After our wire-to-wire Christmas day present that was our 111-94 victory over the current leaders of the Southwestern division, the San Antonio Spurs, we are in the thick of a division round robin that appears to be going on in the schedule. Putting ourselves in position to get tiebreakers in the Western conference is critical and Memphis is no less important.
Ultimately, Houston did not disappoint, although they made writing this sentence pretty difficult at time. With the three point shot not falling, the Rockets strapped themselves on the backs of Terrence Jones, Chandler Parsons, and James Harden until Lin and Garcia started getting them to fall in the fourth.
Back in November, Houston beat Memphis, in an impressive comeback victory late going on a 20-6 run to win the game 93-86. Tonight, the Rockets trailed going into the fourth again and went on a wonderful run that caught the Memphis offense running out of steam. Houston dominated the 4th quarter 34-20 on their way to their way to a confidence-building win over a tough and scrappy team.
Now, onto the nitty-gritty.
Randolph started the game with an offensive board over Dwight and 2 second chance points, which continued to be the theme of a majority of the first half.
Early on the offense looked pretty good. Our ball movement off of the dribble penetration really helped get shooters open and opened up lanes for easy lay-ups. Lin and company were pushing the ball up the court in transition and created quick baskets and free throw shots. Additionally, Houston's pump fakes really put Memphis in terrible defensive position on several possessions. Terrence appears to have been taking a few pages from Chandler Parsons book.
It was not the 3 pointer that carried us to our initial lead, but our transition offense and ability to get points in the paint. Our three point percentage at the end of the first quarter was a pathetic 14.3% (1 of 7), but their overall field goal percentage was 55.6%.
Dwight's post moves were looking swift and crisp when he got the ball in the paint, Terrence Jones was contributing heavily in the half-court offense and on the break, and the combination of Parsons and Harden helped us in getting assists on half of our field goals in the first quarter.
Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufas seemed to be the only two Grizzlies who could get anything going, both putting in points and a huge dose of offensive and defensive rebounds. Zach and James Johnson sparked Memphis late in the midst of a stretch where Houston went cold bringing the score to 26-23 Rockets after the first. A little bit of sloppy play cost us initial lead, but Memphis' other starters could not get too much going.
Grizzlies head coach David Joerger even quipped during an in-game interview that "I gotta sub Zach at some point but I don't want to."
Our bench came out and re-ignited the Houston offense briefly, with Aaron Brooks and Francisco Garcia scoring five quick points. After that, however, it our offense went from cold to frozen. Zach Randolph was feasting on our frontcourt of Terrence Jones, Omri Casspi, and Francisco Garcia and the Grizzlies bench duo of Jarryd Bayless and James Johnson pushed Memphis into the lead halfway through the second.
Our rebounding in the first half was so bad that two Memphis players somehow ended up getting an offensive put-back dunk, on the same play. No one seemed to be able to box out. McHale was so desperate that he even threw Motiejunas out there to guard Zach Randolph, which predictably resulted in an and-1 bucket on a physical post move by Z-bo.
At halftime, Houston trailed 53-45.
Dwight Howard was nearly nonexistent after his first few smooth looking post moves in the first quarter, getting zero rebounds and zero points in the second quarter and getting himself in foul trouble. At the half, he attempted only 3 field goals, grabbed only 3 rebounds, and could only muster 2 first half points. Zero free throws. We all knew SuperDwight wouldn't last for forever, but even this is a big of a big hiccup for a player who has been dominating the competition up until this evening. Part of the problem is that the Rockets were not setting him up enough in the post, even when players like Mike Conley were forced to switch on them. That argument aside, Houston lost the rebound battle 30-18, which Dwight must take some accountability for, and we could not raise their 3 pointer percentage from the 14% that it was at the end of the first quarter.
Also, even after Harden's 10 free throw attempts at halftime, Harden only had 12 points on 1 of 6 shooting (5 attempts from downtown).
Terrence Jones really did steal the show in the first half for the Rockets, going 7 for 7 and doing it in a diverse set of ways. He led the rockets in scoring at halftime with 14 points and played some pretty solid defense down the stretch.
One positive aspect of the first half was that Mike Conley was largely held in check, shooting 2 for 7 from the field with 5 points. Jeremy Lin was doing a solid job defensively, just like he did on Parker just the night before. Either way the first half result left a sour taste in many Rockets fans mouths.
In the second half, Houston came out going straight to Dwight to try to get him going on the block, but he subsequently missed his lefty hook. Dwight followed that up by picking up his fourth and fifth foul, forcing him out of the lineup early in the third. Meanwhile, Zach Randolph continued his rampage in the paint, completing his double-double and continuing to create havoc for Houston.
Terrence Jones kept his hot streaking going as well, crossing the 20 point mark and honestly playing the best basketball of anyone on the floor for heading into the final period. His play combined with Harden's continued ability to get to the free throw line kept Houston within scoring distance amidst a continuing offensive drought. The Rockets closed the 3rd quarter on a 6-0 run to pull themselves within 6 points. We managed this despite shooting just 38.1% in the 3rd period.
The score going into the 4th, 72-66
To start the final quarter, Harden continued to get fouled and get put on the line. The Rockets continued the trend, generating a 17-4 run that finally saw others becoming involved in the offense with Jeremy Lin hitting two three pointer and Chandler Parsons going coast-to-coast for an and-1 layup, giving them the lead for the first time since the second quarter. Our defense tightened up and we were scrapping for rebounds with much more purpose and fervor. Not many of the rebounds were clean, they were mostly all dogfights and the Rockets came out on top without Dwight on the floor.
Donatas Motiejunas, who got the most minutes he's gotten all season tonight with 23, started getting the crowd involved after a huge slam dunk in transition after some tenacious play on the other end of the floor. Following suit, Jeremy Lin pushed the lead to 5 on a beautiful reverse layup attacking the basket. Dwight allegedly insisted on keeping Dmo in the game because he was playing so well late in the fourth. Memphis struggled to generate generate points, missing easy shots near the basket and settling for some longer jump shots.
The Houston lead ballooned to six on a Garcia three pointer and the Grizzlies started to look visibly frustrated; Zach Randolph picked up a technical fighting for a board on a Harden free throw after getting called for an offensive found on the other end. Houston never looked back, holding onto the lead and sealing the crucial division victory
James Harden - 27 points on 2-9 shooting (not a typo), 22 of 25 from the free throw line (also not a typo), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and a block. Only 2 turnovers on the night
Terrence Jones - 20 points on 10-14 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. Zero turnovers, the only starter with such a distinction tonight.
Chandler Parsons - 15 points on 5-12 shooting, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal.
Jeremy Lin - 18 points on 5-13 shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 assists. Line is not staggering, but his play in the 4th quarter was a big part of this win.
Zach Randolph - 23 points on 8 of 20 shooting, 17 rebounds (8 offensive), and 5 assists.
This was a great comeback win and a testament for this team's ability to win when their star players struggle to get things going. Harden had to get to the line all night to be effective offensively and Dwight got in foul trouble in the 3rd quarter and didn't play again in the game after being a ghost most of the contest.
While I wish we could get more consistency in a lot of areas on this team, I was very pleased with how this squad handled a situation where their backs were against the wall late in the fourth on the end of a back-to-back game against a quality defensive opponent in the Grizzlies.
Our three point shooting was dreadful most of the game and while some nights we are going to be hot, we are going to have to learn how to grind out victories this way in order to stay atop a Western conference that is stacked to the brim with talent waiting to take home court advantage in the playoffs. Winning crucial divisional tie-breakers like these is a huge step in that direction.
Go check out Grizzly Bear Blues for more game coverage and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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