With the Western Conference stacked up like nobody's business, the Rockets entered Friday night's contest against the Grizzlies in a must-win situation. Lose and they would likely find themselves on the outside looking in, but a win kept them in the hunt—for now.
The Rockets jumped out to an early lead in this one, but like they've done a number of times in recent weeks, they slowly ceded advantage of the game towards the Grizzlies. At the half, the 11 point first quarter lead had been reduced to two. Midway through the third quarter, it was tied.
Despite a tremendous defensive effort from Marcus Camby that kept Memphis from taking the lead altogether, the Rockets endured just enough dry spells to keep Memphis' hopes alive.
The Rockets led the entirety of the fourth quarter, but the result was never certain. The Rockets maintained a five point lead for most of the period until Chase Budinger put the dagger into the Grizzlies' heart with a three pointer with just two minutes left.
After that, all the Rockets had to do was take care of the ball and pad their stats. They did, and enjoyed a 98-89 victory.
Jump for the best and worst of this enormous win!
1. Marcus Camby's Play
Goran Dragic may have put up a gaudy stat line that was crucial to the result, but the "Man of the Match" has to be Marcus Camby. Starting in Samuel Dalembert's place because of Dalembert's flu-like symptoms, Camby matched the Grizzlies' starting front court with 16 rebounds.
Camby often looked like he was avoiding his balky left wrist, but his play was none the worse for wear. He shut down the paint with six blocks, and definitely looked the part of a starting center. Add in the fact that he played 36 minutes, and you have a Herculean effort.
2. The Backups Come Through Once Again
Outside of a ridiculous performance that elicited images of a 28 year old Marcus Camby, the backup guards thrust into the starting lineup showed up to carry the team to yet another improbable win. Goran Dragic needed just 14 shots to score 25 points, and Courtney Lee added 17 while playing excellent defense.
I wrote on the subject of Dragic vs. Lowry a few days ago, predicting Dragic to hit a wall at some point. Thankfully, that "some point" was not tonight. If he keeps up this level of play for the rest of the year (I don't expect Lowry to get to 100% this season, even if the Rockets advance to the playoffs), he could prove me wrong.
3. Chase Budinger
Chase Budinger has gone from nearly indispensable starting small forward to a bench cog on the edges of a tight rotation in just three months. Budinger showed why he had risen to the starting lineup with an efficient and timely performance off the bench, scoring 13 points on 5-8 shooting from the field and 3-4 from three point range.
His defense has also looked much better in recent games. Perhaps not having a spot entrenched in the rotation has motivated him, but he has given a much more concerted effort on the defensive side of the ball. Given that he's likely to see a bigger role next year as the Rockets cut loose at least one rotation wing, this development is huge.
1. Patrick Patterson
Come on, man. The Rockets can't afford for you to get benched for missing shootarounds. There's really not much more to say here. Patrick's a tremendous citizen and I have no fears of his going the way of Terrence Williams, but you have to take care of business better than that.
His tardiness did bring us all a good laugh when Goran Dragic playfully prodded Patterson last night.
@pdpatt go to sleep !!! practice at 11.00 am don't be late :)— Goran Dragic (@Goran_Dragic) March 31, 2012
2. Marcus Morris
Morris saw spot minutes again last night, and failed to do much of anything with them. This is increasingly becoming a concern, as gifted as Morris is, he doesn't have much value to the team if he's standing around the three point line and passing the ball around. It's difficult for a rookie to demand shots, but he needs to be much more aggressive if he wants to earn more minutes.
3. Lowry and Martin Remain Out
I may be grasping at straws here, but with Martin showing no signs of being back soon and Lowry still weeks away after getting his catheter removed, it is tough to see the club keeping up this level for the rest of the season. Dragic and Parsons played relatively few minutes with 34 and 27, respectively, but Courtney Lee was forced into yet another 40 minute night.
Can this team continue on this path indefinitely? That's my biggest concern in an otherwise exceptional take down of the Grizzlies.