end of the game were crucial.”

(On Kevin Durant)  “Kevin is getting better in late game situations, just like I am as a coach. He is a gamer and tonight he finished of the game.”

KEVIN DURANT

(On late game shooting) “This may sound funny, but late in the game I don’t care anymore (If I miss). I one time heard Robert Horry and that’s the way I’m going to look at it. I always wanted to be the guy to make big shots and now, I just let it happen.”

(On the team’s play) “This game is like a playoff situation when you are playing back-to-back games against the same team. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy and it was a battle. Russell (Westbrook) got everyone involved and he willed us back into the game. He took things over in the third quarter, it was a good win.”

NAZR MOHAMMED

(On the game) “We definitely had to fight, they made adjustments after last night, and we were happy to get the win. We made stops at the end. We have to be prepared, and tonight it was our defense.”

NICK COLLISON

(On the game) “I thought we played great in the first half, but our second half was really bad. It was great just to get a win. I thought Russ (Westbrook) definitely turned the game around when he controlled the point defensively. He carried us and dominated the game.”

NOTES

The Thunder overcame a 12-point, third-quarter deficit for a 98-95 win over the Rockets tonight, handing Houston its first home loss of the season. It also marked the first time this season that either the Rockets or their opponent have come back from a double-digit deficit to claim victory.

The Rockets, who enter tonight’s game having not relinquished the lead at home this season, saw that streak come to an end in the first quarter of tonight’s game.

Houston hit a season-best .933 (14-15 FT) from the free throw line tonight.

After being outscored 102-71 (34-24 ppg) in the first quarter of the last three games (1/3/12-1/6/12), the Rockets contained the Thunder to just 23 points (10-23 FG) over the opening 12 minutes tonight.

After starting the season with seven games in the first 10 days, the Thunder are in the midst of their lone back-to-back-to-back of the season. After a home-road series with Houston, the Thunder return home to host the San Antonio Spurs tomorrow evening.

Luis Scola posted a season-high 28 points (12-28 FG) and seven rebounds tonight. Scola also had 21 points (9-19 FG), seven boards and two steals in the last home game vs. Atlanta (12/31/11).

Goran Dragic recorded his best point total as a member of the Rockets by netting 20 points (7-10 FG, 2-3 3FG) and a game-high eight assists tonight. He originally netted his most points with Houston by scoring 16 (6-9 FG, 4-5 3FG) off the bench at New Orleans (4/6/11). Dragic also started at point guard last night at Oklahoma City (1/6/12), registering 10 points (4-10 FG), a career-high-tying 11 assists and two steals with no turnovers.

Kevin Martin added 16 points (6-6 FT) and five assists tonight. Martin is now 26-of-27 (.963) from the free throw line this season.

Center Samuel Dalembert and rookie forward Chandler Parsons made their first starts with the Rockets tonight. In the first starting nod of his career, Parsons had a team-eight eight rebounds and three steals.

Patrick Patterson notched his second consecutive double-digit scoring game with another 10 points (5-10 FG) and six rebounds tonight. Patterson also had 10 points (5-8 FG) last night at Oklahoma City (1/6/12).

Kevin Durant, who totaled 26 points (10-16 FG, 6-8 FT) and seven rebounds for the Thunder last night, topped Oklahoma City in scoring again with 27 points (10-25 FG, 5-6 FT) to go with six boards tonight.

Russell Westbrook finished with 25 points (10-20 FG) and a team-high six assists tonight. Westbrook also registered 23 points (10-19 FG) and 10 assists last season at Houston (11/28/10).

Nazr Mohammed came off the bench with a season-high 17 points (6-10 FG) and six rebounds tonight.

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