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Rockets' Pace Too Much For Memphis

December 22, 2012 11:24 pm EST

HOUSTON - Forget whistling while you work – Jeremy Lin was literally laughing out loud while he helped the Rockets put the finishing touches on their most impressive win of the season so far. Having picked apart the Grizzlies all night long, Lin could be seen positively beaming toward the end of the evening’s surgical dissection. The same could certainly be said of his teammates as well, each of whom was only too happy to join in the holiday fun as the Rockets raced past Memphis 121-96 before a raucous sellout crowd at Toyota Center.

It was the sort of show that fans and coaches dream of – a thorough, start-to-finish, tour de force performance against an elite team that serves notice to the league at large of the damage this club can inflict when the chemistry clicks and the pieces seamlessly slide into place. Better yet, it was the third such performance the Rockets have produced this week during a dominating six-day stretch that has seen them go 3-0 – with two of those games coming against teams ranking near the top of their respective conferences – while racking up an average margin of victory of 20 points in that span.

Saturday night it started, as it so often does for these up-tempo Rockets, with a dedication to punish the Grizzlies with pace. Knowing Memphis was playing its second game in as many nights, Houston’s players raced up and down the floor at every opportunity – after misses, makes, turnovers, you name it. The Rockets simply refused to allow the Grizzlies to enter into any sort of comfort zone and it didn’t take long to see that Memphis would be simply incapable of keeping up on this night. The final numbers said it all – and they did so in the most jarring way possible: the Rockets owned a jaw-dropping 33-3 edge in fast break points and a 68-30 advantage in transition.

“I think tonight we showed how explosive we can be offensively because we put 120 points on a team that hasn't allowed over 100 points since the first game of the season,” said Jeremy Lin after a game that saw him stuff the stat sheet with 15 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and a pair of steals. “This is just a testament of people moving and passing the ball and we were also fortunate that we caught them on the back end of the back-to-back.”

Regardless of the circumstances, the Rockets certainly did their part in making Memphis look sluggish and a step slow. Houston’s bigs ran the floor, daring the girthy Grizz to catch up. They also collectively crashed the glass, massively mitigating the damage Memphis – No. 2 in the NBA in offensive rebound rate – was able to do via the boards. Omer Asik and Greg Smith combined for 24 points and 17 rebounds – numbers that topped the joint efforts of All-Stars Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. And while Smith and Asik controlled the paint, Houston’s perimeter players spaced the floor to perfection, draining 12 of their 28 attempts from beyond the arc.

The Rockets also earned 26 trips to the free throw line, and this is where we finally get to James Harden – a player who is rapidly making the brilliant appear routine. The 23-year-old was 10-12 from the line Saturday night on his way to putting up another ho-hum line of 31 points on 9-13 shooting – all accomplished while sitting out the entire fourth quarter. His performance capped a sensational week that saw him average more than 30 points, six assists and nearly five rebounds per game while blistering the net with 58 percent shooting from both the field and three-point line. And certainly not to be overlooked is the fact he went to the line 43 times during that three-game stretch, knocking down nearly 90 percent of those freebies in the process.

Yes, it’s been quite a week for both Harden and the Rockets; a rather strong signal that the team has figured out a few things as it approaches the two-month anniversary of the day its roster was reshaped right before the start of the regular season.

“We’ve been playing pretty well,” said Harden. “I think everybody’s been sharing the ball- 37 assists as a team – I think if we’re moving the ball and guys are getting open shots, it makes the game a lot easier and makes guys want to play defense and get after it.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On the pace of the game) “Our guys played well. We made twelve 3's. I like the pace that we had. I really liked the fact that we had 32 assists. I thought our guys were rolling hard. I thought that we had better spacing. I really thought that James (Harden) had a great thrust tonight where he had 31 points on thirteen shots. We really wanted to try to make an emphasis on trying to score before Marc (Gasol) and Zach Randolph and their bigs kind of got in the paint. We tried not to go against their size all night. They (Rockets) did a nice job of pushing them (Grizzlies) apart. We did a nice job of playing before the Grizzlies got their defense set. Once they get their defense set they're tough.”

(On the importance of getting shots quickly) “It's easier getting them early than it is going against that defense and trying to get something in the last five seconds of that shot clock. That's where they (Grizzlies) really get into you. I think that's the pace of James (Harden), Jeremy (Lin) and Chandler (Parsons) and Toney (Douglas) and Carlos (Delfino) pushing the ball and then our bigs ran. I thought that we had some good run outs. Our bigs were getting down. Our spacing was good again. I think that's two games in a row where we've had good spacing and we're not playing on top of each other which is really key for how we have to play. If we can get pace and space it allows the guys some room to make moves.”

(On the team play over the last three games) “I think there is always steps you're taking and I think we're taking some steps. Unfortunately, the Toronto game, we took a step backward and then after that we took a couple steps forward and knowing our team and our youth, I'm sure there will be steps backward but we have to keep moving forward. We have to be better two weeks from now than we are today at doing what we do. I think defensively, some of the things we are trying to do are starting to take hold a little bit. We're making a conscious effort of trying not to turn the ball over and give up the easy transition points.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the win) “No matter who we play, we don't want to change our style. I thought we got pretty much whatever we wanted and when we are in transition we are very good. I thought we got off to a good start and the most positive thing, I think, was in the start of the second half. We didn't let up and we kept it on them and it allowed us to get some rest.”

(On the Rockets defense) “(Zack) Randolph is having a heck of a year and he is a big body down there so Marcus (Morris) had a huge challenge. They (Memphis) arguably have the best front line in the NBA with (Rudy) Gay and Randolph and (Marc) Gasol and I thought we all held our own and Marcus did great with him. We knew they were coming off a back-to-back so we wanted to keep them running as long as we could.”

JEREMY LIN

(On the Rockets success offensively) “I think tonight we showed how explosive we can be offensively because we put 120 points on a team that hasn't allowed over 100 points since the first game of the season. This is just a testament of people moving and passing the ball and we were also fortunate that we caught them on the back end of the back-to-back. They (Grizzlies) played last night as well so they were a little tired.”

(On the Rockets relying on their offense to carry them) “I think the thing that we have to be careful about is just not letting our offense carry us every single night because when the shots don't fall the way they have been, we are going to have to win ugly so we have to make sure that the foundation of everything that we do is defense.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On the speed of the Rockets play) “That was the whole key. We know how physical they are. They like to pound the ball into the paint and get easy layups. It was our job to push the tempo, get stops and get in transition and I think we did that early on.”

(On outplaying the Grizzlies) “They (Grizzlies) were tired so we tried to bring our energy off of the first quarter on. I think they had that 30 point quarter. We had to pipe them down. They really don't score on a high pace like that. So, it was our job to slow them down and really get in transition.”

(last 3 games)

We’ve been playing pretty well. I think everybody’s been sharing the ball- 37 assists as a team – I think if we’re moving the ball and guys are getting open shots, it makes the game a lot easier and makes guys want to play defense and get after it.

GREG SMITH

(On the fast-break play) “We knew that they (Grizzlies) played last night so coach said to rotate fast and get guys in and run your hardest. That's what we did and it paid off in the end.”

(On changing Memphis' style of play) “Those guys you have to face box them out and go for the rebound. Jeremy Lin had about 7 rebounds. James (Harden) had about 6, Chandler had about 5 or 6 so we face-guarded and we won the game.”

 

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES COACH LIONEL HOLLINS

(On the game) “Well it wasn’t much of a game. 121-96, they pretty much handed it to us. They’re a good offensive team. They got and ran and made shots. Early on when you looked at the numbers, they were pretty close. They had 44 field goals, we had 42 field goals but the 26 free throws, to our 14 was the difference in the game. We just had no juice, no energy and were not mentally tough. We just kind of packed it in early and I decided to give some other guys a look in the fourth quarter and they didn’t do much better.”

(On why James Harden was difficult to stop tonight) “He’s difficult to stop every night. He’s a very good player. He’s a good scorer, he gets to the foul line and he just plays. Houston’s been playing well. We played them the first time at home and we did a good job but tonight he did a good job on us. Sometimes you get the bear and the bear gets you.”

RUDY GAY

(On the game) “Transition hurt us and we turned the ball over and they scored almost every time it seemed like. We couldn’t hit any shots and we didn’t make tough plays and you can’t win like that. Up until the end of third quarter, I thought we still had a chance and I thought we could still come back and win and the game. They just didn’t take their foot off the pedal and we’re just not going to win games like that. We’re going to try to move on from this game and it’s just not easy.”

MIKE CONLEY

(On the game) “I think we cut it to six at one point in third quarter and then Houston got some easy fast break opportunities because we turned it over too many times. Houston kept getting to the free throw line, I think they doubled us in attempts we had and they were just more aggressive and they got more easy stuff in the paint and we weren’t able to match their intensity.”

(On the Rockets) “They play a style of basketball that’s up and down and they are a very good offensive team when every body is clicking and guys are making shots. They’re very tough to beat at home and we knew that coming in and we just let this one get away.”

MARC GASOL

(On the game) “We tried to play their game and they are obviously better at it than us at playing at that pace and they beat us in every aspect of the game. They beat us in execution, defensively and they just beat us in everything.”

(On Memphis’ defense) “Houston got way too many easy baskets. In the open court, pick and rolls, rolling to the basket, wide open dunks, that’s not who we are. They knew they had to execute early in the shot clock and they did that very well. If we made them play half court, that is what we’re good at and we just couldn’t slow them down. We were taking bad shots and they were keeping us out of the paint and they were leaking out and scoring easy layups. It was not good.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,029 for tonight’s game.

The Rockets posted a 121-96 triumph over the Grizzlies tonight, setting Memphis’ opponent season high in points against. The Grizzlies had held 23 consecutive opponents under 100 points, which stood as the longest active streak in the NBA.

Houston now owns a 13-game home winning streak over the Grizzlies (last loss on 4/15/06), which stands as Memphis’ longest active losing streak, either home or away, against any single opponent.

The Rockets, who also took a 125-103 victory vs. Philadelphia (12/19/12), posted back-to-back 120-plus point games for the first time since 2010-11 (124 on 2/23/11 and 123 on 2/26/11).

Houston handed out a season-high 32 assists tonight, topping a pair of 30-assist games from earlier this season (last 11/27/12 vs. Toronto).

The Rockets were 44-of-82 (.537 FG) from the field tonight, which marked their third consecutive game of .500 shooting. Houston also finished 40-of-78 (.513) at New York (12/17/12) and 42-of-75 (.560) vs. Philadelphia (12/19/12). The last time the Rockets had a field goal percentage of .500 or better in three straight games within a single season was March 13-17, 2010.

Houston outscored the Grizzlies by a 33-3 count off the break tonight. The Rockets have now averaged 25.0 fast-break points over their last five victories.

James Harden collected another 31 points (9-13 FG, 3-3 3FG, 10-12 FT), eight assists and three steals tonight, sitting out the entire fourth quarter. The Rockets now own a record of 7-1 when Harden reaches the 30-point mark this season.

Jeremy Lin finished with 15 points (5-12 FG, 4-4 FT), season-high-tying 11 assists and six rebounds tonight, which was his fourth double-double of the season.

Omer Asik also had 14 points (5-9 FG) and a game-high 12 boards, giving him 12 double-doubles on the season.

Marcus Morris posted 16 points (6-8 FG, 3-4 3FG) and two blocks tonight. Morris has now averaged 13.6 points (24-44 FG, 9-16 3FG) and 4.4 rebounds in his five starts this season.

Carlos Delfino added 11 points (3-8 3FG) and four assists, helping the Rockets to a 12-of-28 (.429) performance from beyond the arc tonight.

Mike Conley led five Grizzlies in double-figure scoring with 16 points (7-12 FG, 2-2 FT), six assists and three steals tonight. Conley came into this contest averaging a career-high 2.43 steals (second in NBA).

Zach Randolph totaled 10 points (5-8 FG) and 10 boards tonight for his NBA leading 21st double-double.

Rudy Gay, who averaged a team-best 18.3 points in four starts for the Grizzlies last season against the Rockets, had just six points (3-6 FG) tonight.

Tony Allen, who had 11 points (5-8 FG) tonight, has now scored 10-plus points four times this season.