Rockets Bounce Back In Big Way Against Suns
HOUSTON - For three long days, the Rockets sat and stewed in a cauldron filled with their frustration over missed opportunities and poor performances that had temporarily placed a damper on their playoff hopes. Over and over again, they heard the reminders of those glorious chances that had slipped through their fingertips adding foul flavoring to this gut-churning gumbo of their own creation: Sacramento; Washington; Milwaukee; Dallas; Phoenix – all winnable games; each against sub-.500 teams. The Rockets knew they would need something special to remove the rancid taste from their mouth. 72 hours and a 111-81 drubbing of the Suns later, Houston had found its elixir at last.
This was the sort of performance the Rockets had concocted in their minds while running themselves ragged in the wake of Saturday’s disappointment in the desert. This was Houston doing whatever it wanted to do against an overmatched opponent that was powerless to prevent the onslaught coming its way. This was the Rockets at their defensive best, forcing Phoenix into a ton of tough shots and, most importantly, dominating the defensive glass such that the Suns had little in the way of second chance scoring opportunities. This was, quite frankly, what Houston should have done Saturday.
Absent a DeLorean to change the unfortunate results of the past, the Rockets did the next best thing Wednesday night and made amends by thrashing the Suns and taking another small step toward securing the postseason future. After a slow start that saw Houston fall behind 43-38 midway through the second quarter, the Rockets outscored the Suns by a whopping 73-38 margin the rest of the way. All five starters scored in double-figures. Donatas Motiejunas bounced back from a few rough outings by setting a new career-high with 19 points. Greg Smith set a new personal best as well by corralling 12 rebounds. Aaron Brooks even got in on the action for the first time since his return to Houston, entering the game to a huge ovation in the fourth quarter and then promptly bringing down the house with a three-point make on his one and only attempt from the field.
Amid the cacophony of carnage, however, the quiet conducting of Jeremy Lin set a tone that might have rang loudest of all. The 24-year-old carved up the Suns by making one sound decision after another, frequently initiating the free-flowing, fast-paced elements that are always staples of the Rockets’ offense when its operating at its best. But as was the case for several of his teammates Wednesday night, it was Lin’s work on the other side of the floor that first captured the coaches’ attention.
“Jeremy’s defense was very good,” said Houston’s head coach Kevin McHale. “He’s got good anticipation, he sees stuff, he’s got good hands, he dug out some balls. (On offense) he just came out and made easy plays. We really like to encourage our guys to get the hockey assist. Those don’t show up on the stat sheet but those are the ones we really look at.”
After the game, Lin admitted that he and his teammates played with a chip on their shoulders Wednesday night. Given the end result, they might want to ensure that chip is easily accessible for future contests. The Rockets took out three days worth of pain, anger and frustration on Phoenix, and the hapless Suns had no answer. Should Houston play with a similar edge against sub.-500 clubs the rest of the way, few of those opponents figure to have much in the way of solutions either.
“We just wanted to play defense,” said Chandler Parsons. “I think all five guys bought in and really played hard. Guys were all over the place tonight. Guys were really physical, defensively. We were getting on the floor. We were taking charges. We were doing all those tough physical nitty-gritty things that we didn't do when we played them in Phoenix and it showed tonight.”
(On the momentum change during second quarter) “The guys really D'd up. I thought they really locked in defensively. That (Rockets) group gave a great effort on the defensive end and that kind of got us out running a little bit more and got us out on the break. Again, that same group started the third (quarter) and they had really good defensive intensity. We've been working really hard at it and it's good to see some results. A couple of things that were concerning the last game: they (Suns) had 17, 18 or 19 offensive rebounds for 24 points. They got to the line 39 times, we fouled them all over the place and we got to the line only 10 times. We were much more diligent (tonight).”
(on Jeremy Lin) I thought Jeremy played very well. I thought Jeremy’s defense was very good. He’s got good anticipation, he sees stuff, he’s got good hands, he dug out some balls and, again, just came out and made easy plays. We really like to encourage our guys to get the hockey assist. Those don’t show up on the stat sheet but those are the ones we really look at. Everybody sees the one pass, but it’s the pass-pass combinations.
(On the play of Donatas Motiejunas) “D-Mo played well tonight. I was happy for him. After a couple of stints where he got in foul trouble a little early in a couple of games, it was nice to see him get a little rhythm. Overall, that was a good game for us. We defended well and did some good stuff.”
(On Donatas Motiejunas being a starter) “He's always been the guy that's filled in. When you watch him play in Europe he wasn't a 28 point a game scorer. He was the guy that came in and played with other people. He's one of those kids on his report card it says 'He plays well with others.”
(on the importance of young players like D-Mo getting off to good starts) It takes awhile in this league – that’s why there are days of massive frustration and there’s also days when you just have to realize how young we are. I remember back as a young player, even in college, you didn’t play that often and it was hard to turn a bad game into a good game. It’s hard to explain. The snow ball would get rolling, you’d miss a couple chippies, then all of a sudden your man scores on you, then you have a sure block but you don’t get it and your man gets an and-one and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ At some point you just play enough games where you go, ‘Meh.’ Then a relaxation factor comes in and you have a two-point half in the first half with three fouls then you come out and score 24 in the second half. That doesn’t happen very often your rookie year, I can tell you that.
So yeah, D-Mo and most of the other guys need to have something good happen. I remember those days and it’s hard to explain to people unless you’ve done it. But you play enough in the NBA that the snowball doesn’t just go cascading down the mountain again. You get it under control and you play better. Our guys aren’t at that point yet so it’s nice to see them have some good stuff happen.
(On the difference in the level of concentration versus playing the Suns on Sunday) “It was pretty good. Especially when they (Rockets) ended the second quarter going into the third quarter. I think we played Rockets basketball. It was good to bounce back from that game. We had two pretty good practices. To bounce back from that game in Phoenix. To go out here and get a win like this, it was good for us. Finally, we can go home and get ready for practice tomorrow and then worry about Minnesota.”
(On the five starters being in double figures and Motiejunas' play) “The ball was moving well tonight. D-Mo got his opportunities. He had some big 3's and finished around the rim. He did a phenomenal job of taking advantage of his opportunities. Jeremy (Lin) played well. I think everybody on the team played well tonight.”
We came out here tonight with a chip on our shoulder because they beat us and so we tried to impose everything that we’ve been working on onto them.
(On the key to the win) “We did what we wanted to defensively and that's kind of the catalyst for everything that we are trying to do here.”
(On the Rockets ball movement and the team not settling for 3-point shots) “We were moving the ball, sharing the ball. You could look across that we had great distribution among the scoring and that's usually a great sign of transition buckets as well as sharing the ball on offense.”
(On his passing) “I'm not making highlights for myself. I used to make those passes recently because I was not playing. I didn't have so much time to practice for them but I was doing it in practice. Usually, the ball would not reach the player that I wanted to pass to so then the coaches were making jokes about me. So, today after I made a pass, they said it's not in the pocket. It was on the floor.”
(On his career high) “It's not really important for me, my career high. It's a career high. I'm thinking more about team victories. I'm happy that we won and shared the ball. That was the reason I had so many points, because everyone shared the ball and everyone played unselfish.”
(on the importance of getting off to a good start) Every player is supposed to know how to play without offense, too. I think that it’s really important for me to have a couple of good stops on the defensive end – usually that’s the thing that’s bringing me the confidence. There’s no pressure for me on offense.
(On the win) “That was a big win. I thought our defense really carried us. That's probably one of the better games that we've had all year. Just clamping down and focusing in on the scouting report, really playing solid defense. Especially in the second half and in those last six minutes of the first half, we really played good defense and I thought that's what carried us all game long.”
(On the turning point in the game in the second quarter) “We just wanted to play defense. I think all five guys bought in and really played hard. Guys were all over the place tonight. Guys were really physical, defensively. We were getting on the floor. We were taking charges. We were doing all those tough physical nitty-gritty things that we didn't do when we played them in Phoenix and it showed tonight.”
PHOENIX SUNS COACH LINDSAY HUNTER
(On the game) “That’s probably the first time I felt we didn’t compete as a unit and that is just unacceptable. It’s embarrassing. These are the situations you get put in when you really find out who’s going to be with you and who isn’t. Nothing is promised for none of us here so our guys have to compete like everyday is our last and I didn’t see that tonight. It’s very disappointing, very embarrassing, and unacceptable. Other than Diante Garrett, he played well and came in off the bench and played the way we expect. But other than that it was just a stretch for anything else that was positive to us.
(On the Rockets) “I think they basically challenged us and said you can’t guard us and drove the ball to the rim. It wasn’t any scheme or anything else; they just drove the ball to the rim. (Donatas) Motiejunas had his career high and that’s the game. They put their heads down and drove by us and dared us to do anything and we didn’t. We have to get back to the drawing board and have a spirited practice to correct the things we saw wrong tonight. Our guys really, really have to change our approach and come out with a blue-collar, desperate approach and play like we’re all on 1 day contracts. That’s the attitude were going to instill on them.”
(On the game) “It was tough losing like that. Houston started to get rolling and then they were making their shots and it seemed like everything they were doing was going right and everything we were doing was going wrong. It’s difficult but we have to learn from these types of games. Everybody loves to compete and still loves to play. It is hard on a team when another team really gets going like that at home, with a crowd and it was really hard to rally back from stuff like that.”
(On returning to Houston) “It was a very emotional game. I played here my first five years and I never came back to play here and I was happy to be back. It was a bad game for us and I’m very disappointed about that. It was good to see all the people around the team. They were really good to me and I was happy to get the chance to be around here one more time.”
(On the video tribute) “I saw a little bit from a bad angle from where I was at. I was touched. It was different and I wish it would’ve had a different outcome. This was just the way it was. It was very emotional to come here. The video was really nice.”
(On new Pope being from Argentina) “It was weird. I never thought it would be possible. I didn’t even know it was possible that he was a candidate. I guess it was a big thing.”
(On his return to play) “I felt a little winded because I only had one practice to get in and I was trying to readjust my mind to coming back to basketball. I got off to a pretty good start in the first half.”
(On the Rockets and the game) “Houston did a pretty good job on building off momentum and they really put us back on our heels. This league is about effort and about a will and obviously losing in Phoenix left a bad taste in their mouth and we knew they were going to come out and play well. They play very good at home and they’re playing for a playoff spot. What we really didn’t do a very good job of was responding. This is probably the first time where we flat out didn’t respond. A lot of that had to do with their will so it was a little about us and a lot about them.”
Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,132 for tonight’s game. Overall, the Rockets have 13 sellouts in 2012-13.
The Rockets registered a 111-81 (+30) win over the Suns tonight, which marked Houston’s largest margin of victory ever over Phoenix. The previous high was 27 points in a 131-104 triumph vs. Phoenix back on Feb. 25, 1993.
Houston finished 39-of-76 (.513) from the field, including a 10-of-21 (.476) outing from downtown. The Rockets have now reached double digits in 3-pointers made in a season-high six consecutive games (3/1/13-3/13/13), going a combined 85-of-195 (.436) from beyond the arc over this run.
The Rockets took the battle of the boards by a 46-29 (+17) margin tonight. Houston also outrebounded the Suns twice last year by a 49-39 (+10) count vs. Phoenix (2/3/12) and by 44-31 (+13) at Phoenix (2/9/12).
Houston’s starting five have all scored 10-plus points in the same game 11 times on the season.
The Rockets recorded 50 points in the paint tonight and took a 17-11 edge in fast-break points. Houston scored just 28 in the paint at Phoenix (3/9/13) and was outscored off the break 32-14 by the Suns.
Donatas Motiejunas led five Rockets in double-figure scoring with a career-high 19 points (7-12 FG, 2-4 3FG, 3-4 FT), five rebounds, two assists and one block tonight. Motiejunas netted his previous career best of 17 points (7-12 FG, 2-5 3FG) at Orlando (3/1/13).
Greg Smith pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds tonight to go with six points (3-5 FG) and two blocked shots. It marked his third double-digit rebounding game of the season: 10 boards at Dallas (1/16/13) and 11 rebounds at Cleveland (1/5/13).
James Harden finished with 18 points (4-7 FG, 3-5 3FG, 7-8 FT) and four assists, but had his streak of games with at least one steal snapped tonight. Harden had picked up at least one theft in a career-best 28 straight games played (1/9/13-3/9/13), which was the longest such streak by a Rockets player since Steve Francis had 29 in a row back in 2003-04 (2/9/04-4/9/04).
Chandler Parsons added 11 points (5-11 FG) tonight, extending his career-high streak of consecutive double-digit scoring games to 12 in a row (2/12/13-3/13/13).
Jeremy Lin recorded 13 points (5-9 FG, 2-2 FT), a team-high six assists and two steals tonight.
Omer Asik posted 14 points (4-7 FG, 6-7 FT) and seven rebounds tonight. Asik came into this game with a career-high-tying streak of nine straight 10-plus rebounding games (1/26/13-2/12/13 and 2/20/13-3/9/13).
Wesley Johnson led the Suns with 15 points (7-13 FG) tonight. Johnson, who scored a season-high 19 points (7-14 FG) at Sacramento (3/8/13), averaged 14.0 points (18-35 FG) over his prior three starts.
Goran Dragic totaled 11 points (4-10 FG), five boards, four assists and three steals tonight. Dragic now has at least one steal in 50 of 63 games this season and multiple steals in 32 of 63 contests, which stands as the most multiple-steal games by a Suns player since Shawn Marion in 2006-07.