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Thursday January 27, 2011 2:22 AM

Rockets Get Defensive

Houston used dominant fourth quarter to blow by Clippers 96-83

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Chuck Hayes made Blake Griffin look human. Then the Rockets made the Clippers look like, well… the Clippers.

Riding a dominant defensive showing in the fourth quarter – and a fair bit of luck as well – the Rockets cruised past the Clippers for a 96-83 win Wednesday night at Toyota Center.

Trailing Los Angeles 73-70 to begin the final frame, Houston promptly applied the defensive clamps and watched the Clippers misfire on their first 15 shots from the field – a few of which, to be fair, were of the uncontested chip shot variety. LA went on to score a measly 10 fourth quarter points, shooting just 4-of-25 in the frame to finish with an anemic 36.4 shooting percentage – a Rockets’ opponent season low.

Central to Houston’s success, as he has been ever since returning from an ankle injury, was the indomitable Hayes, who confused and confounded yet another All-Star caliber big man, this time teaching rookie sensation Blake Griffin a trick or two while limiting the Clippers’ star to just 14 points on a feeble 5-of-16 shooting performance from the field.

Hayes was glued to Griffin all night, forcing him into one difficult shot after another. He also did an exemplary job grounding LA’s high-flying highlight machine, limiting the player known as “The Blake Show” to just a single, solitary, ho-hum stuff during his 37 minutes of action.

“I’ve got to take away his athleticism going to the rim with his first step and his athleticism going to the offensive glass,” explained Hayes, while describing his strategy for defending Griffin. “If I keep a body on him and go strength for strength and muscle to muscle, I have a chance.

“You see them every night on SportsCenter and all they show is dunks. They feed off each other… If we take away the dunks, we give ourselves a chance. We don’t let them get into a rhythm and we make them actually have to play basketball instead of an alley-oop contest.”

Hayes’ defensive heroics were just the latest example of his invaluable role with this Rockets team; a role that’s frequently placed him in the spotlight during a stretch which has forced him to match up with the likes of Amar’e Stoudemire, Zach Randolph, Dwight Howard and Kevin Love. That the 6-6 sixth-year forward has been able to hold his own with such esteemed company should be no surprise at this point since Hayes has shown his ability to do so countless times during his tenure in Houston.

Still, there’s just something about watching him operate against physical marvels like Stoudemire and Griffin that continues to astound no matter how many times one bears witness to such defensive mastery. Even his head coach admits it took awhile to fully appreciate the true value the Chuckwagon brings to the table. These days, however, there is no bigger Hayes’ supporter than Rick Adelman, who paid his charge the highest of praise after the game by harkening back to his Portland days while searching for a way to bring new context to Hayes’ artistry on the defensive end.

“When I had Buck Williams, Buck used to guard Karl Malone and all these guys and he’d always tell me, ‘He’s going to score 25 but he’s going to work his [butt] off to score. And in the fourth quarter I’m going to wear him down – I’m not going to give him anything easy.’ And with Chuck, nothing’s easy. If you’re going to score, you’re going to have to earn it. And I think that has an effect on a guy when he’s guarding him. It took me a long time but I figured out he’s going to have to play more minutes.

“He’s as good as any defender in the league in the low post. I’m going to start talking to coaches at the end of the year when they [vote for] the defensive teams. If he’s not on one of the defensive teams something’s wrong. This guy for two years has been playing center against all these people and he defends them as well as anybody and he deserves the credit for it.”

Just ask Blake Griffin – the latest victim to unwittingly get caught in the web Hayes weaves for his opponents. The Clippers star is a slam dunk to take home the league’s Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season. But after languishing through another rough night with Hayes, chances are he’d readily vouch for the Chuckwagon’s right to bring home some end of the season hardware as well.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

(On Chuck’s defense): I tell this story all the time. When I had Buck Williams, Buck used to guard Karl Malone and all these guys and he’d always tell me, ‘He’s going to score 25 but he’s going to work his [butt] off to score. And in the fourth quarter I’m going to wear him down – I’m not going to give him anything easy.’ And with Chuck, nothing’s easy. If you’re going score, you’re going to have to earn it. And I think that has an effect on a guy when he’s guarding him. It took me a long time but I figured out he’s going to have to play more minutes.

He’s as good as any defender in the league in the low post. I’m going to start talking to coaches at the end of the year when they [vote for] the defensive teams. If he’s not on one of the defensive teams something’s wrong. This guy for two years has been 6-6 playing center against all these people and he defends them as well as anybody and he deserves the credit for it.

(on the impending road trip): It’s going to be hard but you know what? You look at it and you look at the teams and you say oh geez, we’ve got Dallas and San Antonio, the Lakers and Utah, but we went into a couple places already in Boston and Atlanta where because of what happened we weren’t going to win, but we did. And I think if we play the way we’re capable of playing we can beat anybody and that’s the approach we have to take. Let’s face it, if we’re going to have any chance to make the playoffs, the team in those spots has to beat those teams and that’s what we have to do. If we can’t then we don’t deserve to be there.

(On the game) “It was just a good win to get. The fourth quarter was terrific. We turned it around at the start of the fourth quarter. We just had a little surge there and then defended well in the fourth quarter.”

(On the big difference from this year and last year) “Well the big number one is Aaron Brooks being out for 23 games. That's why I try to give him more time at the end of the game because he's the guy that breaks people down and he's the guy we need to get better and better as the season goes on.”

CHUCK HAYES

I’ve got to take away his athleticism going to the rim with his first step and his athleticism going to the offensive glass. If I keep a body on him and go strength for strength and muscle to muscle, I have a chance.

(preventing the Clippers’ bigs from making the game a dunk fest): You see them every night on SportsCenter and all they show is dunks. They feed off each other and they feed off their home crowd. Well, on the road you don’t have a home crowd and if we take away the dunks, we give ourselves a chance. We don’t let them get into a rhythm and we make them actually have to play basketball instead of an alley-oop contest.

(On the key to the win) “That third quarter was a stale third quarter on the offensive end for both teams and it was ugly. We needed some spark. Chase (Budinger) and Courtney (Lee) lifted us there and they started the fourth quarter by hitting some big shots just with their energy. What Patrick (Patterson) did there late in the game, it isn't going to show in the stat sheet, but he was huge for us in the fourth just by being fundamentally sound. AB (Aaron Brooks) is our best closer, so he brought it home for us.”

KYLE LOWRY

(On rockets defense) “In the second quarter we were down 3 with 2 minutes to go and we turned it into being up 3. and in the fourth quarter Chuck (Hayes) did an awesome job of playing defense and that second group with Chase (Budinger), Courtney (Lee), and AB (Aaron Brooks) and Pat (Patrick Patterson) gave us a huge lift.”

(On Rockets holding clippers to 10 points in 4th quarter) “That’s huge. We weren't making shots but having them (clippers) not make shots definitely helped us during that stretch. It was a tiring stretch for the guys that were out there. Neither team was making shots but we had the lead so that was good for us.”

AARON BROOKS

(On the Rocket's closing out the win) “I think me and Kyle (Lowry) did a good job tonight of hitting some baskets at the end and closing out the game. When you get down to the end you need guys that can create their own shots and put the ball in the hole. Kyle (Lowry) and I are two guys that can do that.”

(On the Rocket's defense in the fourth quarter) “The bench came in and did their job. They came in and they were aggressive. On the defensive end we were swarming. We played together and we got it done.”

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS COACH VINNY DEL NEGRO

(On his team’s play) “In the first half we scored 52 points and that was OK, but in the second half we didn’t’ shoot well. We controlled our turnovers but we couldn’t put the ball in the basket. You’ve got to give Houston a lot of credit. Our defense gave us a chance in the fourth quarter. We had shots we usually make, but we just weren’t productive enough in the fourth quarter. I liked our intensity but we just didn’t get our offense together.”

BLAKE GRIFFIN

(On his play) “I missed a lot of shots. I didn’t have great energy. The elbow is alright. The back to back games on the road are a factor but not an excuse. I have to motivate myself to bring energy at a higher level.”

(On his team’s play) “We were missing shots we usually make. You’re out there just searching to make a shot. Sometimes you have nights like this and we have to bounce back. It’s a learning experience. I have to learn what works and what doesn’t.”

DeANDRE JORDAN

(On coming back and playing in Houston) “I played alright. I gave our team what I could defensively and I tried to put the ball in the basket. I tried not to thinking about it (coming home to Houston) because I don’t usually play well when I do. I just try to play to my strengths. It was nice to have my family at the game.”

(On the game) “It just wasn’t falling for us at the end of the game. We couldn’t make our shots.”

BARON DAVIS

(On the game) “We couldn’t hit any shots. When I missed two lay-ups and Blake (Griffin) missed two, we knew it was going to be a tough night. We couldn’t get over the hump and ever catch fire. There are going to be nights like this. We got back to our defensive mentality and the bench played very well.”

NOTES

Houston’s attendance of 18,147 tonight marks the eighth sellout at Toyota Center in 2010-11.

The Rockets notched a 96-83 win over the Clippers tonight, limiting Los Angeles to an opponent season-low .364 (32-88 FG, 3-18 3FG) from the field and tying the opponent low in points (83 on 12/7/10 by Detroit).

Houston outscored Los Angeles by a 26-10 margin in the fourth quarter. In the process, the Rockets held the Clippers to an opponent season low for points in a quarter, surpassing the previous low of 12 fourth-quarter points by the Kings against Houston at Sacramento (12/19/10).

The Rockets pulled down 50 boards tonight. Houston has now reached at least 50 rebounds five times this season (Rockets record: 3-2).

Kyle Lowry led the Rockets with 20 points (7-13 FG, 4-5 FT), eight assists and six rebounds tonight. It was Lowry’s fourth time this season to reach 20 or more points.

Aaron Brooks added 16 points (5-14 FG, 5-5 FT) and four assists tonight. Brooks has now made 31 free throws in a row dating back to the second quarter at Denver (1/3/11).

Shane Battier scored 10 points (3-6 FG) tonight. Houston is now 13-6 in the last 19 games in which Battier has reached double-digit scoring.

Luis Scola, who finished with 16 points (8-18 FG) and six rebounds tonight, has recorded 21 20-point games this season (career high: 26 in 2009-10).

Kevin Martin had eight points (3-11 FG) and five rebounds in 20:58 of action tonight. Martin had scored at least 14 points in each of his prior 21 home games this season.

Chuck Hayes recorded five points (2-4 FG), 11 rebounds (5 offensive), three steals, two assists and two blocked shots tonight. It gave Hayes six double-digit rebounding performances on the season. Hayes totaled eight double-figure rebounding games in 2009-10.

Randy Foye, who made his second start of the season for an injured Eric Gordon (sprained right wrist/small bone chip fracture in right wrist), had a season-best 20 points (7-17 FG, 2-5 3FG, 4-4 FT) tonight. Foye netted his previous season high of 15 points in his first start last night at Dallas (1/25/11).

Blake Griffin completed his night with 14 points (5-16 FG, 4-5 FT) and 11 rebounds, giving him 37 double-doubles on the season (2nd in NBA). Griffin topped the Clippers with 24 points (8-20 FG) and 18 boards (13 defensive) in the last meeting with the Rockets at Los Angeles (12/22/10).

DeAndre Jordan posted eight points (4-7 FG), a game-high 12 rebounds and three blocked shots tonight. The Bellaire, Texas, native also totaled 14 points (5-7 FG), 13 boards, three steals and two blocks in the prior game at the L.A. Clippers (12/22/10).

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