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Rockets Get Sunburned In Phoenix

March 10, 2013 3:20 am EDT

PHOENIX, AZ - This is the beautiful and confounding nature of youth: it is a roller coaster ride of the highest highs and lowest lows so often arriving in rapid succession. It is wild, unpredictable, fast, fun, breathtaking and cringe inducing all at once. It can be rapturous and it can break your heart. What it is not, however, is stable.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Rockets would follow up one of their grittiest wins of the season with one of their more dispiriting defeats just a day later. This is, after all, the youngest team in the league. There are times when it appears they possess a maturity that belies their years and lack of experience. There are others, however, that hammer home just how much growing this team still has left to do. Much to the chagrin of their fans, Saturday night featured far more of the latter than the former.

To a man, the Rockets insisted they did not look past a Phoenix team that has spent much of the season occupying the nether regions of the Western Conference standings. Not one player or coach used fatigue as an excuse after Houston wrapped up its third game in four nights. But whatever befell them during Saturday’s 107-105 loss, this much was clear: the Rockets fell victim to a few of their worst impulses while simultaneously slipping out of character in one key area at the worst possible time. That toxic combination proved to be their undoing.

Sometimes the autopsy of a defeat is a messy, complicated affair full of a massive amount of what ifs and variables that would require a lifetime to untangle. The postmortem following this loss, however, was as clear-cut and crystal clear as any such operation could possibly be. Simply put: the Rockets lost because they suffered a relapse of their recently dormant turnover disorder and a rather stunning inability to control the defensive glass.

That Houston would be loose and error prone with the ball hardly comes as any sort of shock given that the team has taken up residence at the bottom of the turnover rankings all season long. Phoenix made them pay dearly for their sins Saturday night, converting the Rockets’ 21 turnovers into 28 points. But for Houston to get crushed on the offensive glass – by a Suns team missing its top two centers, Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O’Neal, no less – was downright devastating.

The Rockets entered Saturday’s contest ranked No. 2 in the NBA in defensive rebound rate, while the Suns sat just 16th in offensive rebound rate. Given that reality, and the size disparity that existed due to the shorthanded nature of Phoenix’s squad, it seemed unfathomable to think Houston would lose due to its inability to prevent the Suns from gaining a glut of extra possessions. Yet that’s precisely what ended up happening. Phoenix corralled a whopping 38 percent of its missed shots Saturday night, allowing their anemic offense to score 24 second chance points. That, combined with the turnover bugaboo and big nights from both Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley, essentially sealed Houston’s fate.

“They just killed us all night on the offensive glass,” lamented Chandler Parsons after the game. “They capitalized on our turnovers and we had a lot of careless, silly mistakes that we made that we never should have made. Looking at their lineup, they’re smaller so there’s no reason for that. We’ve got to come with way better effort and intensity and not allow them to get that many offensive rebounds.

“It definitely hurts and it’s a bad loss for us going forward. We’ve got to limit these type of losses.”

One minute you’re on top of the world, the next you’re plumbing the depths of despair. Such is the essence of youth. It’s a ride that often doles out euphoria and nausea in equal measures. And these young Rockets, for all their big wins and significant steps forward this season, are not exceptions to the rule. They have had their fair share of heartbreak this year. There will almost certainly be more. It’s all part of the process; a process that possesses no fast forward button. That’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality of where the Rockets reside right now.

“There’s a million different reasons to lose in the NBA,” said head coach Kevin McHale. “You can always find an excuse for everything. No excuses. They played better than us. Goran down the stretch made some big plays. We didn’t execute very well, we didn’t defend very well, we didn’t take care of the ball, we didn’t rebound. There’s a lot of stuff we didn’t do. I’ve got no control over how (the Suns) play, I can only control what we do. We’ve got to get better. We have a young group and we’ve got to get better.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

Offensive glass and turnovers killed us. They had 52 points off of them. Hard to overcome that.

(effort and concentration the cause?)

Yep, both. They brought their bench in and it played well for them all night long. They brought a fire and we didn’t play well and we didn’t regroup. We weren’t good on the glass; they beat us up there. We turned it over too much.

(sign of youth?)

There’s a million different reasons to lose in the NBA. You can always find an excuse for everything. No excuses. They played better than us. Goran down the stretch made some big plays. We didn’t execute very well, we didn’t defend very well, we didn’t take care of the ball, we didn’t rebound. There’s a lot of stuff we didn’t do. I’ve got no control over how (the Suns) play, I can only control what we do. We’ve got to get better. We have a young group and we’ve got to get better. 

CHANDLER PARSONS

They just killed us all night on the offensive glass. They capitalized on our turnovers and we had a lot of careless, silly mistakes that we made that we never should have made. Looking at their lineup, they’re smaller so there’s no reason for that. We’ve got to come with way better effort and intensity and not allow them to get that many offensive rebounds.

We never (play down to the other team’s level). We play for the full game and never think about that. We try to limit the other team’s runs but they hit some shots at the end and we never should have been in that situation.

(the 16-0 Suns’ run)

Yeah, that was big. We understand teams are going to hit shots and guys are going to make plays but we can’t allow them to go on a run like that and when they do, we’ve got to keep executing our offense and make sure we’re getting good looks.

(the turnovers)

Yeah, I just think it’s guys trying to make the homerun play and not making the easy play (instead). We were careless with the ball and those are things we can control. It definitely hurts and it’s a bad loss for us going forward. We’ve got to limit these type of losses.

It should not be that way. We didn’t have the mindset that we’re better than them and we’re just going to walk in here and win – we never think like that. They’re NBA players. They’ve won games against good teams. We didn’t disrespect them at all like that, we just didn’t come with it tonight and didn’t play with energy and didn’t get stops when we needed to.

It’s a big concern and I feel like we’ve been doing it all year long. We can’t have that happen, especially with what’s at stake with the playoffs and the seedings and all that. We have to win these types of games.

JAMES HARDEN

(On losing interest in the 2nd quarter)

“We can’t look at the Phoenix Suns and their roster. We got to go out there and compete and play hard every possession. Times like this, we need wins. We just let another one slip away from us.”

(On turnovers)

“Turnovers and offensive rebounds. They got 20-something offensive rebounds and that kind of slowed us up. A combination of both of those things.”

(On facing the Suns three more times)

“We have to compete for 48 minutes. It is that simple.”

PHOENIX HEAD COACH LINDSEY HUNTER

(Opening statement)

“That was a tough, tough fought game for us.  Those guys have unbelievable firepower.  James Harden, what can you say, he is the real deal.  I thought our guys fought tooth and nail to make every basket for him tough and he continued to score.  I thought Haddadi was a great neutralizer for us; he was phenomenal in the middle.  Our guards, Tucker and Marcus, they fought hard and Harden still ended up with 38 points and 8 assists.  But we got the win and we have to continue to get better and figure out how we can stop guys from shooting this way against us.  But we will take the win and continue to work and get better.”

(On the bench)

“That was what we are looking for.  Guys were really doing a good job on pressing up on ball-handlers and in spite of that they still made some very tough shots, some close threes and contested threes.  I think by us creating turnovers, getting to the open court and really driving the ball to the rim we gave ourselves an advantage.”

(On Jared Dudley)

“We want him to be more creative.  We don’t want him to just resort to being a spot-up shooter and I think that he can do that.  I think that he is real clever and uses his body well and he did that tonight.  He scored in a variety of ways other than just spot-up shots.  I told him before the game that anytime he got open I wanted him to shoot the ball.  I think that last night he was a little hesitant and I sensed that so I challenged him to do better and to embrace his role whatever it is.  I see him as a crucial piece to what we are trying to build and that is a championship culture.”

GORAN DRAGIC

(On the game)

“We were focused, we made some tough shots and on defense we were solid.  We knew what James Harden can do but they were really hard to defend.  They have like four perimeter guys that can shoot and they set pick and rolls with Asik and for a big guy he can pass too and if he rolls you have to help and they look for the week-side and they had open shots.  In the end they made some tough shots but we were focused and we made some big shots too.”

(On Jared Dudley and the bench)

“He was our true point guard.  He had eight assists.  He was doing everything.  When we needed him to score he was scoring and when they double-teamed him he would find the open guy and he did this from the bench.  He was the player of the game.”

P.J. TUCKER

(On getting key stops)

“You know that they are going to make some shots.  They have the most three-pointers in the league this year so you know you are not going to be able to stop all of them but we just had to try and rebound after their misses and try to put the pressure back on them.  I think that we did a good job of that tonight.”

(On the end of the season)

“I think that the trying to create winning culture is the focus now.  As we get close to the end of the season where we are probably not going top make the playoff so now we try to win as many games as we can and keep progressing as a team and as an organization.