Game Day: Rockets vs. Sixers
Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 120-98 win over the Philadelphia 76ers
Tonight’s game began just as you’d expect from a contest pitting one of the league’s top five teams against a club that came in having lost 25 in a row. The Rockets rapidly ripped off a 14-2 run, opened up a double-digit lead, and the rout was on.
Well, not exactly. The Sixers, as advertised, simply continued to work, run and gun, and some scorching shooting from beyond the arc helped them hang around well into the second quarter. Carrying the load for Philadelphia were Thaddeus Young and former Rocket James Anderson. Anderson, in particular, was unconscious while flashing an eerily similar form to the one he displayed last November when he rang up 36 points against Houston. The 25-year-old, who had hit the 20-point plateau just once since that career night, promptly lit up the scoreboard for 19 points in the first half alone tonight, keeping Philly neck-and-neck with Houston until late in the second quarter.
It was at that point that the Rockets finally began to build a bit of a cushion, as their starters’ skill and overall dominance ultimately carried the day. Put simply, the Sixers simply had no answer for the physical presence of Dwight Howard. Houston’s All-Star big man needed just nine minutes to wrap up ‘Block of the Night’ honors, resoundingly and violently rejecting Young along the baseline with a swat that was so sick it actually generated feelings of genuine sympathy for Young, who had performed so very well up to that point.
Young, of course, needn’t have felt badly since no one else on his team had much in the way of hope of handling Howard, either. By halftime, Howard had already accrued 15 points, 11 boards, two blocks and a team-leading plus/minus of +27. Think about that for a second: do you know how implausible it is to be +27 by halftime? It’s fairly ridiculous to say the least, and it nicely summed up Howard’s impact on both ends of the floor during the first half of this game.
- James Harden wasn’t too shabby, either, by the way. He hit halftime on triple-double alert, cruising his way to 16 points, 5 boards and 5 assists by the break. And though it obviously won’t be a highlight for him, Harden will likely forever hold a special place in the heart of Casper Ware, who punctuated the first quarter by cleanly stealing the ball away from the Rockets’ stalwart shooting guard before draining a half-court shot to beat the buzzer. For a rookie playing just the second game of his NBA career, that's a memory that will be cherished for a lifetime.
- Not to cherished, however, is the fact that Pat Beverley left the game with a right knee sprain in the first half. By this point, there should be no need to detail what Beverley means to this Rockets team. There will no doubt be some anxious hearts and minds in Houston tonight and on into tomorrow when the club’s starting point guard is reevaluated and a timetable for his return is determined.
"He tweaked it and didn't know quite what happened," Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale said after the game. "He'll have an MRI tomorrow, so we'll see."
- There’s just something wholly transfixing about those moments when Terrence Jones takes off down the court on one of his coast-to-coast forays. He doesn’t have the freight train, force of nature suddenness of LeBron James (who does?); with Jones it’s rather more of a slow build, almost hypnotic in the way he rhythmically yet unpredictably makes his way down the floor. Tonight he delivered an absolute doozy for his highlight collection, breaking out ball-fakes and flair galore as he glided from one end to the other for a crowd-pleasing layup.
"Every once in awhile you might get a little nervous (watching him), but then he always somehow manages to bring it back in," joked Jeremy Lin in reference to Jones' occasional mad dashes up the floor. "He's got that Euro-step, fake pass, spin move. It works, and that was a pretty sweet play."
As has been his custom at home of late, the second-year forward erupted in the third quarter, scoring 12 of his 20 points in the period as the Rockets’ lead ballooned into the 20s. Lin, meanwhile, chipped in nine points in the quarter as well, and James Harden snagged a rebound just before the period came to a close, putting the finishing touches on his second career triple-double, needing just 31 minutes to tally 26 points, 10 boards and 10 assists.
- Speaking of J-Lin, after going scoreless in the first half, he wrapped up the night with a neat and tidy 13 points and 7 assists. Needless to say, if Beverley is forced to miss any time at all due to his injury, a rather bright spotlight will be affixed to Lin and rookie Isaiah Canaan (5 points, a steal and a block in 14 minutes of action tonight).
- With tonight's 120-98 win, the Rockets improve to 49-22 on the season. Up next for Houston: a rather important showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers, who rallied past Dallas for their 51st win of the season tonight. Los Angeles remains a game ahead of Houston in the standings, but the two teams are currently tied in the loss column. The Clippers, of course, already own the tiebreaker over Houston, having defeated the Rockets in all three meetings between the two teams this season.
HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE
(On Pat Beverley's injury) “We'll find out tomorrow (about Pat's injury). It kind of was one of those where he tweaked it and don't quite know what happened. He'll have an MRI tomorrow and we'll see.”
(On James Harden's play and triple-double) “He's been playing lights out. He had a triple-double in just over 31 minutes. He played well. We had 27 assists as a team, which is nice to have that again. We've been moving the ball pretty well and he's been a big part of that. Like I said, he's been playing at a really high level.”
(On team's play in 2014) “I think we're more focused. The guys are coming together and they know what they got to do. I like what I see just with games that we should win and go out there and take care of business. At the end of the day it's a 22-point win. I thought our starters had some really good moments out there. Terrence (Jones) had a huge third quarter. He really had high energy and did a great job. James was fantastic. It's nice to have Dwight (Howard) back. Just a precautionary, I took him (Dwight) out there just to give him 26 minutes tonight just to make sure his foot feels good. I just want to make sure he's ready to go.”
(On the team playing together) “I want to see our team play well. James is on a roll and Dwight is getting back. On our team, I want to see a flow and good solid defense, contested shots, rebounding and running down and making the right next play which is sometimes shooting the ball which is sometimes passing the ball but just making the next play with your teammates. (I want) those guys gelling as a group not so much any one or two individuals but the whole group.”
(On the ball movement) “We try to play that way every game as far as moving the basketball making it easier for each other on the court. Tonight was another night where we moved the basketball and got open shots.”
(On if he would have stayed in the game if he hadn't gotten his 10th rebound) “I have no idea. I'm happy I got it so we didn't have to make that decision. We did a great job of coming out tonight and taking care of business no matter what their record was we knew they were going to come here and play hard. So, we wanted to come out with some intensity and do our jobs.”
(On what the Rockets did successfully) “We got into rhythm and guys started getting stops and getting out in transition like we've been doing the last couple of games and it ended up in the result that's been coming the last couple of games.”
(On what he was able to do effectively tonight) “I just wanted to be aggressive on the rebounding end and just try to make things happen, get us extra possessions and it just happened to get me a couple of extra buckets and it got me going well early. I just wanted to defend a great player, Thaddeus Young, and try to get as many stops as I can on him and get out in transition for us.”
(On the difference between the Rockets now and earlier in the year) “We are just a different team. I told you guys it takes time for us to learn how to play together and build our chemistry. We are a better team now than we were at the beginning of the season so hopefully we will continue to get better and continue to grow as we get to the playoffs.”
(On his ankle) “My ankle was bothering me tonight. I came out a little bit early in the third quarter because of it. We will see how it feels tomorrow.”
(On the key to the win) “Philly is a dangerous team if you allow them to build their confidence. I think we did a really good job tonight of not letting them get any easy shots. If you let those guys get rolling, and they start hitting shots, they are tough to beat.”
(On the importance of the win) “I think tonight could have been somewhat of a trap game for us. At the beginning we didn't come out with maybe the best mindset in the first half. I know for me, my first half was pretty bad all around and when Isaiah (Canaan) came in we pushed the lead to 15 (points) in the second quarter and then from then on it was okay.”
(On the Rockets maturity level compared to earlier in the year) “I think that as the playoffs approach there is a heightened sense of urgency. Right after every game everyone checks their phone and someone tells us what happened with the #2 seed, #3 seed, #5 seed, the #6 seed and so on and so forth. There is definitely that urgency where we know we have to take care of our business.”
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS COACH BRETT BROWN
(On what it would take to steal the win) “We were outmanned, you can give them credit. It’s so hard to guard on normal terms and they proved that way. James Harden is James Harden. Incredibly, we ended up getting more threes than they did; we just had a hard time guarding them.”
(On James Anderson) “He’s played well against the Rockets. He’s averaging, I think 33 against them. He came back to this part of the country, he got it going. We tried to run some stuff for him and deliver it. I thought he played with great energy.”
(On the losing streak) “We move on. We’re on a different path. We see this whole thing through a far different lens. Our guys, especially Michael (Carter-Williams) had a hell of a game. You can tell he’s reached a rookie wall, mostly in his body and not his mind. His stats won’t tell enough, but his ten assists and his speech to the team in the locker room showed tremendous leadership, I would have done that two months ago.”
(On going forward in the season) “All these small wins that we find along the way, that’s our road map this year and life moves on. The group will stay together and we will finish out together.”
(On tying the record for most losses) “I think its pretty self explanatory, it is what it is. I don’t really have too many thoughts about it. I’m not thinking about it, I’m just going out there. Of course I want to win every time I step out on the court, but right now it’s about us and getting better each and every time.”
(On his speech to the team after the game) “I just think during the game a couple of the guys had long faces, including myself. I just don’t want anybody in this locker room feeling bad for themselves. We’re out on the court, getting better and trying to play. I just told them each and every game from here on out, just go out swinging. We can’t give up and ones and we’ve got to put people on the floor, we’ve just got to fight every single day whether its in practice or in the game, I think that its really important that we don’t get down on ourselves and that we don’t give up because we have a certain amount of losses. I felt like I just needed to speak my piece, make sure our guys are upbeat every single day.”
(On what he’s learning about himself) “I’m learning that I can deal with adversity. I’m learning that I can continue to grow as a player. And I’m learning that I’m getting stronger by the day, as a player, as a person, as a guy in the NBA. Like I said, it’s definitely a tough situation. As I said, I’m going to continue to play, regardless of anything.”
(On the streak) “I’m not even thinking about it. At the end of the day, it is what it is. Our main focus is to try to go out there and keep focus and play hard and figure out a way to get wins.”
(On dealing with the attention that comes from losing) “We’re not thinking about what they’re saying. We know what’s being talked about, we know what’s being said, but like I said at the end of the day our main focus is trying to figure out how we can win a basketball game. I think that’s the only thing. And me personally, I’m just trying to figure out how we can get a win. That’s the only thing that I really care about.”
(On the tempo of the game in the first half) “We came out and started fighting from the jump. Like you said, they put a run together and we didn’t respond to their run and that’s a part of our inexperience, but at the same time we go back tomorrow and look at the film.”
(On how the team is tired of the streak talk) “It gets a little frustrating, but we try not to pay attention to it. I mean it’s tough because you have a lot of people talking about it, so it’s kind of hard to ignore it. But like I said, we are in the rebuilding process and we have a lot of guys fighting for a job next year and we’re going to continue to improve and fight.”
(On if everyone buys into the rebuilding, rather than being on a losing streak) “Yeah, but we don’t want to hang our heads because we are rebuilding. We’re trying to win every time we go out. We’re fighting every night for a win and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,334 tonight. Overall, it gives the Rockets 33 sellouts on the season, extending the new single-season record for Toyota Center (prev. best: 28 sellouts in 2007-08).
The Rockets completed an unblemished home record against the Eastern Conference with a 120-98 win over the 76ers tonight. Houston went 15-0 against the East at Toyota Center this season, marking the first time in team history to go undefeated at home against the opposite conference.
Philadelphia dropped its 26th straight contest tonight, matching the NBA record for consecutive losses within a season (26 by Cleveland from 12/20/10-2/9/11).
The Rockets outrebounded the 76ers by 57-39 (+18) tonight, giving Houston 18 50-rebound games in 2013-14.
Houston set its season high with 34 points off the break tonight, surpassing its previous high of 30 fast break points vs. Utah (3/17/14). The Rockets also added 62 points in the paint and 24 second-chance points. It was the fourth time this season Houston has registered at least 60 points in the paint, 20 second-chance points and 20 fast-break points in the same game.
The Rockets scored 63 first-half points on 24-of-46 (.522) shooting, giving Houston 60 or more points in the first half 26 times on the season (Rockets record: 23-3).
Houston recorded 13 steals tonight, which was the 19th time this season the Rockets have racked up 10-plus thefts in a game.
James Harden posted 26 points (9-17 FG, 3-8 3FG, 5-6 FT), 10 rebounds and 10 assists tonight, which marked the second triple-double of his career. Harden, who now owns 12 20-point, 10-assist games in his career (Rockets record: 12-0), registered the first triple-double of his career with 21 points (6-11 FG, 8-9 FT), 11 rebounds and 11 assists in 2012-13 vs. Charlotte (2/2/13).
Terrence Jones finished with 20 points (8-15 FG, 4-6 FT), seven rebounds, a career-high four steals and two blocks tonight. Jones has now reached at least 20 points on nine occasions this season (Rockets record: 9-0).
Dwight Howard notched 17 points (6-6 FG, 5-9 FT), 13 rebounds and three blocks tonight, including 15 points (5-5 FG, 5-9 FT), 11 boards and two blocks in the first half alone. It marked the 11th time in 2013-14 he has recorded a double-double by halftime.
Pat Beverley suffered a right knee sprain in the first half and did not return to the game.
James Anderson recorded a game-high 30 points (11-18 FG, 6-11 3FG) tonight. Both of his two career 30-point games have come this season against the Rockets. Anderson also finished with a career-best 36 points (12-16 FG, 6-8 3FG, 6-6 FT) in the last meeting at Philadelphia (11/13/13), which included a 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left in regulation to help force OT.
Michael Carter-Williams dished out 10 assists for the 76ers tonight, which marked his team-high 11th double-digit assist game of the season. He also leads all NBA rookies in that category, with the next closest being Orlando’s Victor Oladipo with six.