Rockets Make Magic Disappear
HOUSTON - The parallels were as plainly evident as they were eerie. The red-hot start. The subsequent fade. The debilitating defensive breakdowns. All the haunting hallmarks of the Rockets’ recent two-game slide were on display again in Orlando as Houston found itself in yet another dogfight with a sub-.500 opponent. The selfsame ghosts were threatening to terrorize and take down Houston once more. Then Patrick Beverley stood firm, stared them down and drew a charge that sparked his team and exorcized at least a handful of demons on the way to helping the Rockets rally to a much-needed win.
That the game’s signature play came on the defensive end was both noteworthy and somewhat surprising given that neither club seemed inclined to play much defense for the vast majority of the night. The game’s first three quarters, in fact, more closely resembled a shooting exhibition with both teams taking turns allowing the other to score with little to no resistance. Case in point: heading to the fourth quarter the Rockets had knocked down a whopping 12 of their 25 attempts from behind the arc while shooting 56 percent from the field overall. But instead of boasting a double-digit lead, Houston’s offensive prowess netted them nothing but a one-point deficit.
That hole grew to four early in the final frame when Orlando knocked down its latest wide-open triple. A Rockets’ turnover immediately followed, leading to a 3-on-1 Magic fast break that seemed destined to add to the bulge. But Beverley raced down the floor to get back, stood his ground and never flinched as Aaron Afflalo ran him over in the lane. In a game crying out for someone, anyone to make some sort of defensive stand, Beverley provided a suitable answer at last. Sufficiently sparked, the Rockets proceeded to rattle off a game-changing 26-12 run to take control at last on their way to recording a 118-110 win.
“He made big shots,” said James Harden, who finished with 24 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. “He came in with the defensive energy and pressured the ball full court. He made big threes and floaters and good plays. Defensively and offensively he played phenomenal.”
Indeed, Beverley was the Rockets’ difference maker in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 13 points in the final frame while chipping in three steals and two assists in the period as well. He and Carlos Delfino (21 points, 5-9 from distance) were responsible for all but two of Houston’s bench points Friday night, allowing the Rockets to overcome a career night from Orlando reserve Tobias Harris who exploded for a game-high 27 points.
But while Houston is in no position to quibble over any win at this critical stage of the season, the club’s players and coaches are all too aware that time is of the essence when it comes to plugging the holes that threaten to sink the team’s defense and sabotage its push for the playoffs. Over the last three games, the Rockets have faced off against clubs that each rank among the league’s bottom-10 in offensive efficiency, yet scoring came all too easily to the Wizards, Bucks and Magic upon encountering Houston’s fading D.
There still remains time enough to fix the problem. And if the Rockets can take care of business in their upcoming home-and-home matchup with the Mavericks then all will likely be forgiven. But sooner rather than later, impactful defensive plays of the like made by Beverley must become the rule rather than the exception.
“We have to definitely sharpen up defensively,” said Chandler Parsons, who scored 21 points on 9-15 shooting in front of scores of friends and family. “We can score on anybody and lead the league in scoring. We have to put all of our energy on the defensive end. We have to be able to win games when we don’t score over 100 points. I think it is a lot of mental things that we are having breakdowns on, but honestly it is just effort. We have to have all of our focus on that end and once we get stops then we can do what we do best and get out in transition.
“Every game is huge from now on. We’re trying to make a playoff push and we’re not just trying to get in, we’re trying to get a better seed. Every win is going to count at the end of the season so this is a big win to come out here and get this one.”
Patrick played really well and made some big shots when we needed them. He played good defense. Jeremy played very good defense, too. We had good guard play tonight from both guys.
We had a stint in the first half when we got pretty passive, but the last three minutes of the first half I thought Jeremy’s defense really picked up and I thought Patrick’s defense followed suit.
We’d lost two and haven’t played (well). We don’t have a great rhythm right now. We’ve been a team that’s been kind of start-and-stop, start-and-stop all year. We’ve got to hit the start button here and get some rhythm again.
We had a lot of different breakdowns tonight. We’re not really tight yet in some areas. We have to be better defensively, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve had three games in a row now where our defense has been very poor.
Every game is huge from now on. We’re trying to make a playoff push and we’re not just trying to get in, we’re trying to get a better seed. Every win is going to count at the end of the season so this is a big win to come out here and get this one.
“We just had to tough this one out. They were hitting some tough shots and we just needed to keep running our offense and when we get leads like that, we can’t slow up. We just have to keep running our game and make sure we get good looks every time down the floor.”
“We have to definitely sharpen up defensively. We can score on anybody and lead the league in scoring. We have to put all of our energy on the defensive end. We have to be able to win games when we don’t score over 100 points.”
“I think it is a lot of mental things that we are having breakdowns on, but honestly it is just effort. We have to have all of our focus on that end and once we get stops then we can do what we do best and get out in transition.”
“We know we control our own destiny. It doesn’t matter what other teams do as long as we focus on our next opponent and stay together and keep working on the little things we have been doing all year.”
“He (Beverly) was huge. All game long he was spotting up and hitting shots, getting us in our offense, and hitting that runner in the fourth quarter. He was really huge for us and gave us a big spark.”
“We shot the ball extremely well today. It was just us stepping up and getting stops today.”
(if defensive tenacity led to spark) “Yes, that is any team. That is how basketball is. When we get our hands on some balls (deflections) and teammates are able to pick those balls up, it leads to early transition.”
“I think Coach McHale and his coaching staff do an amazing job of getting guys prepared for games. There is a lot of repetition so it is up to the players to step up when your opportunity is called.”
“We got stops and got transition points. We got to the free throw line. It is all because of our defense. We score a lot of points on the offensive end but the way we get out in transition is because of our defense.”
“He (Beverly) made big shots. He came in with the defensive energy and pressured the ball full court. He made big threes and floaters and good plays. Defensively and offensively he played phenomenal.”
“I just try to get my teammates going and not worry about scoring the basketball if my teammates are scoring. It makes the game a lot easier for me.”
“It was a good solid road win for us and now we go back home and play a good Dallas team. All these games are going to count especially if we want to make this playoff push. We are going to take one game at a time.”
Magic Head Coach Jacque Vaughn
On his team struggling down the stretch…
“I think you’ve got to give credit to Patrick Beverley. I think he came into the game and finished the stretch run for them. He hit some key shots for them and at the same time he was able to apply a little defensive pressure. I give a lot of credit to him and the fact that they were able to turn up the defense a little bit on us.”
On Maurice Harkless’ growth as a player…
“I just think he’s getting more comfortable out there. I think his teammates are continually gaining trust in him. He’s gaining a lot of confidence in the ability to shoot the basketball which he’s able to attack the rim, and we’ve seen that; use his athleticism and length. Now he’s not hesitating on shots and it’s a good sign to see. He’s put in the work and the only way to see if that work is efficient is to try and shoot in the game. He’s done a good job of doing that.”
On his team’s defensive intensity…
“I think for the most part tonight the schemes that we put together tonight gave us a chance to win. For some people, the naked eye a little bit, you see a layup and you say where is the defense? In some possessions that’s what we wanted. This is a high volume shooting team. We wanted to take away the ability to shoot the trey. We couldn’t give them everything so if you see a Jeremy Lin layup or a Patrick Beverley floater, some of that was design. I felt overall our attention to detail was there tonight. This team is tough to guard. We keep Harden from the foul line. We give ourselves a chance to win. I did very much so like our effort tonight.”
On Tobias Harris…
“I am pleased. I think he’s fit right in rather comfortable and then he hasn’t taken away from the guys who’ve been here, whether Drew’s starting. I think Drew was very efficient tonight from the field and it has not stunned his growth. He’s just adding to our nucleus and to our core and so it’s good to see him have success and it’s good to see his teammates accept him.”
On Tobias Harris’s efficiency…
“I think he’s just fitting in. I don’t think he’s forcing too many things. If he doesn’t have a shot, he moves the basketball, he’s able to get out in the lanes, he’s a recipient of passes, and I think our smalls have done a great job of sharing the basketball. Again, 30 assists tonight, we gave ourselves a chance. He’s been really good of just not pressing and just fitting in with the group.”
“Down the stretch, it’s only natural for the intensity to pick up a little bit from there on the defensive end. We just have to take care of the ball, be better about the shot selection down the stretch. Obviously time is not on your side when you make mistakes.”
“First and foremost, I think individually we have to get better throughout the rest of this season and moving forward. I’m definitely speaking about myself; just have to become a better player so that you’re better in situations. In terms of must handling the ball, shooting the ball, some the basics of the game that make a better player so down the stretch you don’t have miscues and turnovers. As far as us being young, that’s part of it, that’s part of growing up. That’s a team that’s kind of been assembled this summer as well but they’ve got a few more veterans, a few more guys with experience. They have some good players obviously. I think it’s a combination of us individually just bettering our skills and on top of that just gaining more and more experience on learning how to win.”
(On Tobias Harris) “Well he’s playing well. Obviously he’s comfortable, he’s being aggressive, he’s putting the ball in the hole. He’s rebounding. He’s definitely doing the stat stuffing type of things but he’s a good communicator, he’s been vocal since he’s been here. I’m extremely happy for him his first three or four games. Hopefully he’ll continue to keep that up.”
“They’re a really, really good transition team. We had some just simple breakdowns, transition-wise. I thought our defensive schemes worked to plan tonight but we had a few breakdowns there where we gave them some open three’s. They’re a really good three point shooting team that relies on that aspect of the game. Starting out the game, it felt like they made every three they threw up. Once we kind of got a focus on that particular detail, I think we were kind of able to battle up until the fourth quarter.”
“I think the main thing is that we were out there tonight, played a heck of a game, brought a lot of energy, and like you said, battled until the end of the game. It shows as a team that we’re making steps. Houston, great team, play-off team, so if we just keep building on this I think it’ll be good for us.”
(On another career high pts.) “My teammates all look for me, find me in the right spots, the coaches making good effort to get me the ball in places where I can score, and just me playing in the flow of the game and playing with these guys and feeding off these guys. I owe all the credit to my teammates and coaches.”
“Being in Milwaukee, besides being at the beginning of the season, me not playing a lot, I think this is the right situation for me to come out and play. To play my game and grow as a player.”