Rockets Keep Rolling, Knock Off Raptors In Rout
HOUSTON - It’s amazing what a difference a week can make in the life of an NBA team. Seven days ago, the Rockets returned home bruised, battered and lost, licking their wounds after languishing through an 0-3 road trip that had ended with back-to-back blowout defeats.
Fast-forward to today and whatever remains of that previously downtrodden squad hardly looks recognizable in the rearview mirror. These Rockets instead are rolling and riding high, the proud owners of a three-game winning streak and a perfect 3-0 homestand after putting the finishing touches on yet another thorough trouncing of an overmatched opponent. The latest victim: A Raptors team that came to town desperate to get back in the win column only to instead be sent packing with their tails between their legs after watching the Rockets romp to a 117-101 victory.
What changed? Well for starters some of the great looks Houston has been getting all season long finally started to fall. The Rockets shot 53 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point land Tuesday night; numbers that fall right in line with the way the club shot throughout the vast majority of its past three games at Toyota Center (Houston came close to hitting 50 percent of its shots from both the field and beyond the arc during this homestand). The ball movement was once again exceptional as well, as the Rockets racked up 30 assists – 22 of which came courtesy of the club’s starting backcourt of Jeremy Lin and James Harden.
But part of the difference, too, simply comes down to the fact that this is the league’s youngest team. And just as parents must be patient with a teenager’s mood swings, Rockets fans should probably begin bracing themselves – if they haven’t already – for the inevitable roller coaster ride that always accompanies young talent in the NBA. This probably won’t be the last time fans bear witness to both the best and the worst the team has to offer in the same week. The important part, however, is that the signs of growth are there and these glimpses of this club’s potential are growing increasingly pronounced as the days go by and additional experience is accrued.
“We’re 14 games in. We’ve never played with each other. I think a lot of it is just natural evolution,” said Houston’s acting head coach Kelvin Sampson, when asked to explain the team’s recent offensive explosion. “We’re finding each other better. We’re making the extra pass better.
“There’s a lot to be said about shooting the ball in rhythm. If you notice, we don’t shoot many balls off the bounce – it’s more catch-and-shoot. Guys have their feet ready. We talk all the time about shot preparation: Get your hands and feet ready prior to the catch. Our guys are doing a great job of that.
“We’re playing as a team. Guys are taking good shots. Usually shot selection correlates to shooting percentage. You shoot a higher percentage when you take good shots. This is an easy team to coach. We have high character kids who enjoy playing with each other. And I think this team’s going to get a lot better.”
That improvement is perhaps most noticeable within the Rockets’ starting five. As the group continues to congeal and coalesce, the pieces have begun to slide into place with Tuesday representing just the latest example. Every single Houston starter scored in double-figures against the Raptors and three of them – Lin, Harden and Asik – recorded double-doubles. Each was so good in fact that it’s difficult to select a standout. Parsons put together his typical do-everything, Swiss Army knife performance. Patrick Patterson scored 15 points in the decisive third quarter. Harden made the game look easy – for both himself and his teammates. Omer Asik dominated the paint yet again, prompting Jeremy Lin to smile while reminding reporters post-game that he tried to tell them long ago just how good Asik truly is. And Lin was no slouch himself, playing with such poise, patience and control that Sampson said he believes his point guard played his best game of the season and that Lin “got his swagger back.”
Of course, these are the sort of superlatives that typically accompany a team on a winning streak, especially after back-to-back victories that come by a combined 44 points. The degree of difficulty, however, is about to rise in a way that can’t possibly be measured. Immediately after Tuesday’s game, the Rockets took to the air to Minnesota so that they will be able to stand by their grieving head coach Kevin McHale and his family at the funeral for his daughter Alexandra ‘Sasha’ McHale, who passed away Saturday. Following the services, the team will then fly to Oklahoma City for Wednesday’s game against the Thunder.
The next 24 hours promise to exact a considerable emotional and physical toll on all involved. And though there’s only so much a team can do amid such a tragic time, the Rockets are determined to keep playing in a way that will make their coach proud.
“He’s all over our minds,” said Chandler Parsons. “That’s our head coach, that’s our leader. Just imagine what he’s going through and how close he is to his family – it hurts. He just texted me after the game and said thank you. You can tell he’s down, but just watching us get these wins is helping him and I think that should give us more incentive to keep playing together, keep playing hard and being a product of him because even those he’s hurting right now, he’s watching us and he’s proud of us.”
(on recent improvement on offense)
First of all, we’re a young team. We’re 14 games in. We’ve never played with each other. I think a lot of it is just natural evolution. We’re finding each other better. We’re making the extra pass better.
There’s a lot to be said about shooting the ball in rhythm. If you notice, we don’t shoot many balls off the bounce – it’s more catch-and-shoot. Guys have their feet ready. We talk all the time about shot preparation: Get your hands and feet ready prior to the catch. Our guys are doing a great job of that.
We’re playing as a team. Guys are taking good shots. Usually shot selection correlates to shooting percentage. You shoot a higher percentage when you take good shots. This is an easy team to coach. We have high character kids who enjoy playing with each other. And I think this team’s going to get a lot better.
James (Harden) is a great pocket passer. When you set the screen in the middle of the floor there’s a pocket between the top of the key and the dotted line where we try to get (Asik) the ball and then collapse the defense where we can play to the corners. When you don’t collapse from the corners and stop O’s rolls, he’s getting more confident with that.
(On Jeremy Lin play) “This is the best game that Jeremy has played, no question. I thought he got his swagger back against New York. He had a little back contusion or spasm and didn't practice Sunday but he came back yesterday (Monday) and got a lot of shots up. He's been working hard with his shooting. If you work at something you're probably going to get better at it. Its confidence, his mojo, his swagger whatever you want to call it. He looks more comfortable on the court.”
(On preparation for OKC game) “I don't pretend to know what to do there (on preparation for OKC game). I know that we're going to fly to Minnesota tonight and go to service tomorrow and I think we get to Oklahoma City hopefully by 3:30 maybe 4. The game is at 7. As long as we get there by 7 we'll be okay. As far as preparing, I'm just going to play it by ear and figure it out as I go.”
It was a good win. The past few games have been good for us; gets us back in the groove and finally know that we’re a good team and we can win games. Like I said, we just need to build on one another.
(On the key to the Rockets improved offense) “I think our ball movement and moving the ball, sharing with one another. Guys are knocking down shots, which makes the game a lot easier. We are really trusting our bigs (low perimeter players). Our bigs are making very good decisions with the basketball.”
The thing that I thought was good about what I did was I just stayed patient and within the flow of the game. I think that’s something I didn’t do a great job with early on in the season. For me, this was a good step in the right direction and I’m thankful to God for it for sure.
I tried to tell you guys a long time ago. He’s good. There’s no other way to say it. He can really play. We’re excited because we already know what he can do defensively, with what he’s doing offensively, too, oh man – it makes us so much more dangerous.
(On the emotional win after Coach McHale family tragedy) “Right now it’s an emotional time for the whole team. We're missing our leader. Right now we're just focused on coming out and playing the way we're supposed to play. Hopefully when he is watching, he can be proud of us.”
(On the Rockets recent play) “We've played with tremendous energy during this homestand. And the challenge right now is to bring that into Oklahoma tomorrow night. We're going to have a long day tomorrow and it is the back end of a back to back. But we've shown ourselves what we are capable of when we play with high energy.”
(on winning the game for the McHale family)
He’s all over our minds. That’s our head coach, that’s our leader. Just imagine what he’s going through and how close he is to his family – it hurts. He just texted me after the game and said thank you. You can tell he’s down, but just watching us get these wins is helping him and I think that should give us more incentive to keep playing together, keep playing hard and being a product of him because even those he’s hurting right now, he’s watching us and he’s proud of us.
(On the importance of the win in lieu of the situation with Coach McHale) “For coach and ourselves we understand the situation at hand with him and his family. We know he can't be here with us even though he could be. We want to go out here with these home games and focus on the game at hand. I think it’s important because we got the 3 losses on the road. Come back home and get these 3 games and be able to get at .500 and focus on the next game which is Oklahoma City. Since we won these last 3 games, especially this game with it being such an emotional game. I think we'll just move forward in the right direction.
(On him almost making new career high) “Oh yeah I knew that, that's why I was shooting the ball the whole time. When I saw I had 22, I started floating around the 3 (point line). The last 3 that I put up, I thought it was going in. I knew I was close to it but I was gunning for it once I realized how close I was.”
TORONTO RAPTORS COACH DWANE CASEY
(On the team’s defensive problems) “They were big time. It started in the first quarter, continued in the second quarter. That style of game lends itself to not playing defense. I told our guys at halftime, the first team that plays defense wins the game. And we didn’t. They went on a 7-0 run to start the third quarter and that began the avalanche. The positives, I thought Terrence Ross had his best game and gave us some big time minutes. Now we need to get some other people to join the party. I don’t know what the reasons are that we didn’t come out ready to play.”
(On the Rockets) “They made shots, but we can’t allow our defense to regress to the point where we get in a tic for tack kind of game. Houston out ran us down the floor and our turnovers killed us. Those are the tough type of turnovers where you don’t get back in time to defend, but we shot ourselves in the foot. Houston shot the heck out of the ball, but we caused some of that by our turnovers.”
(On Lowry’s return) “It did not go the way he wanted. He struggled. Those type of games usually go one way or the other. You either play great or you get caught up in the situation. I thought he came back in the fourth quarter and tried to fight down the stretch, but it was a little too late. It wasn’t just Kyle; it was everybody collectively as a team.”
(On returning to Houston) “It wasn’t a pleasant one for me. They kicked our ass tonight and we didn’t play well and just got out played tonight. There are bunch of different guys over there, but they played hard tonight. They are young and very talented. They are going to be a force in the West in the years to come.”
(On Rockets adding Harden) “He’s an All-Star and he is playing at that level. He is going to be one of those guys you look to every night and gets you 20 and 10, a double-double type guy and will be a perennial All-Star every year.”
(On the game) “They just shot the ball well and we weren’t where we were supposed to be. They executed better then we did. It was just one of those games”
(On the key to the game) “I think we were a little bit off and they were running. They were running hard and picked up their transition and scored so many points in the first half. We didn’t realize to start playing basketball until maybe the last 10 minutes of the third quarter and that’s when we started playing like a team. We were competing against everybody, but tonight we just didn’t get the job done.”
(On the Rockets) “It’s a very good team, a running team that has a lot of great guys that are going to score the ball. Kind of fun to watch and they are going to be alright with a lot of young guys.”
(On his career high) “I felt confident; everybody kept telling me to be aggressive, keep attacking, and just play defense. I took all those things to heart, but it was frustrating to take the loss. I’m comfortable with playing with all our guys and just going out and fitting in in my position and know my role.
(On defending Harden) “The biggest thing was just don’t let him go left and don’t let him try to get a running start where he is attacking because then it’s very hard to stop him. I tried to force him to go right, but our whole team did a good job in the third and fourth quarter.”
Houston completed a sweep of its three-game homestand with a 117-101 victory over Toronto, which also gave the Rockets six wins in a row at home over the Raptors (12/29/07-11/27/12).
Over their current three-game winning streak, the Rockets have scored 341 points (113.7 ppg), while shooting 122-of-246 (.496) from the field and 34-of-70 (.486) from beyond the arc.
The Rockets, who scored a season-best 72 first-half points vs. New York (11/23/12), followed that up with 61 points in the opening half of tonight’s game. It also marked Houston’s fourth 60-point half of the season.
Houston added a season-best 38 third-quarter points tonight. The previous best was 33 in the third vs. Miami (11/12/12).
James Harden led six Rockets in double-figure scoring with a game-high 24 points (9-19 FG, 4-8 3FG) and a career-high-tying 12 assists tonight. It marked just the second double-double of his career. Harden set his career best with 12 assists at Detroit (10/31/12).
Jeremy Lin finished with 16 points (7-9 FG), 10 assists and three steals tonight, marking his third double-double of the season.
The last time the Rockets had two players with double-digit assists in the same game was on 3/23/11 vs. Golden State – Kyle Lowry (12), Chuck Hayes (11).
Omer Asik posted 13 points (6-9 FG) and 18 rebounds tonight, marking his seventh double-double of the season.
Houston had three players with a double-double in the same game for a second time already this season. Chandler Parsons (19 points, 11 rebounds), Omer Asik (16 points, 16 rebounds) and Jeremy Lin (11 points, 11 assists) each picked up a double-double at Portland (11/16/12).
Patrick Patterson registered a season-high 22 points (7-14 FG, 2-4 3FG, 6-7 FT) tonight, extending his career-long streak of double-figure scoring games to six in a row (11/16/12-11/27/12). His previous best was three consecutive outings (done three times). Patterson’s career high stands at 24 points vs. Sacramento (3/26/12).
All five Rockets starters have scored 10-plus points in each of the last two outings (11/23/12-11/27/12).
Andrea Bargnani, who was held to a season-low two points on 2-of-19 shooting vs. San Antonio (11/25/12), recorded a team-high 21 points (8-12 FG, 3-4 3FG) tonight.
Terrence Ross recorded a career-best 19 points (9-17 FG) and five boards tonight. His previous high was 11 points at Charlotte (11/21/12).
DeMar DeRozan, who had 37 points (12-21 FG, 13-14 FT) in his 2010-11 visit to Houston (12/31/10), was limited to just 12 points (5-10 FG) tonight.
Kyle Lowry made his return to Houston with a team-high eight rebounds to go with seven points (3-10 FG) and five assists for the Raptors.