Rockets Win Again, Show Best Still Yet To Come
ATLANTA, GA - 21 turnovers. 22 missed threes. 33 fastbreak points allowed.
And the Rockets still soundly beat Atlanta 109-102.
All of which brings us to perhaps the most amazing part of Houston’s 2-0 start to the 2012-13 season: The Rockets haven’t even played all that well yet. They can be so much better. Of course they can. They’ve practiced together just three times, they’re still finding their way, still developing chemistry and still learning each other’s names. Okay, the last part is a fib but you get the idea: This team is still making elementary mistakes all over the place, befitting their youth and lack of familiarity. And yet, here they stand, undefeated and coming home on the highest of highs after a ridiculously entertaining two-game road trip.
But who’s kidding whom? The hands-down, no-doubt, most amazing part of this fairy tale beginning is unequivocally that dude with the beard that makes the No-Shave November set swoon. Yes, James Harden did it again, building off his dazzling Detroit debut with a career-high scoring night that saw him pour in 45 points - 18 in the fourth quarter alone - bringing his two-game averages as a member of the Rockets to 41 points, 7 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game. Just go ahead and give him the Western Conference Player of the Week award now. No other players need apply.
The stated secret to his success: “Being crafty,” he said. Look, Martha Stewart is crafty. James Harden is just a spectacularly skilled young man on a serious roll. The Hawks threw the kitchen sink at him right from the beginning and, make no mistake, Atlanta’s athletic bigs like Al Horford and Josh Smith were a major step up in class from anything Harden had to deal with in Detroit. Yet he was so good Friday night, his play even prompted chants of “MVP” from the crowd. Yes, in Atlanta. Prediction: That won’t be the last time he hears those chants this season.
But lest you get the wrong idea, this was no one-man show. In fact, despite all the missed shots and miscues, the Rockets received massive, career-best efforts up and down the roster. Jeremy Lin flirted with a triple-double while setting a career-high for rebounds, pulling down 10 boards to go with 21 points and seven assists. Omer Asik went Dennis Rodman on the Hawks, corralling 19 rebounds (also a career-high) and scoring zero points. Given Asik’s dominance defensively and on the glass, rest assured the Rockets care about his scoring total about as much as Kim Kardashian cares about loose-fitting jeans – that just isn’t the asset the Rockets are interested in when it comes to their 26-year-old center.
And no recap could be complete without mentioning the immense contributions of Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris. Patterson returned from injury to make a huge difference to the team’s pick-and-roll defense; a must against an Atlanta squad that ran one pick-and-roll after another. And Morris settled in after a scattered opening night performance, scoring 17 points in just 19 minutes of action. Each player connected from deep during critical moments of the second half, as did Chandler Parsons, who shook off a 1-of-8 start from the field to drain the triple that finally gave his club the breathing room it needed to put away the Hawks once and for all.
So let’s review. Superstar performance: Check. High-level production from several others: Check. Gutsy playmaking at critical times: Check.
Yes, the Rockets come home having fully earned their unblemished record. The truly scary part, however: They can be so much better. This thing is just getting started. The players are still finding their way. There remains so much room for improvement.
So yeah, 2-0 is great and this road trip was a blast. But the best is yet to come for this team. And for Rockets fans still surfing a serious high after the thrill ride of the past seven days, no news should sound sweeter than that.
I told the guys in there, I said, “Guys, we really haven’t played well yet.’ We’ve had stretches where we’ve played well but we certainly have not played well as a team. We had 20 turnovers against Detroit and 21 tonight. We just have to keep grinding and fighting … With our team, I’ve said it all along: we’ve got to hang in games and find a way to win them and find a way to make shots and make some plays down the stretch.
It was good having Patrick back because he just solidifies some stuff defensively on the pick-and-roll which they ran a lot of. And Marcus was tremendous tonight, he really played well for us. We needed every point of that, too.
He gives us another opportunity to go with a little bit of a hybrid three-four lineup. We haven’t gotten Terrence out there yet but Terrence is another guy who can play so they’ll give us some versatility at that spot.
(on his fourth quarter three after staring 1-8 from the field)
Honestly I shot it just the same way I shot the first one, the second one, the third one and so on. I’m a confident shooter and although the shots weren’t falling tonight, I tried to do other things to impact the game. I was open, my team needed a big shot and I was fortunate enough to knock it down. Pat set a great screen there.
(on the similarity between the first two wins and having a guy in Harden to give the ball to down the stretch)
It means a lot. We’re prepared for teams to start throwing different defenses and different double-teams, trapping him and things like that, but it makes the game so much easier when we have a guy like that… It’s great to be 2-0 right now.
I just settled down. I watched film three or four times, I kept watching to see what I was doing and then just got comfortable. The coaches told me, ‘Look, if you’re open shoot it; just stay aggressive,’ and that’s what I did.
(what did you see when you watched yourself on film)
I was being hesitant. I was passing up open shots. Even though I missed a lot today a lot of them felt real good … players on the team are telling me to shoot it so I can’t pass up open shots.
I just tried to make plays. My teammates are looking for me not just to score the basketball but to pass as well. It was not only me. Chandler hit a big three, Pat hit a big three, so guys are stepping up at key times and that’s good for our team.
(how were you able to find openings despite all the attention Atlanta was throwing your way?)
Being crafty. Our bigs did a good job of really setting screens. The ball moved well tonight; Jeremy did a really good job of passing the ball and making plays for himself as well so it was a good win for us.
We’ve got a long way to go. My teammates did a good job of finding me and putting me in positions to score the ball and make plays so credit to them and credit to the coaching staff as well.
To be honest I don’t even worry about it. I just go out there and play hard; play hard, compete and try to do whatever it takes to help my team win.
Hawks Head Coach Larry Drew
(Opening statement): “We have some things that we really have to focus in and work on. There were areas in this game where we weren’t very good, very polished. Particularly on the boards, we didn’t do a good job on the boards. And it wasn’t just our big guys. It was our (perimeter players) not being in position to chase down long rebounds. Therefore it allowed them second opportunities. They’re a big team, particularly when they play Asik in the middle. There were a lot of long rebounds where we just didn’t chase them down.”
“We didn’t play well, yet we gave ourselves a chance in fighting back. But we just had too many defensive breakdowns, particularly after we scored. We scored, we didn’t get back defensively, and they threw it over the top. We just have to be better at that. We talked about it the last couple of days, how to defend Houston when James Harden is in the game. Because when he gets the basketball in transition, he’s going to get to the basket. It won’t be just one guy’s responsibility. It will be a team responsibility.”
“We’re going to have to roll our sleeves up and just get better. It’s not a situation of something we can’t fix. It’s just a matter of us making our minds up by pulling this thing together and seeing what we really are. We’re still trying to establish an identity.”
(On the last four minutes)
“We were just trying to put together as many stops as we could. We battled our way back into the game to even get it to that point. The first three quarters, they put together better basketball than we did. With all of that, we were still able to put a good effort forward just getting to that point, but Harden made plays.”
(On the rebounding)
“They did a great job offensively, getting a lot of offensive rebounds, staying aggressive on the boards. Tonight in Game 1, we just didn’t match their intensity. They played better than we did, and they won.”
(On positives tonight)
“We have to play how we played at the end of the third and into the fourth quarter. We have to play like that for four quarters. We have to put four quarters of good basketball together in order for us to be successful.”
(On the rebounding)
“There were a lot of long rebounds tonight, and their guards and their bigs did a good job of getting in there and getting those. That’s something that we need to address as a team. We have to make contact and come up with those long rebounds. We can’t give them those second shot opportunities.”
(On getting back into the game)
“We made a run, and they handled it well. They took it, and got their composure back, so you have to give them credit. I don’t think we played well enough to win the game tonight.”