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Game Day: Rockets at Nets

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 105-96 loss to the Brooklyn Nets

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

All throughout the 2012-13 season, the Rockets proved to be exceedingly comfortable going small so long as Omer Asik was the one manning the middle. It should come as no surprise then, that on a night when Houston found itself woefully short on bigs due to the injury issues of Dwight Howard and Greg Smith – and the illness that prevented Terrence Jones from playing as well – that the Rockets’ formula for success this evening centered upon throwback tactics that once again leaned heavily on Asik and his ability to serve as a one-man rim-protecting and rebounding force of nature.

PHOTO GALLERY

When Donatas Motiejunas, tonight’s starter at power forward in place of Jones, was limited to a mere three first half minutes due to foul trouble, that strategy became even more profound. And true to form, Asik picked up the slack and then some. Through two quarters of play, the Turkish big man had already corralled 13 rebounds and swatted a pair of shots while owning the only positive plus/minus among Rockets’ starters. Without him, Houston would have been sunk, plain and simple.

- Also imperative for Houston’s hopes to snap Brooklyn’s 13-game home winning streak: accurate 3-point shooting. With the Rockets resorting to small-ball for large swaths of the contest, the ‘space’ aspect of the club’s pace-and-space attack was put to the test in ways rarely seen. And through the first two quarters at least, the Rockets’ cadre of long-range bombers largely delivered the goods, hitting halftime with a collective 7-of-20 mark from downtown. Just as importantly, Brooklyn bricked nearly every triple it attempted in the first half while posting a 1-11 mark from beyond the arc.

- The Nets apparently didn't receive the memo that this James Harden guy can be awfully crafty when it comes to drawing fouls. Harden went to the line five times in the first quarter as Brooklyn’s defenders were unwisely handsy, and then he drew three more freebies right before halftime when Alan Anderson fouled him on a 3-point attempt. As a result, Harden hit the break with 15 points on just five shots from the field, though he did also turn the ball over three times.

That turnover issue was no minor problem, by the way. The Rockets’ season-long bugaboo bit them hard once again in the first half as Houston coughed up the ball 10 times, directly leading to 13 Brooklyn points. Those turnovers were enough to undo some of the good accomplished by the Rockets’ dominance on the offensive glass and from the arc as Brooklyn took a 54-51 lead to halftime.

- The third quarter produced more of the same back-and-forth as Brooklyn built an 11-point lead only to see Houston answer with a run of its own to close within four heading to the final frame. The Nets continued to misfire from 3 – Brooklyn was just 4-of-19 from distance through three quarters – but the Rockets also continued to miss a bevy of bunnies which hindered their ability to gain more ground.

Houston was, however, able to consistently rely upon Harden’s ability to parade to the free throw line. He had 26 points through three quarters thanks in large part to his 16-of-16 mark from the charity stripe. The Rockets’ all-time record for free throw perfection, by the way, is 18-for-18 accomplished by none other than Kevin Martin.

Harden, however, was hardly the only All-Star two-guard enjoying and offensive explosion. Joe Johnson had 30 points before the final frame had even begun and, tellingly, he was a +16 compared to Harden’s -13 at that point.

- Francisco Garcia has always been an excellent shot blocker for a wing, and he delivered a beauty on a Mirza Teletovic 3-point attempt in the second half tonight. Garcia’s pterodactyl-esque wingspan can make him a nuisance on close-outs, and Rockets players have told many a tale of how he’s a nightmare to play one-on-one against due to those go-go-gadget arms of his.

- Also certain to provoke bad dreams among Houston’s players this evening: a fourth quarter that saw the Rockets misfire from all over the court. Houston managed to keep its turnovers under control in the second half, but it missed out on a bundle of prime scoring chances and suffered far too many defensive breakdowns to emerge with a happier result. Harden, among the NBA’s fourth quarter scoring leaders all season long, went scoreless in the final frame and his defense was a step slow for large portions of the night. And though Omer Asik set a new career-high by hauling in 23 rebounds, Brooklyn's balanced attack ultimately carried the day and allowed the Nets to pull away while recording their first win over the Rockets since 2006 - a stretch that included 14 consecutive Houston victories in the series.

- With their 105-96 loss, the Rockets fall to 49-24 on the season. Up next: a date with the Raptors in Toronto Wednesday night. 

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

We did not attack very well. We settled a lot, we didn’t shoot the ball very well, we didn’t dive-and-kick for each other, we took a lot of bad shots.

It doesn’t make any different who’s out. We’ve got to play … Everybody’s got to play better.

We didn’t move the ball tonight. We took bad shots, we took one-pass 3s, we missed wide-open driving lanes. We just didn’t play together.

(how much of that is due to unfamiliar lineups?)

I don’t know how you have to play with somebody to know to throw to the open man. Do you need to know him personally?

JAMES HARDEN

We just missed some shots and opportunities, and let them get too comfortable early in the game. They got it going and it was tough. Everybody’s good in this league so once a guy gets confidence early it’s tough.

(injury bug frustrating?)

Yeah it is, because we had the same problem early in the season. We thought we were getting over it, getting guys healthy and getting into mojo and a groove. Three of our starters are out now so we’ve just got to figure out a way to get through it. We’ll be alright.

(missing Pat’s defensive energy and intensity?)

We were missing all three starters tonight.

It’s tough because like I said, we were getting into a groove with everybody healthy and now we’ve got three starters out so it’s tough to figure out what we need to correct because we haven't had that consistency with our unit.

We just have to figure out a way to get through these next couple games and then get some guys back into the lineup and go from there.

(breakdowns a byproduct of unfamiliar lineups?)

Yeah, small things. Miscommunication led to open shots and layups. You take those away and it’s a different ball game.

CHANDLER PARSONS

(what was it like playing without three starters?)

It’s different. We’ve got to understand each other better. We’ve got to understand where each other is at and where other people are good at. Our spacing tonight was not very good. We didn’t do anything to help each other out and we’ve got to do a much better job of spacing the floor, cutting and playing more unselfish.

We’ve made strides. The longer we play together the more comfortable we’re going to be. By now, it’s getting late in the season. We are who we are and this is who we’ve got. Our biggest thing right now is just to get healthy and keep competing and try to get better and try to win as many of these last couple games as we can.

JEREMY LIN

I don’t think we really brought it on the defensive end. We weren’t aggressive.

(does that have to do with Patrick’s absence?)

Yeah, it does. Dwight’s absence, too. You’re talking about Dwight who is a multi-time Defensive Player of the Year, and Pat who’s an unbelievable defensive player but we’ve got to pick it up. We have to get better.