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We've Got Your Big Boy Pants Right Here

December 05, 2012 1:24 am EST

Greg Smith's career-night helps lead Houston to thrilling 107-105 win over Lakers

HOUSTON - The Lakers spent Tuesday night in a desperate – and ultimately futile – search for their big boy pants. As for Greg Smith and the Rockets, they came away feeling cozy, comfy and right at home thanks to a great set of genes.

Riding a career-high night from their second-year center and a massive boost from fellow reserves Carlos Delfino and Toney Douglas, Houston committed grand larceny while overcoming a 17-point second-half deficit to stun the Lakers 107-105. Houston’s bench was critical to the comeback on the night when the club’s starters simply couldn’t shoot straight, outscoring Los Angeles’ second unit 59-20. And no player was bigger down the stretch for the Rockets, both literally and figuratively, than the 6-10, 250 pound Smith who poured in 13 of his career-high 21 points in the decisive fourth quarter.

“Greg is just country ox strong,” said Rockets acting head coach Kelvin Sampson after the game. “That’s just an ox strong kid. The good Lord gave him some great genes and you can’t move him.”

In many ways, Tuesday’s tilt was a coming out party of sorts for the 21-year-old with catcher’s mitts for hands, as he more than held his own against the game’s preeminent big man, Dwight Howard, all while devouring nine rebounds (four on the offensive end) to go along with his career-high point total – all in just a little more than 24 minutes of work.

But make no mistake; this sort of performance from Smith has been on the horizon for quite some time. The Fresno State product has made the most of his limited minutes this season and actually leads the Rockets in Player Efficiency Rating. He’s been an absolute beast on the offensive glass, a superb finisher around the rim and his defense against the pick-and-roll has been outstanding.

To be sure, he’s still very raw in so many ways and still has a long way to go – what 21-year-old doesn’t? But what’s been most impressive of all when it comes to Smith’s development is just how far he’s already come since arriving in Houston as a fresh-faced, green-as-can-be rookie back in February.

“Greg’s kind of a pet project,” said Sampson, when asked about Smith’s growth. “We’ve put a lot of time in with Greg. The guy who showed up (in February) didn’t know whether he was on foot or horseback. He was just here. I’m not even sure he knew what the D-League was. He sure didn’t know where it was.”

Navigationally-challenged or not, Smith so resoundingly dominated the D-League during his time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers that he made it impossible to ignore the potential inherent within his massive frame. With quality bigs so tough to come by, so the Rockets had little to lose in rolling the dice and continuing to work with the undrafted rookie. And Smith was savvy enough to take a look around and grasp the key that lies at the heart of any sort of sustained success. He saw Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson working to the point of exhaustion every day in an effort to improve. He watched Chandler Parsons go from second-round anonymity to starter and that Parsons’ response to that promotion was to work even harder.

The light bulb came on at that moment for Smith, as it does for all young players who come face to face with the realization that God-given talent can only take you so far. So when last season ended, Smith said sayonara to summer vacation and made the Toyota Center practice court his home, putting those great genes to work in an effort to get stronger, quicker, smarter and more skilled. To get better. All in an effort to ensure he would be ready when called upon; to not just contribute but to be a difference maker when his team needed him most.

“We were here all summer,” said Smith, recalling the offseason’s worth of work that made this moment possible. “When the season ended, we were off for a week and then got right back to it. After today, it feels good that I did that. I could have gone, been with family, working out still but … here, with the coaches, you know what they want and … after today I feel like that was the best decision of my life that I did that.

“All along I knew I had it in me. The coaches knew I had it in me, too; they had confidence in me. So I knew, back then, that if I had a chance to get in the game … and get that one moment, I’d go out there and take it as much as I can and I did that tonight.”

Did he ever. Greg Smith went toe-to-toe with the game’s best on the big stage and emerged with a performance and win he will never forget. So let the Lakers keep looking for their big boy pants. Tuesday night belonged to the great genes – and hard work – of Greg Smith.

QUOTES

KELVIN SAMPSON

(On “Hack-a-Dwight”) “It has to be circumstantial; that was the right time to do it for a couple of reasons. One, it gets the ball out of Kobe's (Bryant) hands. There's not a better 4th quarter player in this league than Kobe. They (Lakers) set the rhythm. It was hard for us to get them out of that rhythm. I thought our defense the last 16 minutes of the game was better. They're (Lakers) such a rhythm team. It (Hack-a-Dwight) comes under the category 'you do what you have to do to win the game.'”

(on Greg Smith)

He’s actually more physical than (Asik). He has more of a physical presence. O’s bigger, but Greg is just country ox strong. That’s just an ox strong kid. The good Lord gave him some great genes and you can’t move him.

To play Dwight, you have to deliver the initial blow because if Dwight delivers the initial blow then he’s driving the position. Greg absorbs it and gives it back.

Greg’s kind of a pet project. We’ve put a lot of time in with Greg. The guy who showed up (in February) didn’t know whether he was on foot or horseback. He was just here. I’m not even sure he knew what the D-League was. He sure didn’t know where it was.

But coaching him in summer league this summer, everybody talked about the other guys, the sexier guys: Terrence and Jeremy Lamb and Royce and Machado and D-Mo, but we had nobody on our team who could catch the ball in the paint and score like Greg. He’s good at that. Tonight was not a fluke. He can score around the basket and he’s gaining confidence.

(on the bench)

We had a lot of guys struggle but our bench was good. There’s a lot to be said for playing the entire 48 minutes and having guys on the bench that you trust and know can come through … I was prepared to win with them or lose with them.

GREG SMITH

(On the key to the win) “Just not giving up. Going out there and playing defense as a team, as a unit. All five guys sticking together and fighting to the end. We knew when we were down by 15 (points) or 13 (points) that we had to get stops and that we needed to get some fast breaks and turnovers to make it a game.”

(On the Rockets improved play in the second half vs. the first half) “We said (at halftime), 'go hard or go home.' We were down by 15 (points) or 17 (points) and he (Coach Sampson) said to go out there and play hard and come back to try to win this game and we just didn't give up. We are fighters. I told everybody to go out there and play hard. We are not pretenders. I'm going to go out there and do my best. We went out there and just got stops and got the win.”

(on the hard work that led to this moment for him)

We were here all summer. When the season ended, we were off for a week and then got right back to it. After today, it feels good that I did that. I could have gone, been with family, working out still but … here, with the coaches, you know what they want and … after today I feel like that was the best decision of my life that I did that.

All along I knew I had it in me. The coaches knew I had it in me, too; they had confidence in me. So I knew, back then, that if I had a chance to get in the game … and get that one moment, I’d go out there and take it as much as I can and I did that tonight and hopefully the coaches see that, so I can build some progress for being the backup for Omer to take the minutes he doesn’t need or if he gets in foul trouble I can come in and they’ll have the confidence in me to play up to his level and get stops and guard opposing big men.

(what was the low point of this past year?)

There was a point when I just wasn’t playing. Coming from the D-league, I thought I was a real good player who could play in this league, but then when you play against guys who have been here eight or nine years, it’s tough. So you start questioning yourself like, ‘Am I working hard enough? Am I really earning this or just being here?’ And that’s what made me work harder, stay in the gym more, get up more shots, get conditioning better, get stronger and it’s helping me out right now.

Last year I saw a lot of guys – Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, even Chandler; he’s a rookie, but I saw how he worked, got a starting role and he worked all season. It helped a lot just watching that.

TONEY DOUGLAS

(On Coach Sampson's confidence in his play late in the game) “It feels good to know when the coaches and your teammates have confidence in you to finish the game even though (Jeremy) Lin was in foul trouble. The second group, we had a rhythm out there and coach kept us on the floor. I feel like our bench is going to be key for us down the stretch. The coaches and all the teammates have to believe in the starters and the bench if we want to get to our goal, the playoffs. I think that's going to be real key.”

(On the play of Greg Smith) “He was big. I always tell Greg he can be a great pro. You know he's young, he's big, he's strong. If he just keeps putting the work in, I feel he's going to be a great pro.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On his play in relation to the win) “I just try to do other things to impact the game. I had 10 rebounds or something like that. I was trying to find other ways to help my team win. When my shot wasn't falling guys like Greg (Smith) and Toney (Douglas) and Carlos (Delfino) stepped up and made big shots and made big plays.”

(On the importance of the play of the bench) “Phenomenal. They made big shots, big plays. Greg (Smith) did a great job of being physical with Dwight (Howard) and finishing around the rim. Carlos (Delfino) made some big shots and played good defense. The guys really stepped up tonight.”

CARLOS DELFINO

(On the play of Greg Smith) “I love him. I'm such a fan of Greg (Smith). He's been great since day one. He's just a kid. He's so strong. He can play and he listens. He wants to work. He wants to get better. I'm happy for him because the last couple of games he's been great. He is beginning to develop and today was just huge. He is so strong going to the basket, dunking balls and running the court.”

LOS ANGELES LAKERS COACH MIKE D’ANTONI

(On the game) “We had some defensive breakdowns the last two or three minutes, almost a little bit like Orlando. Every game is a little bit different but this one there were about two or three offensive rebounds and they would kick it back out and hit the open shot. We had too many offensive breakdowns where guys didn’t switch. When you don’t do things like that, you lose.”

(On offensive rebound and turnover difference) “Both offensive rebounds and turnovers jump out on you. Turnovers on unforced errors really killed us. We’ve got some stuff to do but we’re close and I thought this game would be really good. But we’ve got some tighten up to do but we’ll see if we can get it done in New Orleans (next game).”

(On Dwight Howard and his free throw problems in the fourth quarter and did he think about taking him out of the game) “People have no clue what they’re talking about if they think I’ll take Dwight out in the forth quarter. It’s pretty simple – you don’t do that to a guy. He made his foul shots and that’s not the reason that we lost that game. He has to work through this. You just don’t take out a franchise player and do something like that to him.”

KOBE BRYANT

(On the loss) “We let this game get away. We just have to play a little better. Especially down the stretch. I felt like our guys played well. I thought Clark came in and did extremely well and Hill came in and gave us a big boost. Meeks has been playing lights out lately.”

(On the deliberate fouls of Howard) “That’s just a strategy that teams are employing and we have to figure out the best strategy to defend it. You have to do what it takes to win. We’ve talked about it a little bit. He just has to keep working at it all the time and keep practicing and doing it over and over until he turns it into a strength.”

(On the Rockets) “Houston did a good job and they spaced the floor very well and moved the ball very well. They made some big shots.”

ANTAWN JAMISON

(On the key to the game) “Offensively we just didn’t move the ball at the end the way we did the first three quarters almost similar to our last game (Orlando). The game should’ve been over with by the time the fourth quarter started but we gave them life and that’s a talented team over there. They got the opportunity to hit some shots and slow the game down a little bit. When we got the opportunity we just didn’t move the ball the way we did in the first half.”

METTA WORLD PEACE

(On the game) “I’m just worried about the next game. I just know we have another game tomorrow and we’ve got to play some ball.”

(On what happened in the fourth quarter) “I’m just trying to forget about this game and move on to the next one.”

(On the Rockets) “I really don’t know it’s hard to say. I don’t really have an idea who they’re team is yet. They are young and talented and building toward the future.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,052 for tonight’s game.

The Rockets overcame a 17-point deficit to win 107-105 over the Lakers tonight, as Houston outscored Los Angeles by a 34-22 count in the fourth quarter. Houston also trailed 86-85 after three quarters vs. Utah (12/1/12) and scored season-high 39 fourth-quarter points in a 124-116 victory.

Houston extended its home winning streak to six games in a row (11/14/12-12/4/12). The Rockets also moved to 24-2 (.923) at Toyota Center during the month of December since 2008.

The Lakers (52) and Rockets (50) combined for 102 boards tonight, which gave Houston three 50-plus rebounding games on the season (Rockets record: 2-1).

Houston attempted a season-high 101 shots, but hit just 38 field goals on the night (.376, 38-101 FG). The Rockets were 0-3 prior to tonight when shooting under .400.

The Rockets reserves outscored the Lakers bench by a 59-20 count tonight, setting Houston’s season high for bench points.

Toney Douglas led the Rockets with a season-best 22 points (8-17 FG, 3-7 3FG, 3-4 FT) off the bench tonight, which included 14 points in the first half alone. His previous season high was 12 points (4-5 3FG) vs. New Orleans (11/14/12). Douglas, who came into this game perfect from the line this season, had his streak of consecutive free throws made to start the season snapped at 28 in a row.

Greg Smith registered a career-high 21 points (7-8 FG, 7-8 FT) to go with nine rebounds and two blocks tonight. Smith came into this game off his previous career best of 13 points (7-9 FT) vs. Utah (12/1/12).

Carlos Delfino added 15 points (6-15 FG, 3-10 3FG) off the bench. He along with Douglas and Smith went a combined 21-of-40 (.525) from the field tonight.

James Harden recorded 15 points (9-11 FT), a career-best 10 rebounds and a team-high six assists tonight, marking the third double-double of his career (all this season). His previous high was nine boards done three times (last on 1/21/12 at New Jersey).

Chandler Parsons had 13 points (5-16 FG) tonight, extending his career-high streak of consecutive double-digit scoring games to 10 in a row (11/12/12-12/4/12).

Omer Asik finished with 10 points (5-8 FG) and nine rebounds, ending his career-high streak of four straight double-doubles (11/23/12-12/1/12).

Kobe Bryant netted 39 points (14-31 FG, 9-12 FT) tonight. He now has 29,987 career points, standing just 13 points shy of 30,000 for his career.

Dwight Howard, who went for 28 points (11-18 FG), 13 boards and three blocks at Los Angeles (11/18/12), had 16 points (4-9 FG, 8-16 FT), 12 rebounds and four steals tonight.

Antawn Jamison finished with 15 points (6-11 FG, 3-4 3FG), nine boards and a season-high three blocks tonight. Jamison recently posted a season-high 33 points (13-19 FG, 5-10 3FG) and 12 rebounds vs. Denver (11/30/12).