Game Day: Rockets vs. Pacers
Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 112-86 win over the Indiana Pacers
The Rockets came into this contest vowing tonight would be different than the December drubbing they received at the hands of the Pacers earlier this season. Then they went out and backed it up.
Houston wasted little time hammering home the fact that it has been the league’s best first quarter team this season, jumping on Indiana right from the start with the kind of precise, surgical and secure ball movement that’s nothing short of essential when playing a team like the Pacers. The Rockets racked up 10 assists on their 12 made field goals in the opening period; the former number being equal to the total number of dimes they dropped over the course of the entirety of that ill-fated game in Indiana. Houston used its sublime passing to end the period on a 17-4 run while establishing a 27-16 lead after the initial 12 minutes.
- For a guy who said this morning that he was so uncomfortable wearing the mask made for his broken nose that he was in all likelihood not even going to use it tonight, Patrick Beverley sure showed few, if any, ill effects while wearing the protective piece of equipment. Houston’s starting point guard began the game 3-of-3 from the field, including a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net, before getting nailed in the face once more toward the end of the first quarter. Given Beverley’s in-your-face playing style, odds are that won’t be the last time he takes an inadvertent shot to the noggin while wearing the mask.
- Holy cow, Jordan's Hamilton's fast-break stopping efficiency numbers from Houston’s past two games have to be off the charts. The University of Texas ex twice thwarted Orlando odd-man rushes Wednesday night, and he was up to his old tricks again this evening, this time delivering a sensational swat of Evan Turner’s attempted fast break slam. Hamilton’s rejection led to a Jeremy Lin layup at the other end, a score that put Houston on top by 13 midway through the second quarter.
- While the Pacers are obviously the team in possession of a historically great defense, large swaths of tonight’s contest it was Houston’s top-10 unit that was the one strangling the life out of the opposition. The Rockets enjoyed one particularly scintillating stretch that saw them force Indy turnovers by the bushel, miscues that Houston pounced on and quickly turned into the kind of easy buckets you simply have to have against this Pacers team.
"I believe that if our defense is great for the rest of the season we have a great opportunity to do something special," said Dwight Howard. "We’ve got to learn from tonight’s game and how we played on the defensive end and try to do that every night."
- How good was Houston in the first half? Here’s a pretty strong indicator: The Pacers concede just 35 paint points per game – easily the league’s best in that category. By halftime, the Rockets had already racked up 28 points in the paint.
Simply put, Houston was really, really good over the course of the first two periods of play. They controlled the action and set the tone right from the opening tip. Yet a 7-1 Indy run to close the half meant the Rockets led by just seven at the break. And though a 7-point lead is nothing to scoff at, especially given that the team on the other side of the floor came in sporting the best record in the NBA, Houston still had to feel as if it left a little money on the table heading to halftime.
- One of the best things about those Harden-to-Howard/Parsons-to-Howard alley-oops is that you can see them developing from a mile away ... and yet they still can't be stopped. I’m not sure if it’s fair to say those three have mastered the art of making that kind of magic together, but they’re darn near close. And if room for improvement remains – and it most certainly does – what an absolutely terrifying thought that must be for the rest of the NBA.
- Doubly terrifying: After Houston’s starting five manhandled Miami Tuesday night, the Rockets’ opening unit treated Indiana in much the same manner this evening. Let that thought sink in for a moment.
- The Pacers have been the NBA’s best third quarter team by a considerable margin this season. And after they scored four quick points to begin the period it looked like we were in for more of the same. Umm, not exactly. Instead the Rockets responded by transforming into full on fire ant mode: They were relentless, swarming and absolutely devoid of mercy. Led by a simply masterful and consummate performance from James Harden, the Rockets rolled off a resounding 31-6 run to put the game away for good. Houston’s All-Star two-guard was seemingly everywhere, picking off passes like a DB and throwing down one-handed hammers as if his name were Thor. All told, Harden erupted for 16 of his game-high 28 points in the period, an eye-popping show that prompted the Toyota Center crowd to break out into “MVP!” chants before the quarter had even come to an end. In other words, between the pre-game cowboy duds, in-game dunks and his exemplary handiwork, get ready to see an awful lot of James Harden on your TV screen this news cycle.
Keep in mind, too, that the Pacers represented the team that had given Harden more fits than any other prior to tonight’s contest – a reality of which he was certainly well aware. Harden said all the right things beforehand, insisting that this game held no special meaning and that it was just “one-of-82.” Watching the way he let loose and the on-court emotional outpouring that ensued, it’s safe to say his true thoughts on the subject were eventually revealed.
"The third quarter was just great basketball," remarked Houston head coach Kevin McHale after the game. "James caught fire, the defense was great, we were running. It was just one of those games where it really was a fun game to watch. As a fan of basketball, it was fun to watch the team play like that.
"We’re gaining a lot of chemistry. Guys are really enjoying each other, they’re fighting well together – a lot of positive things are happening … It’s just us building and getting better. I really like what I see. I like how defensively everybody is on the same page, they’re talking it out and really doing a nice job of pulling together. If a guy makes a mistake they’re correcting each other.
"There’s a lot of things that have to happen for you to be a good team. You can’t coach every possession. They’ve got to help each other and we’re starting to see that a lot right now and it’s really good to see. They’re able to correct each other and move on and there’s a lot of positive stuff."
- It will likely be overlooked amid everything else that took place tonight, but Jeremy Lin looked the best he has since the All-Star break, pumping in 11 points in 15 uber efficient minutes of action. This morning after shootaround Lin said that his back was feeling “great” after it had dogged him to varying degrees the past couple weeks, and the on-court results certainly suggested as much. Getting him going again is crucial for this club as it continues to gear up for the postseason since his playmaking is so pivotal for a second unit that looks to him to consistently initiate and create things offensively.
- With tonight’s 112-86 win, the Rockets improved to 43-19 on the season while serving notice to the rest of the NBA that they are a gathering storm that seems to be growing stronger and more destructive by the day. Next up: yet another massive matchup as the Portland Trailblazers pay a visit to Houston Sunday evening.
HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE
(On James' play) “He played great tonight. He came out with that really good defensive first quarter. He kind of set the tone and in the third quarter, that was just great basketball. Everybody, James caught fire, defense was great, we were running. It was just one of those games where it was a fun game to watch. As a fan of basketball it was fun to watch the team play like that.”
(On beating two of the best teams in the NBA) “Those were two really good teams. We really had to play well. I said it for a little bit, our team has been about coming together. Six to eight weeks ago, when you started feeling the team was coming together. I still feel that. We're gaining a lot of chemistry. The guys are really enjoying each other. They are playing well together. There are a lot of positive things happening. Beating Miami and Indiana, those are two quality teams but then we got Portland coming here on Sunday and then we go on the road. We got Miami next week. It's just us building and getting better. I really like what I see. I like it defensively. Everyone is on the same page. They are talking it out and the guys are really doing their job of just playing together defensively.”
(On second-quarter play) “They started catching a little bit of rhythm in that second quarter. The team got slowed down a little bit and stuff so we said, hey we gotta push it, get stops, run and try not to let them (Pacers) get set on defense. We did a good job of that. We did a great job of pushing it. They (Pacers) had turnovers and missed shots and we were running and getting down there before they were set and our defense was really good. The guys really played well defensively.”
(On bench play) “I thought Jeremy (Lin) had a lot of juice tonight. His back has been bothering him and stuff and he's been kind of...he's got his first step back and he was going. D(onatas) Mo(tiejunas) played really well for us. I thought he came out there and was really active defensively. Daryl (Morey) did a really nice job of getting Jordan (Hamilton). I think he has helped us a lot. Those guys...coming down the stretch we are going to need everyone to play well. We've got a tough week coming up. I thought our bench gave us a big lift tonight.”
(On what this win says about the Rockets now that they have beaten Miami and Indiana) “We've been playing well since the beginning of the new year. We've kind of gotten a feel for each other and we have gotten better. Our guys are healthy. O(mer Asik) has been back and Pat(rick Beverley). The guys are just playing at a high level.”
(On what motivated the Rockets to play well tonight) “Well we played well against them in the preseason in the Philippines. We knew how to beat them so it was a matter of us going out there. When we hold the ball and let them set up defensively, then they're great. If we play fast like we did and make plays for each other then we're hard to beat.”
(On the third quarter) “Definitely the third quarter was probably the best I've seen us play offense and defense in one quarter. We were rolling. These last weeks we've been rolling on both ends. We just have to continue to play our brand of basketball. It was a playoff atmosphere in there. It was sold out. The fans did a great job of being behind us. (Give) credit to them. Every game from here on out is going to count and we have to take advantage of those.”
(On the Rockets setting the tone to start the game and to start the second half) “I think the first quarter was great, but I think the third quarter was where we really did a lot of damage. They (the Pacers) came out and scored a couple of buckets and kind of got it going for a second and then our defense picked up. I believe that if our defense is great for the rest of the season, we will have a great opportunity to do something special. We’ve got to learn from tonight’s game and how we played on the defensive end and try and do that every night.”
(On James Harden’s offensive performance) “He’s a great shooter. He’s a great player, and he’s having a great season. We just need to keep it going. He’s doing well on the offensive end and scoring at will. He is being aggressive and attacking the basket. We are making plays for each other, which is the key, especially on the offensive end. On defense, we’ve been doing an excellent job of trying to lock down defenders on one-on-one situations and helping each other.”
(On how the Rockets loss to Indiana motivated the Rockets tonight) “That’s all we talked about. Every timeout and every possession. We wanted to get payback. It was good for us to come out tonight and stay on them for four quarters.”
(On the win) “It was a lot of fun. We are defending. We played with a lot of energy. We are playing together and we are having a lot of fun out there.”
(On the Rockets third quarter) “We played a good team today. I know the score didn’t say it, but we beat a really good team. We’ve been working hard on our craft everyday, getting better everyday. What happened in the third quarter was unbelievable. We got stops, we ran, we had fun, we were shooting threes, the crowd was into it, that’s how you play basketball with performances like this.”
(On the win) “Tonight was a total team effort. A lot of guys were locked and we just kind of let it flow from there.”
(On the Rockets’ team effort) “I think first and foremost, we are learning to play for each other and sacrifice and play unselfishly on the defensive end and on the offensive end. We have also created more of an identity in terms of who we want to be on a night in and night out basis. I also think we’re healthy. We struggled with injuries for the majority of the beginning of the season and now we have everybody back and the whole team is clicking right now. We all know it’s quick. It can change in one game even though it’s a slippery slope and it can go downhill as fast as you created the momentum. So, we have to make sure we stay right.”
INDIANA PACERS COACH FRANK VOGEL
(On the game) “We blew them out in the first game at our place when we played them. They were seeking a payback and they came out and played a better basketball game. A much better basketball game than we did so you have to give them credit and we'll get back to work tomorrow and regroup. “
(On the Pacers defensive effort) “They are one of the best offensive teams in the NBA. There's a very slim margin for error and you have to play a great basketball game and we didn't play a great basketball game tonight.”
(On the second half you started to come back and then what happened?) “We started well and then they made a run and blew the game open in the third quarter with run outs for 3s. We didn't handle that well.”
(On what's happening with the Pacer defense) “We're not the same team and I feel like last year, even the beginning of this year, we would always impose our will, play physical. I feel like now we're at a point where we're letting teams what they want to do and not imposing our will. We just have to figure out how to get back to mucking the game up. I feel like things would be bad if we were in the playoffs and playing this way. We still have twenty-something games to fix it but the fix has to come immediately.”
(On what Coach Vogel said after the game) “He tries to be positive because you don't want to knock the confidence down but I think it's kind of low right now. At the same time, we are all grown men and we need to really look at each other in the mirror and figure out what all we can do better. Once every guy in this locker room figure it out then I think we'll be fine.”
(On the Pacers need to get home court advantage in the playoffs) “We just need to win games at this point. We're just putting the emphasis on trying to get better. Since the All-Star Break we haven't been playing the best basketball. In a game you have to go back and forth and punch it out, figuratively, and we're not responding the right way. We have to figure that out on both ends.”
(On the difference in the Rockets from this game vs. the last time they played them) “They were hitting 3s. I was trying to do the best I could on Dwight (Howard), trying to make everything tough and then he started going and was passing the ball out and they were making 3s. They got going in transition and I don't know how many 3s they hit tonight but I know it was a lot.”
Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,332 tonight. Overall, it gives the Rockets 29 sellouts on the season, setting the new single-season record for Toyota Center (prev. best: 28 sellouts in 2007-08).
The Rockets ran their current home winning streak to a season-best seven in a row (1/28/14-3/7/14) with a resounding 112-86 win over the Pacers. Indiana had won four straight over the Rockets (4/1/12-12/20/13), tying Houston’s longest losing streak in the history of this series (1/30/79-3/28/79 and 11/26/08-4/4/10).
Houston handed Indiana its worst defeat of the season (-26), which was a roll reversal from the last meeting. The Rockets suffered their largest margin of defeat in a 114-81 (-33) loss at Indiana (12/20/13).
The Pacers dropped their third consecutive game, leaving Houston and the L.A. Clippers as the only teams in the NBA that have not had a three-game losing streak in 2013-14.
Houston went 40-of-76 (.526) from the field tonight, including 13-of-28 (.464) from downtown to match Indiana’s opponent season high for 3-pointers made (13 by San Antonio on 12/7/13). The Rockets have now shot .500 or better in 26 games this season (Rockets record: 23-3). It marks the most such games in a season for Houston since 34 in 1994-95.
The Rockets have now won their last 21 games when scoring at least 100 points (1/3/14-3/7/14), which sets the longest such streak in franchise history. Houston had a 20-game run from 1/29/07-11/9/07.
Houston finished with 48 points in the lane tonight and took a 21-11 edge off the break. Indiana came into this meeting leading the NBA in fewest paint points allowed (35.1 ppg).
The Rockets (42) and Pacers (41) reserves combined for 83 bench points in
The Rockets outscored the Pacers by 38-16 (+22) in the third quarter tonight. Indiana came into tonight with the league’s best scoring third-quarter margin (+4.8 ppg) on the season. Houston’s 38 third-quarter points were also the most allowed by the Pacers in any quarter this season.
James Harden registered 28 points (.588, 10-17 FG), four rebounds, four assists and three steals tonight, which included 16 points (6-8 FG, 3-4 3FG) in Houston’s third-quarter run. Harden had held a 28.4% field goal percentage in the seven prior meetings against the Pacers.
Chandler Parsons finished with 11 points (4-12 FG), a team-high six assists and five rebounds tonight. Parsons has now averaged 7.0 assists over his last three games (21 assists).
David West led the Pacers with 15 points (5-11 FG, 5-8 FT) and 10 rebounds tonight. The Pacers had come into this game with a record of 7-0 when West recorded a double-double.
Roy Hibbert notched nine points (4-6 FG), three rebounds and three blocks tonight. Hibbert’s third board tonight gave him 3,000 rebounds for his career.