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Monday February 28, 2011 3:27 AM

Rockets Rally For Big Win In Big Easy

Houston overcomes 16-point deficit on way to recording 91-89 victory over Hornets

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

NEW ORLEANS - Want to be a playoff team? These are the kind of games you have to find a way to win.

Tie game. Hostile atmosphere. Two minutes to go.

They are contests of execution, these games, and they have largely been the bane of the Rockets’ existence for much of the season. When crunch time arrives and victory is decided by making plays and getting stops, Houston has come up on the short end far too often.

But something seems to be changing. The Rockets are increasingly showing a resolve and capability to close out these contests. And never has this newfound skill revealed itself in quite the resounding manner it did Sunday night, when the club stormed back from a 16-point deficit to notch a 91-89 victory over New Orleans that Kevin Martin called the “best of the season.”

It was a gut check win all the way; the kind Houston will most likely need several more of over the course of the season’s final 21 games as the team continues upon its quest to squeeze into the playoffs. And it also provides a road map of sorts as the Rockets move forward, illustrating precisely how the club needs to go about the rest of its journey.

“This is a huge win,” said Chuck Hayes, who continued his season-long run of strong play, producing 6 points, 11 boards and 5 assists while providing his usual standout defensive effort down low. “Second game of a back to back, on the road – it’s huge. For us to be down 16 and flight and claw our way back, it just shows the growth of this team; how good we can be and how dangerous we can be. Everybody played great. Our defense was unbelievable in that second half.”

It was that last point which was particularly noteworthy, given Houston’s well-documented struggles on the defensive end this season. And Sunday night’s game hardly looked to be a prime candidate for a turnaround after the Hornets sprinted out to a 55-40 halftime lead built largely on the strength of New Orleans’ 56.1 percent shooting from the field and a seemingly backbreaking 18-0 run. With Chris Paul conducting the show as only he can, the Hornets had turned the contest into a game of half court execution and the Rockets appeared to be well on their way to a beheading.

But the Rockets regrouped at halftime and responded by leaving the locker room hell-bent on fighting their way back into the game. And believe it or not, their comeback began with defense – great defense. Suddenly, the Hornets’ well that had previously been filled with a seemingly never-ending amount of wide-open looks and easy buckets dried up. No longer was New Orleans scoring at will. And while the Rockets were struggling to find someone to help out Martin on the offensive end – at one point in the second half Martin had scored 25 points while the rest of the Rockets starters had combined to hit just 9-of-30 from the field – Houston still managed to chip away at the Hornets’ advantage thanks to the team’s superior defensive effort.

The best part: Houston’s third quarter showing was not an anomaly but rather a sign of things to come. The Rockets maintained their defensive intensity in the final frame but did so while finding their groove on offense as well. Houston reeled off an 11-0 run midway through the period during a stretch which saw the team drain three straight triples, while Brad Miller capped the streak with a jumper that gave the Rockets their first lead since the opening quarter.

Having completed their comeback, the Rockets now had New Orleans’ full attention. Paul, who had been on the bench during Houston’s run, came back on the court. The maestro returned. And the Rockets made sure his symphony was left unfinished. With Kyle Lowry and Courtney Lee teaming up to keep New Orleans’ All Star point guard in check, Paul was held scoreless in the second half and registered a mere three assists after the break en route to finishing just 2-of-12 from the field. Little surprise, then, that after racking up 55 points in the first half, New Orleans could only muster a mere 34 in the second.

Houston, meanwhile, was busy burying the Hornets on the other end with a far less heralded playmaking pair. Hayes and Miller twice teamed up in the game’s final minutes to produce 3-point plays, the second taking place following a timeout taken with the score tied at 85 and 2:21 left on the clock. During that particular sequence, Miller went to work with the ball in his hands in the high post and the second he saw Hayes flash to the basket, he delivered a pinpoint pass which Hayes converted while drawing the foul. The ensuing free throw gave Houston a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the way.

“We were just pinning down,” explained Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman, while breaking down the game’s key play. “We were trying to get Courtney coming off and Chuck saw his guy leave because (the Hornets) show so hard, and he just instinctively cut to the basket and we had the ball in the right hands with Brad because he was looking for it.

“Those type of plays are bang-bang, but you’ve got to have everything (come together). The guy’s got to come off hard and you have to have the passer… It was a game where the guys just never quit and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

AND 1s: Luis Scola slightly sprained his right knee during the third quarter of Sunday’s contest. Though he did not return, he had been cleared to do so and Rockets officials do not consider the injury to be serious. Goran Dragic, meanwhile, missed Sunday’s game after suffering from the effects of food poisoning throughout the day.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

Just a terrific win for our guys. They took off on us in the second quarter and at the end of the first quarter and we came back in the third quarter, got it to ten, and just kept grinding and did a great job down the stretch.

(on the play in which Brad Miller hit Chuck Hayes for the and-1): We were just pinning down. We were trying to get Courtney coming off and Chuck saw his guy leave because (the Hornets) show so hard, and he just instinctively cut to the basket and we had the ball in the right hands with Brad because he was looking for it. Those type of plays are bang-bang, but you’ve got to have everything (come together). The guy’s got to come off hard and you have to have the passer. Then the pass Chuck made to Brad was a terrific play. It was a game where the guys just never quit and I couldn’t be prouder of them.

(finishing games): The only thing that was happening was I played Kevin and Kyle a long time. They were exhausted in the last two minutes, but that’s why we went to Courtney because Courtney was playing well, too. We need to mix it up at the end of the game; we can’t just come down and do the same thing. But it’s such a help when Brad’s on the floor because now we have a big guy who can space and a big guy who can make plays and that really helps our guys.

I think that’s what it’s going to take for our guys to have success: it’s going to be somebody different all the time. Everybody has to be ready. Last night Chase had a big game, tonight I thought Courtney was terrific off the bench. Kevin and Kyle just battled hard all night long. We need everybody, when they’re on the floor, you have to give us something.

(containing Chris Paul): I just thought we started playing with a lot more resolve. That first half I thought we were really frantic on offense and we were rushing things and kind of opened up the game for them. The second half we calmed down and just took each possession. They got 34 points in the second half and that’s huge because the first two times we played them the fourth quarter was theirs and tonight it was ours.

CHUCK HAYES

This is a huge win. Second game of a back to back, on the road – it’s huge. For us to be down 16 and flight and claw our way back, it just shows the growth of this team; how good we can be and how dangerous we can be. Everybody played great. Our defense was unbelievable in that second half.

(discussing the play in which he hit Brad Miller with a pass for an and-1): It was something we’d been trying to get for the whole game. On the side pick and rolls their big man would show really hard on the ball – they’re aggressive. So if you roll you get a two-on-one, so all game I was trying to do was just duck in, in front of Emeka because David West was out there by Kyle and I knew Brad was rolling behind Emeka. So even if Kyle had a straight pass to me I was dumping it to Brad. But it just so happened Kyle lost the ball, but I knew Brad was still open so I just jumped up and grabbed it and threw it before I even hit the ground.

(discussing the play in which Miller found him for an and-1): That was just a read. The play was for Courtney but they helped so bad I had to cut. I was wide open because their bigs play so aggressive, so I had to make them pay for it.

KYLE LOWRY

(defending Chris Paul): Chris is a very effective player but he missed shots he usually makes. We just played our game. We played as physical as them. They’re a physical team and that’s why they’re really good. We had to match their physicality.

(finishing games): We have got to make winning plays. Like Chuck said before one of the timeouts: “Let’s make winning plays.” That’s what we tried to do and tonight Kevin made winning plays and Chuck and Brad made winning plays tonight.

KEVIN MARTIN

I just tried to attack the basket when Okafor was out of the game and it was just a good matchup for me tonight at the two.

We’re a team that’s going to fight and this was probably the best win of the year.

Hornets Head Coach Monty Williams

“I just thought we rested on the first half success. We have a term that we use in Portland that if you don’t mess with the game the game will mess with you and I felt like we did that. We did stuff tonight that was uncharacteristic tonight of how we’ve been playing. 34 points in the second half, to me, that’s just nonsense. And it comes down to running your offense hard and playing with a purpose. We just didn’t get that kind of purposeful play tonight that we got in Minnesota against the Clippers, and take your hats off to them, they came out. I thought Chuck Hayes put his fingers in the game right from the start of the third quarter with offensive rebounds, finding guys, getting tough shots. They don’t have a post-up game and they made 23 points tonight. That doesn’t make sense.”

On having pressure around the basket:
“Well, it’s tough. When you put that much pressure on the rim, you don’t guard the ball for more than one or two dribbles it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. It opens up the game. It started in the first half, and it opens up layup after layup. And we haven’t played that way. “

Chris Paul

On the turning point of the game: “It was the 2nd half. It changed at the end of the 3rd quarter. We missed a layup and they hit a three to close out the quarter. That took it from 15 to 10. At the start of the 4th quarter they were a lot more active than we were.”

On his offensive performance: “I couldn’t make a shot. We still have to defend. We didn’t defend the way we know we can in the 2nd half.”

Trevor Ariza

On the difference in the 2nd half: “They got stops and we didn’t. Any loss is tough, but when you’re up so much and then you lose it is tough. We had an opportunity on the 3rd quarter to step on them, but took the opportunity and came back. We didn’t execute. I don’t think it was anything that they did, I’m not taking that away from them, but we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”

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