Coming off of an embarrassing loss on the road to this team on Saturday, Rockets players and coaches had been bombarded with questions surrounding how they would respond to such a defeat. McHale in particular has been the focus of several post-practice interviews the past 3 days.
Visibly frustrated, McHale gave the cold shoulder to many in the media, and for good reason. As McHale noted in his latest interview Wed before the game, if this were a debate club then words would be comforting, but as a team fighting for their playoff lives, the Rockets don't have the luxury of delving into such talk, as they must come out, perform, and execute to beat a team of professionals attempting the same feat.
After the tip-off, the game started on a poetic note. Scola scored the first points in the Toyota Center tonight. He also featured on the Rockets first defensive possession, as Motiejunas rotated into position to draw a charge from Luis. The Rockets gave Scola a great tribute during the game and got plenty of cheers going his way.
The most notable thing early on was Donatas forcing his way into the action. He got a 3 pointer, ran the floor for easy points, got some tough rebounds, had an impressive behind the back pass to Asik down low, and closed out well on shooters. It was a very nice sight to see from the young fella.
The Rockets offense was humming along fairly well with 22 points with 2:30 left in the quarter, but Phoenix seemed to hang around by converting shots as our defense was leaky early on.
T-Rob and Beverley came in and gave us some production and energy to close out the quarter. We forced a turnover on the Suns last possession of the game before it ended on an awkward offensive play with Harden ISOing on the wing only to pass to Beverley on the opposite wing for a long 3 pointer with 1 second on the clock with a defender on him. Puzzling indeed.
Houston leads the first quarter 30-25. Motiejunas leads the team in scoring with 7 points. Omer Asik only grabs 1 rebound. It felt a little like it was going to be one of those kinds of nights.
The second quarter started with more of the same oddness, with the officials calling a rare double lane violation that resulted in a jump-ball at about the 9:30 mark.
The Rockets also lost their offensive prowess allowing the Suns to get a 43-38 lead with 5:47 left in the half. They were hitting shots and we were missing them. Our whole offense seemed like it was in a funk. Our offense started to pick up when Michael Beasley committed a silly foul on Motie to send him to the line and James Harden dropped of a nice pass no-look pass to Greg Smith who finished through contact to retake the lead.
Jeremy Lin proceeded to beat Haddadi on a jump ball (Weird night, huh?).
The Rockets started a great run to close out the half. The Suns started to turnover the ball and the Rockets started hitting their shots again. They went on an impressive 20-2 run to close out the second quarter. They started forcing bad shots and and the Suns began fouling to put us at the line for no apparent reason.
At the Half, the Sun's were 5-7 from the line. The Rockets were 15-21 as they found a way to produce from the charity stripe.
It was not a first half without frustrations, however. We saw the same dumb turnovers again (Lin traveling, Harden passes into traffic, Omer's infamous hands made of stone, and the like). We also had a bench that was getting outproduced. Every starter had a +/- of +11 or higher. Every bench player had a negative +/- with the exception of Greg Smith who actually played fairly well from what I could tell.
The +/- leader at that point, Donatas Motiejunas (+20). He was a very very (very) welcome surprise. He closed the quarter with 10 points (3/6fg), 4 boards, 2 assists, and a block.
Harden was quiet early on, but turned it up in the 2nd quarter to lead the Rockets in scoring at the break. Omer Asik was not his usual rebounding self either, amassing merely 2 rebounds in the half.
Overall it was kind of ugly until that late run in the 2nd. But man did that run look nice. If we can string those together to close out one quarter a game, i'll be happy.
58-45 at the half.
In the third quarter, Wesley Johnson continued to be the Suns' spark on offense. The Rockets started with some nice offense possessions on the fast break as Phoenix just started turning the ball over at a Rocket-esque pace; though many of them were dead ball turnovers (lot of travelings on them tonight).
The Rockets came out and really started putting it to the Suns. Harden was giving guys great looks near the basket (mostly, Greg Smith). Every starter got in double figures scoring the basketball. No one on the Suns could break double figures besides Wes Johnson and Goran Dragic.
The Suns really just had no answer on the offensive end. It was clear our guys were just bothering theirs much more. They couldn't get to their spots and as a result were taking bad shots and committing dumb turnovers and fouls at a higher rate than they did in the first half.
By the end of it we were dominating 90-62.
in the fourth, T-rob started off with a nice moves down low and driving to the basket and Delfino started knocking down a few shots.
For the Suns, it was more of the same. Sloppy play and missed shots.
Once it was officially garbage time, we started to see some slower play and, more notably, more turnovers. Although it was not pretty to watch at times there were definitely some highlights.
First off, ladies and gentlemen, we have our first Aaron Brooks sighting. The crowd started going nuts and chanting his name as he walked to the scorer's table with about 6:20 left in the 4th. He officially came into the game at the 4:50 mark. Early on he was a pest on defense, getting his hand on the ball several times, while not forcing a turnover. He scored his first points in his #0 Rockets jersey with 2 and a half minutes left as he rattled in a shot from long range for three.
Secondly, T-rob and Beverley also got some good looks. Despite T-Robs turnovers he was active, throwing down an alley oop slam and showing some nice effort. Bev also looked great defensively, forcing 3 steals on the night to go along with 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists.on a little over 20 minutes.
We cruised to victory 111-81 (God it feels good being able to say that).
Overall this was an impressive way to come back home and put it to a team we should have been putting it to all along. We saw the same boneheaded mistakes and the same flashes of brilliance, but this time we played defense when we needed to and didn't let any of their guys develop too much of a rhythm. The starters played wonderfully tonight and helped lift us to a much needed win with great overall performances by the whole starting 5.
Thats the kind of Rockets basketball I like to watch.
The next test, consistently playing that type of defense to close out halves and giving our offense a chance to generate some runs as we continue the homestretch Friday against a banged up Timberwolves team.