Houston walked away from the end of a back-to-back with two wins, increasing their total to 42 on the year.
Parsons was the player of the game tonight, finishing with one of his more impressive lines this season: 19 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and a steal. Harden exploded in the second half, scoring over 20 of his 31 total points in the second half and Dwight locked down the paint with 13 rebounds (6 offensive) and 19 points. Jeremy Lin is still in a weird funk and the bench still has trouble delivering without one of our 'big 3' on the court. Terrence Jones nabbed a double-double and Beverley, though stealthy on the stat sheet, played an integral defensive role to make up for cooled off shooting stroke.
It was a slow-rolling game, but we finally put it all together and closed out the game in just the way I'd like them to given the circumstances.
Now, the game...
Boos rained down on Howard immediately after he touched the ball on the first possession before immediately throwing down a dunk that I'm sure most Magic fans actually do miss.
Despite Vucevic being back in the lineup againt the rockets this time, they were getting absolutely dominated on the offensive boards; Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard were playing volleyball down low, leading the rebounding category 8-0 in the first half of the first quarter.
Still, Houston still suffered from an acute turnover problem early (coughing up 5 before hallway through the first), which has become so frequent so as to render it banal. Transition defense prevented half our half court defense from establishing itself, allowing the Magic to extend their lead to double digits.
‘Trap game' appeared to be an understatement by this point, and the first quarter was not even over. It did not help the Rockets that Orlando seemed to have their shooting stroke going tonight, sinking mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper that Houston continually gave them a cushion on.
The first quarter looked like the opposite of last night, except Orlando was shooting well above the 65% that Houston shot and the Rockets traded the Heat's patience with a flurry of turnovers. Houston crept up on just 40% shooting, turned the ball over 7 times in the first quarter, and could not keep any semblance of an offensive rhythm.
The first quarter ended with an E'Twuan Moore mid-range fade-away basket to extend the lead to 13 for Orlando.
The second quarter started with a bit more promise when Jordan Hamilton chased down a block in transition and led to two on the other end by Parsons. This was followed by three pointers by both, providing a much needed offensive spark. Orlando's shooting cooled off too, allowing the lead to erode to just six.
Chandler took over the quarter while Howard and Harden were on the bench, making the bench effort appear more effective than it actually may have been based on early +/- stats.
Afflalo and Harkless led the Orlando scoring effort in the second quarter. It felt like Afflalo in particular stayed hot from just inside the three point line. This extended the lead back to double digits with under three minutes to go. The period ended with the first Orlando three pointer by Harkless.
At halftime, the Magic led 48-41.
Houston's turnovers (13) and transition defense being the story that largely explained the deficit, the rebounding numbers (26-17, HOU), points in the paint (26-18, HOU) and Parson's heroics (15 points, 3 boards, 2 assists, and a steal in 2nd quarter) kept Houston in it. The second quarter Rockets defense was substantially better, holding Orlando to just 29% shooting and 16 points.
The second half began a 8-0 run to claim the lead before Orlando continued his precise mid-range shooting bonanza. The three point shot started falling for Houston as well; both Harden and Jones sank one each. Orlando was also being far more careless with the ball in the quarter (8 total turnovers), resulting in Harden and Howard scores right at the rim. Orlando took back a slim lead into the halfway point of the 3rd and held it heading into the final minutes. Terrence Jones retook the lead with a Jame Harden-esque crossover on Tobias Harris and a lay-up at the rim. Beverley followed that up with his typical pesty defense near mid-court, deflecting the ball out of Ronnie Price's hand and off of his leg (Price's 6th turnover of the game, 4th of the quarter).
Howard was very much imposing his will on offense and defense, contesting shots, eating glass, and dunking one ball after the other as he and Harden propelled the offense. Houston closed the quarter like true playoff professionals, generating a double digit lead heading into the final period -- 75-65.
Orlando really started beating themselves in the third, pouring fuel on their own bonfire with a wreck of simply silly turnovers. This gifting of possessions to an offense as consistently productive as Houston's is a death sentence, especially when the offense starts clicking on its own in the second half independently. Again, Houston's defense smothered the Magic, allowing just 17 points; this meant that the Rockets held Orlando to 33 points in a half of basketball over the 2nd and 3rd quarter.
Kicking off the fourth, the Magic stuck to their mid-range formula, playing into Houston's gameplan against the poor jumpshooting squad. Still, the lead shrank down to just 3 as the clock ticked down to winning time and the Houston offense stagnated. Orlando went on a 9-0 run before Harden sank a contested fadeaway jumper from inside the arc followed up by a three point play the old fashioned way. This extended the lead back up to 8 points.
As we ventured under the 5 minute, Orlando got called for their 3rd illegal screen (5th foul on Vucevic) resulting in a double digit lead after a heady Parsons baseline cut and Harden assist. With the game at a comfortable distance, Houston turned to clock milking mode, sealing the victory.
After a rocky start, Houston fought its way back into the lead. Orlando turnovers and a classically clutch set of Harden theatrics put us in a position to win a game we were always supposed to win. Parsons led the team during a tumultuous time in the second quarter and truly carried his teammates on his back after playing all 12 minutes of the quarter. In the second half, the cavalry showed up and the Harden/Howard combo came alive.
Houston's 21 turnovers are an eyesore, but their domination of the glass was ever-present; they led that category 49-34 with fourteen offensive rebounds to boot. Paint protection on both ends of the floor secured this victory. The defensive stretch over the course of the second and third quarters made all the difference as we all knew that the offense would start clicking at some point during the game.
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