Houston Rocks In Cleveland
HOUSTON - Jeremy Lin took over in the second quarter, James Harden erupted in the fourth and the Rockets rode that formula to their fourth straight win, holding off an inspired effort from Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers en route to recording a 112-104 victory.
The heroics from Houston’s backcourt were sorely needed on a night when the Rockets were hardly at their best. For the second straight game, Houston struggled while getting off to a slow start and the turnover bug bit them badly in the first half once again. Yet it speaks volumes to just how far this team has come – in such a short time, it should be noted – that the Rockets still managed to manufacture a way to win despite so clearly lacking their ‘A’ game. And no one epitomized that more than James Harden.
Having entered the night on a month-long scoring tear, Harden figured to face little resistance against a Cleveland team that ranks 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. But the 23-year-old couldn’t buy a bucket during a first half that saw him rack up as many turnovers (four) as points. In the third quarter he began making an impact by willing himself to the free throw line, even though his jump shot remained M.I.A. In fact, at the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Harden was just 2-of-13 from the field.
Turns out he was simply saving his best for last. Over the game’s final 7:07, Harden torched the Cavs, scoring 16 points while hitting all four of his field goal attempts. He was a monster in transition, a threat from deep and even an agent of chaos, twice rescuing possessions that seemed utterly doomed to failure, only to come away with buckets each time. There was nothing textbook about it, but in a way those seven minutes served as an ode to Harden’s greatness as he somehow transformed an off night into another efficient scoring frenzy, finishing with 29 points on 6-17 shooting (and 14-15 from the line) and a career-high seven steals.
“He sure had a couple big shots, there’s no question about that,” said Houston head coach Kevin McHale after the game. “He had a couple crazy (possessions) where he just kind of bobbled one around and he made that one, then he just had a coldblooded 3.
“Having James helps of course – he’s going to get the ball and make plays and when they load up he’s going to pass it. He made some great plays but as a team we found a way to get some things done in a game where it was just hard for us to find rhythm.”
Indeed, the Rockets found themselves in position to have Harden close out the Cavs thanks in no small part to some big time efforts from a few of his teammates. In fact, Jeremy Lin was just as brilliant in the second quarter as his backcourt mate was in the fourth, scoring 14 points in the period to help stir the Rockets from their first quarter slumber that saw them succumb to a 10-point deficit in the early going. After missing his first two efforts from beyond the arc, Lin responded by draining three consecutive triples during a quarter that saw Houston outscore the Cavs 34-24.
And since it wouldn’t be a Rockets win without a significant contribution from the club’s bench, Patrick Patterson and Greg Smith answered the call Saturday night, combining to record 26 points and 17 rebounds. Patterson’s torrid shooting continued as he hit seven of his 13 shots from the field – a performance which actually dropped his shooting percentage over the last four games to 70 percent. Smith, meanwhile, was simply beastly inside, hitting all five of his shots while setting a career-high with 11 rebounds and recording his first career double-double.
Their collective efforts helped Houston survive the offensive exploits of Kyrie Irving, who singlehandedly kept Cleveland alive until the game’s final minute. But the Rockets got stops and made shots when they had to, proving that even on a night when they’re not at their best, they possess the kind of closer and chemistry to prevail in the end.
“We just tried to pack the paint defensively and contest every jumper,” said Jeremy Lin of the Rockets’ fourth quarter strategy. “We put an emphasis on defensive rebounds. Offensively, we spread the floor. We’re a little more mature in our development so we really understand that late in the fourth we have to trust and depend on each other a little more and tonight was a good example of that.”
(on Harden’s performance)
He sure had a couple big shots, there’s no question about that. He had a couple crazy (possessions) where he just kind of bobbled one around and he made that one, then he just had a coldblooded 3. We made some shots down the stretch and got a little bit of separation. It was a tough game. We had 12 turnovers at halftime but then only turned it over 5 times in the second half which helped us a great deal. It was a game where we had a tough time getting stops and just found a way to win. When you’re on the road sometimes you’ve just got to do that.
Having James helps of course – he’s going to get the ball and make plays and when they load up he’s going to pass it. He made some great plays but as a team we found a way to get some things done in a game where it was just hard for us to find rhythm. They got so many offensive rebounds so when we did get stops, they got the ball back and it was hard for us to get out and run.
Greg was fantastic tonight. 11 points, 11 rebounds, he played really, really well. Pat came in and gave us another big lift off the bench. I thought Jeremy did a good job defensively even though Kyrie had 30.
(on the team’s big fourth quarter)
We just tried to get back to defensive principles and let that fuel our offense. We came out slow yesterday and today so that’s definitely something we need to address on the road.
(on his shooting)
Sometimes all it takes is one and for me I’m glad I was able to get some to drop tonight. It felt good. And yeah, I had that heat check and I heard about that from the coaches (laughs).
(On closing out the fourth quarter): “We just tried to pack the paint defensively and contest every jumper. We put an emphasis on defensive rebounds. Offensively, we spread the floor. We’re a little more mature in our development so we really understand that late in the fourth we have to trust and depend on each other a little more and tonight was a good example of that.”
(On James Harden’s play): “He caught fire at the right time for us. He had a slower night earlier then he just took us offensively all the way in the fourth quarter which was real nice.”
(On Houston’s 14-2 record versus the Eastern Conference): “I have no idea why that is. I wish that was our Western Conference record. Maybe we should consider switching conferences.”
(On defending Kyrie Irving): “He’s a heckuva player. I tried to make it difficult for him, but he’s one heckuva player and he’s tough to stop.”
CLEVELAND HEAD COACH BYRON SCOTT
(On the game tonight): “I thought we competed. (Houston) is a good basketball team. They do a good job of spreading the floor, moving the ball and they have a guy that can close games out in James Harden.”
(On the fourth quarter): “Fourth-quarter wise, we had some costly turnovers. They got some transition baskets. The one thing about (Houston) is that even though it’s the fourth quarter, they don’t slow down. They keep pushing. They keep attacking. Then towards the end, they just put the ball in James’ hands and let him make plays. We missed some shots, we had some (turnovers) that kind of cost us and they had a couple of transition baskets.”
(On Rockets guard James Harden’s play in the second half): “He got to the free throw line a lot. Then he got his rhythm and made some jumpers. He’s one of those guys that once he gets his rhythm, he’s hard to guard…I thought that in the first half, he got into some early foul trouble and got taken out of the game. Sometimes, that throws your rhythm off as a player. When he came out in the third quarter, we knew he was going to start shooting the ball and being more aggressive, and he was. That’s what great players do.”
(On Kyrie Irving’s play tonight): “I thought he tried to press at times and take the load. Again, that’s what great players do as well. They want to put it all on their backs at times. A couple of times, he might have tried to go to far, tried to get into the lane and got it stripped a few times. But again, it was just one of those nights for him as far as the turnovers are concerned…He’s still young as well. Everyone keeps forgetting that this is only his second year as well. He’s going to make some mistakes. He’s a 20-year-old, second-year player, but I think he understands how important it is for him to make sure we keep the ball as much as possible in his hands, and also for him to make good decisions. So it’s a growing process for him as well.”
(On if he is pressing too much): “I’m just trying to be aggressive; looking to find my guys in transition a lot more and just trying to pick up the pace. Over the last couple of games, I’ve been trying to do that, get rebounds, get in there with our bigs and trying to start the break.”
(On his turnovers tonight): “I was just really loose with the ball in terms of my handling tonight. Different plays weren’t made and resulted in costly turnovers; turnovers that I usually don’t make that cost us the game tonight.”
(On James Harden’s fourth quarter): “He started making shots, that’s what great players do. He got his shots up and got to the free throw line as usual and made good plays.”
(On where he thought the game got away from the team): “Just the fourth quarter. We had defensive breakdowns and just couldn’t get stops. (Carlos) Delfino hit a crucial three, but it’s just part of the game. Sometimes they make shots and you’ve just got to keep playing.”
(On James Harden’s fourth quarter): “He’s an All-Star, first and foremost, so he’s going to make plays down the stretch. He’s their go to guy and he’s going to find a way to get in the paint and compliment other guys. We just needed to tighten up on defense, but he made shots and made plays.”