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Rockets survive abysmal shooting, sink Pelicans late 107-98

Dwight's presence was critical to keeping the offense chugging along amidst a shooting slump that continues to make the Rockets bench look like ghosts and Jeremy Lin look like a guy with a knack for 4th quarter performances.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This game, like many this season, was filled with plays that made you look the other way.  Through sheer paint domination (58-40 point disparity) in the half court, fastbreak points in transition (14-4 point disparity), and a fourth quarter shooting performance from Jeremy Lin and James Harden that seemingly came from absolutely nowhere, Houston was able to hold on for a victory against a talented Pelicans squad looking to make some noise.

The Houston bench got outscored 30-16 with only Omri and Aaron contributing.  Collectively the bench shot 6 of 19 (31%) in an effort that saw Cisco's 12 minutes throw up a stat line full of donuts.  Despite this, the starters were able to take control of the game halfway through the fourth quarter, going on a 19-6 run to close the game out.

Lets jump right into the action shall we.

First Half

To start, New Orleans received a steady diet of Dwight Howard in the post to - he looked significantly better than he did a few nights ago versus the Grizzlies and his fat stat line tonight in the final box score validated that effort.

Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis stormed out of the gate with a combined 13 of their first 18 points on 71% shooting, but Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones helped keep the game tight early one.  It truly was a battle of the frontcourt at the outset. This was again a game where the Rockets could not get their three point shot going early on, shooting zero percent through the first on six shots.

This is why we paid as much as we did for a guy like Dwight.

Houston is able to take a tight contest and go on a 13-0 run to close the quarter with the 31-22 lead.

Dwight had10 points, 8 boards, 1 assist (beautiful give-and-go with Casspi), and 1 steal thorugh the first period.  He shot 100 percent on 5 of 5 from the floor.  He was absolutely dominant in the first half, stealing would-be Pelicans offensive rebounds from Anthony Davis throughout the period.  Consistently, with purpose, and, most importantly, with tremendous physicality.

Harden was also able to take Holiday to task in Beverley's place early on, using his ball and head fakes to get to the rim early.  Houston's offensive combination early resulted in a bulk of our points coming from right in the paint.

Donatas was put out at the beginning of the second quarter.  He promptly fouled another player and looked pretty ineffective on defense, failing to recover on pick and rolls and allowing Jason Smith to back him down relatively easily.  He was subbed out later and never returned, finishing with just  4 minutes of playing time.

Houston's 11 point lead evaporated under the weight of Tyreke Evans and his driving ability and skill at getting to the rim along with Jason Smith's impressive shot-making for a big man with his size.  The Rockets were able to stay afloat by finally hitting a pair of 3 point shots and a great series of offensive sets ending up with Parsons dishing the ball to Terrence Jones.

Houston closed the half with a very even distribution of offensive production (Parsons/Howard each with 12 points, Harden with 10, and Jones with 9) on their way to a 52-52 tie.

Unfortunately, none of those points were Jeremy Lin, as he went 0 for 5 from the field.  On the brighter side, Jrue Holiday seemed totally taken out of the game, finishing with 2 points on 20% shooting and 2 assists to go with 2 turnovers.  Anthony Davis also stayed relatively contained on the boards, collecting only 3 total rebounds (one pretty impressive offensive board, snatching the ball right out of Dwight's mitts).  He was, however, 4 for 4 with 10 points at the break.

Ryan Anderson led the Pelicans in points and rebounds with 14 and 7 (3 offensive) on 50% shooting.  Dwight Howard was the star of the show for Houston with a first half double-double and an absolute monster on the offensive glass, totaling 5 in the half.  This area of the game was critical for the Rockets to stay on top of as the Pelicans are 3rd in the league in offensive rebounding, going +66 in that category against opponents so far this season.  Winning the first half rebounding battle 23-19 (10-6 in for offensive boards).

Houston's three point shooting was awful in the first half for the second night in a row, an abysmal 13% from deep on 16 attempts.

Ultimately, a steady diet of Dwight in the paint and on the boards combined with efficient offensive play from Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons kept the it at a tie at halftime despite a defensive effort that was uncomfortably spotty.  If I were the head coach of the Pelicans, I would find a huge silver lining in the fact that New Orleans was shooting 50% from the floor and had more assists than Houston in the face of Jrue Holiday's disastrous start.

Second Half

The Pelicans went right back to Ryan Anderson to start the quarter, which was responded to by a series of coast-to-coast scores by Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons. Dwight Howard responded to this by proceeding to dunk on both Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson one right after the other down on the block, retaining a small lead midway through the 3rd period.

Terrence Jones in particular was being incredibly active off of the ball, seemingly all game, resulting in some easy catch and finishes, despite his inability to close out on Ryan Anderson's jump shots.  Davis was finally able to get his rebounding edge back, balooning the total to from 3 to 9 with gobs of time left in the 3rd quarter.  The Pelicans as a team were able to regain the overall rebounding edge, and the awful shooting trend continued for the Rockets.  Francisco, Harden, and Aaron Brooks were having an incredibly tough time generating perimeter points, allowing New Orleans to be a bit more aggressive when flashing and committing to double teams on Dwight.

Houston carried a 1 point lead at the end of the 3rd, 74-73

Lin came out and socred his first basket of the night to begin the 4th quarter followed up by an aggressive attack at the basket resulting in his first free throws of the night as well. He followed that up by nailing a 3-pointer that helped stave off a push by Tyreke Evans who had begun to take advantage of his size against Aaron Brooks, generating a steady stream of points and open shots for Jason Smith, giving them a lead of a single point halfway through the final period, 87-86.

From that points on, all the Rockets seemed to be able to do is travel with the basketball and all Anthony Davis was able to do was dunk all of the Rockets (both on an alley-oop and a put-back).  That is, until Terrence Jones decided he wanted another coast-to-coast driving lay-up - which resulted in an and-1.

After a Davis jump shot, Lin drained another 3 pointer off a Dwight Howard double team, tying the game at 94-94 with three minutes.  On cue, James Harden hits his first three pointer of the game to take the lead in crunch time, bringing the entire crowd to their feet.

After Holiday was only able to hit one of two free throws, Dwight showed him up on the other end by by hitting both of his much needed free throws.  The Pelicans then ended up coughing up the rock a couple of times while the Rockets were able to keep the scoreboard moving.

Most notably, Chandler Parsons made what had to have been the rebound(s) of the game.  After missing his initial look from within 15 feet, he leaped amongst four Pelican jerseys to get the ball back twice and make the layup, extending the lead to five, 103-98.

James Harden puts the cherry on top of this game by nailing a fadeaway mid-range shot to put the game out of reach with less than 30 seconds left in the gameD18

Concluding Thoughts

With many looking to tomorrow night to defend out 7-1 record on the end of back-to-back games, it was hard to look past the Pelicans cast of potent, young talent.

Poor 3 point shooting by Houston has been the story over the past couple of games.  Against the Grizzlies two days ago and New Orleans tonight, Houston has shot 50 three point attempts and have only made 11 of them, barely crossing the 20% threshold.  And, as Adam Wexler noted during the broadcast, these three pointers were not rimming out, they were consistently so far off the mark I was convinced they were being shot by the guys I play with at the rec center.

Houston did, however, win the rebounding battle 47-42 and drastically outshoot the Pelicans from the free throw line, contributing significantly to our ability to overcome another dreadful shooting night from beyond the arc.  Also helping on this front, Houston again was firmly in control of the free throw disparity between the two teams, getting 32 attempts to the Pelican's 8.  Over the past two games, the Rockets have maintained a free throw attempt disparity of +46 over their opponents.

Lastly, Lin has been a beast in the 4th quarter in the past two games, amassing 24 fourth quarter points (compared to just 4 combined first half points).  Jeremy was aggressive from the outset of the final and most important period and ultimately pushed us across the finish line on a night where his production was sorely needed.  I wanted him to show up for all four quarters, but ill take the one if it gets us a W like that.

Dwight seems like he is back to his dominant self with 24 points, 18 boards, and 3 assists.  Harden's 21 points went along with Parson's 19 and Terrence Jones' 17 on the way to a victory that can be credited solely to the starters in my opinion.

Now we have a quick turnaround to play OKC tomorrow night, lets see if we cant close that Western conference gap just a bit more before the weekend is over.

Go check out The Bird Writes for more game coverage.

Final - 12.28.2013 1 2 3 4 Total
New Orleans Pelicans 22 30 21 25 98
Houston Rockets 31 21 22 33 107

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