It’s funny how winning solves everything. Even though the Rockets have beaten pretty bad teams on their way to a 3-6 record, including thrashing the NY Knicks Sunday night, the panic that all Houston fans had when they started the season 0-5 seems like a distant memory. The Rockets have now won three of their last 4 games since then.
This Rocket victory reminded me of last year’s team when they used hustle, grit and ball movement to get a respectable record without Yao. Or a few years ago in how they played during their 22-game winning streak.
Leading 71-70 in the 3rd quarter, New York made only 2 of their next 21 shot attempts (nearly 12 minutes without a field goal) as the Rockets opened up a 19-point lead and cruised to a victory that has everyone thinking the Rockets aren’t so bad as they looked this time last week.
In reality, we still don’t have enough evidence the Rockets can execute their half court offense in the clutch to win tight games. They’ve done it once, against Indiana on Friday night. For now, the best way for them to win still appears to be opening up big leads and holding on, like they did against Minnesota in that blowout victory, and what they did Sunday night against New York.
Chuck Hayes did a great job on Amar’e Stoudemire (the Knicks’ highest paid player at $16.5 million this season) by holding him to 3 points after checking in with about 7 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter. Before then, Stoudemire scored 22 points in his first 22 minutes. Chuck’s value ($2.3 million this season) is a pretty good return holding a player to those kinds of stats who makes more than 7 times he does.
Coach Rick Adelman had the following to say about putting Hayes on Stoudemire:
“I knew I was going to put Chuck on him. I was just biding my time as long as we had the lead. We didn’t have to worry about doubling him. Chuck stays in front of him. He’s such a good defender. A lot of people don’t realize how good he is. Tonight, he showed it again.”
On offense, the Rockets had 28 assists, their season-high, on 36 field goals. Amazing.
It’s great how the Rockets remembered all of a sudden what made them so effective in previous seasons playing more as a TEAM, and to do it on the road. Maybe there is something to be said about bonding better with your teammates on the road, away from the distractions at home. You might remember the same thing happened when they started off the preseason playing poorly, and were dreading the long flights to/from China. But that’s when they really started playing better as a team as they swept the New Jersey Nets in Beijing and Guangzhou. Who knows, maybe those lunches and dinners they have with each other at the hotel or in restaurants might instill a better sense of trust among each other, manifesting itself in sharing the ball more.
With the Knicks’ run-and-gun system under Mike D’Antoni, they only had 10 fast break points and six second-chance points. I kind of felt sorry for them as the boo birds in Madison Square Garden let them have it, like when they had 4 turnovers in a row in the fourth quarter, and it was clear they were going to lose their fifth game in a row. That 2011 first round pick the Rockets have from the Knicks is starting to look better and better.
What else can you say about Kevin Martin? He scored a game-high 28 points on 8-of-18 shooting, had 5 rebounds and 4 assists. He has been almost everything the Rockets had hoped for (give credit to Daryl Morey and his staff for acquiring him), scoring 20 points in 8-of-9 games this season. And playing with a little pain suffered from spraining his ankle a few games ago. The Rockets have really needed K-Mart’s scoring punch with Aaron Brooks, Yao and Chase Budinger out with sprained ankles, and he’s delivered.
And let’s not forget about Luis Scola, who has also been Mr. Consistency along with Martin. Scola scored 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and two blocks. Courtney Lee had a breakout game with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Brad Miller chipped in with 8 points on 4-of-9 shots. Even Shane Battier scored 8 points on 3-of-7 shots along with 6 boards. Hayes even scored 8 points, making 4-of-6 free throws! That terrible hitch in his free throw shooting stroke is just about gone in comparison to what it used to be. Apparently all of that work during the off-season to get rid of it is paying off.
Kyle Lowry only shot 1-of-6 from the field, but he did shoot 8 free throws, making 5 of them for 7 points. He also had 7 boards and 6 assists. His backup Ish Smith had a very nice stat: 5 assists in 12 minutes of action. Not bad, rook.
Now the Rockets come back home to play the 5-3 Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, then head to Oklahoma City for a back-to-back. Yao is not expected to play in either of those games.