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Game Day: Rockets vs. Warriors

Analysis and observations from Houston’s 105-83 win over the Golden State Warriors

Game Night: Warriors at Rockets 12/6/2013

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s 105-83 win over the Golden State Warriors:

POST-GAME

All hail the power of Justin Timberlake.

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He’s obviously what inspired tonight’s performance, right? I mean, if the dude can bring sexy back, surely he’s capable of restoring the Rockets’ mojo, too. Sure enough, just one night after watching JT perform in person, Chandler Parsons’ back loosened up enough to allow him to return to game action. And with Parsons back in the lineup, the Rockets immediately rediscovered the free-flowing style of play that had been missing in their perfectly coiffed forward’s absence.

You can call it a coincidence or credit the two-hour acupuncture session instead if you want. I choose to believe J-Timberlake rocked Parsons’ body back into playing shape. Whichever way you slice it, Houston played with pace, alacrity and suit-and-tie style, leaving the Warriors crying a river while the Rockets romped their way to a 105-83 win over Golden State.

To be sure, Parsons’ box score numbers don’t leap off the page, especially when compared to the monster efforts put forth by Dwight Howard, James Harden and Terrence Jones. But there’s no doubt whatsoever that the third-year forward’s presence played a significant role in returning the Rockets to their winning ways.

The difference was tangible right from the opening tip. Houston wasted little time building a big lead and Parsons’ fingerprints were all over proceedings during that time. The Rockets raced up and down the floor, rapidly and smartly swung the ball from side-to-side, racked up points in early offense, dominated the boards and played rocked solid defense.

This was the sort of start that had been emblematic of Houston’s play prior to Parsons’ injury absence so it should hardly come as any sort of surprise that its return coincided with that of the Florida native’s. Jones, in particular, seemed buoyed by Parsons’ reappearance as he scored 11 early points, seven of which came courtesy of assists from his fellow former SEC’er. By the end of the first quarter, Houston led 31-12 and Golden State never came even remotely close to threatening from that point forward.

This was precisely the sort of dominant performance the Rockets were looking for in the wake of two thoroughly disappointing defeats. It was a start-to-finish shellacking over a playoff-caliber opponent that showed just how good this team can be when it’s engaged, executing and playing up-tempo, unselfish basketball on both ends of the floor.

The rematch takes place next Friday in Golden State’s gym. What goes around comes around? Whatever. Timberlake may be a lot of things, but he’s no fortune teller … Right???

OBSERVATIONS

- It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Terrence Jones returned to beast mode (16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks) the same night Parsons returned to the lineup. Coming into today’s game, Houston was +78 during the 294 minutes Jones and Parsons had played together this year and they were +14 while sharing the floor tonight. The Rockets’ offensive rating when those two play simultaneously: 116.0 – a mark that would lead the NBA by a mile.

- This stat shocked me when I stumbled upon it: Francisco Garcia (4 blocks tonight) now has two games this season in which he's blocked three shots and another two in which he's swatted four. Wow.

- The Rockets did a very nice job keeping tabs on the Dubs' perimeter shooters in transition tonight; something that’s hugely important when playing against the Warriors’ cadre of outside shooting stars. Keep that in mind when these two teams resume their rivalry at Oracle Arena next week.

- Speaking of defense, hello, James Harden! The Rockets’ All-Star was his extraordinarily efficient self while putting up 34 points on 22 shots to go along with seven boards and four dimes. But it was his defense that really stood out tonight. This was unquestionably one of his best two-way efforts of the season. More of this, please.

"Desperation," Harden said when asked for the key to Houston's effort tonight. "We had to win a game. We lost two games we should have won so it was time to come home and find a way to win and we did it on the defensive end tonight. 

"(I) locked in and stayed focused. All the time I was out there, knowing my principles and what I needed to do and who I was guarding and helping my teammates. I think all the guys did the same."

- Always destructive defensively: Dwight Howard. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year thoroughly demoralized and dominated the Warriors down low tonight en route to recording 22 points and 18 boards. He rendered Andrew Bogut irrelevant by drawing five fouls on Golden State’s center in just 18 minutes of action. Together, Howard and Jones combined for 38 points, 28 boards and four blocked shots. Bogut and All-Star David Lee, meanwhile, tallied just 15 points and 8 rebounds.

"When me and him are in the paint causing havoc on both ends of the floor it makes it tough for teams, and we have to bring that every night," Howard said of his frontcourt partnership with Jones. "We've got to bring that intensity and effort every single night for us to win."

- How good was Houston's defense tonight? The Rockets limited Golden State to 35.5 percent shooting from the field and held the league's best 3-point shooting team to an anemic 2-of-16 night from beyond the arc. Houston's final defensive rating: 80.6 -- an absolutely exceptional mark, especially considering that the Warriors brought the league's ninth-ranked offense into town.

NOTES AND QUOTES

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On defensive tone) “I thought that we came out and really got after them. I thought James (Harden) really did a nice job. They dropped the ball to Harrison Barnes quite a bit early. James did a really nice job guarding him. I thought that Patrick did a really nice job on Steph and Chandler was locked in on Klay Thompson. Those guys are tough guys to guard and they did a nice job of not getting them started. We were able to just kind of play from there.”

(On perimeter defense) “They're a tough team. They shoot a lot of 3's. They shoot them at a really high percentage. We were trying to get them off the line and keep pressure on them and keep our bigs up so they just couldn't walk into shots. For the most part, we did a very good job of that.”

(On Dwight Howard's performance) “I thought he rebounded really well again. He got the ball in the paint, he was strong, got fouled  a lot and made his free throws. The last couple of games he's had 18 rebounds. He's one of those guys...he can go get a ton of rebounds. He's a huge, huge part of what we're doing. I think he's played very well. We're still trying to find ways to get him the ball. We're trying to get our passing angles and help him out. He's open, but we're missing him a few times. I also like the fact that, when we get going, and we're getting up and down, sometimes as a big fella you get a run and get your opportunities when they come because our offense starts flowing and in the first quarter they were good.”

(On Chandler Parson's play) “Very good (on how he ran the floor). I thought Chandler had pretty good juice. He wanted to play more but 34 minutes was probably too much. He felt good and his wind looked pretty good.”

(On Terrence Jones' fast starts) “Terrence is a young guy and we talked about being consistent and about the NBA. The NBA is tough on young guys. I just said that you're going to have to go out and some nights it's tough. It takes a while to become a vet that can turn bad starts into good games. Concentrate on having high energy and getting started and getting yourself going and getting some easy runs. Don't make your first shot a three, get some tip ins, get some rebounds, get some blocked shots, do those things and get running and let that loosen up the game for you. Our starters did a good job tonight, I was happy how they played.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On getting back out there) “We lost two easy games, We're frustrated. I was so glad to be out there and be playing. Obviously, (I'm still) a little rusty. I missed a lot of easy ones that I'm usually going to make, but that's just going to take time with coming back and playing. I thought we played extremely well. We got off to a good start. We really keyed in on their scouting report and shut down the 3-point line. We did a really good job on Klay (Thompson) and (Steph) Curry so I'm definitely sore, but it felt so good to get back out there.”

(On his early assists contributing to his play) “Yeah, that's what I've been doing all year. Terrence (Jones) has been great for us and big for us, especially in the first quarter. It's important to get him going. I'm just going to continue to be aggressive and keep rehabilitating and just make easy plays for other people.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On defense contributing to the win) “Everything, that's the way we play. If we don't get after them on the defensive end, it's going to be tough for us. We were getting huge stops and getting out in transition. We did a good job early in the game of putting pressure on their guards and we got things going our way.”

(On pressuring the Warriors guards) “Contest every shot. Every shot that Harrison Barnes shoots, (Steph) Curry, Klay Thompson, all those guys...they're great shooters so if you don't contest it, they're going to knock them down the majority of the time.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the Rockets defense being the key to the win) “It was a great win for us against a pretty good basketball team. We did the best job we could on making sure those guys didn't threes off tonight and that's where it started. Our defense was great from the beginning. We had a lot of deflections. We ran the floor well and put pressure on their guards to make plays to other guys instead of them coming off scoring and we got a good win.”

(On the return of Chandler Parsons) “It was great. He's another guy, a big body on the offensive end. He is always slashing and cutting and making it tough for the defense to just stand still. He was shooting the ball pretty good from three. I'm happy he's back. That back is nothing to play with and I'm just happy that he's been healthy.”

TERRENCE JONES

(On the Rockets great start tonight) “I think we just came out aggressive and probably having CP (Chandler Parsons) back, I think, helped us a lot. He really opened up the court and makes it easier for guys to cut and makes plays for other guys. We just fed off of what we had going before we started losing guys to injuries.”

(On the Rockets defense) “Guys made a lot of defensive plays and made steals and got their hands on a lot of balls and that created transition offense for us.”

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS COACH MARK JACKSON

(On the game) It was a bad loss. The way we started the ball game, there have been times our bench has been bad and we let them know and tonight, the starters did a poor job of setting the tone. We got out worked. They played with more force and that set the tone the rest of the way. “

(On if he expected a better start after the last game) “Yes, I did. I was very disappointed with that. We certainly have to be better, you let a Toronto Raptors, a team that we could come back against, but these good teams in the Western Conference you digs yourself a hole, it’s awfully tough. We have to figure it out. I think we’ve learned this lesson before and it’s time to do something about it and we did not. At the end of the day, there has never been a speech that has been made (at halftime) that has anything to do with making the adjustments. We’re well aware of what took place in the first half. We dug ourselves in another hole and we have to be better. Everybody sees it and hold each other accountable and we have to be much better. “

STEPHEN CURRY

(On the team’s slow start) “There is no magic formula but we have to play hard and play better, especially on the road. It’s frustrating. We have to able to turn it on early and set the tone as starters for the rest of the team. We know how much energy is exerted to come back against a big lead and how much that needs to go right for you and we don’t want to put ourselves in that position. There’s nothing in the back of our minds that think we have the fire power to be able to come back. I don’t know why that message didn’t take over in the first quarter with the way we started the game, but it all started from the defensive end. “

(On the Warriors’ play) “It’s like tonight we didn’t hit shots early and we have a tendency to dwell on that and we weren’t getting stops and we cant turn the ball over on offense. We gave them extra possessions early in the game to get their confidence going. Early in the year we were taking care of the ball and hitting our shots and getting good offense and our defense was picking us up. In road games, our defense has to show up to weather the storm of cold shooting nights.”

(On the Rockets defense) “We felt like we could score, but we just couldn’t stop them. They were getting to the free throw line, getting easy buckets and the turnovers were plenty early and often. We have to control that to limit their offense, especially at home.”

KLAY THOMPSON

(On the Rockets defense) “You have to give them credit, but I missed some easy looks tonight. They made me work for everything I got and I didn’t take care of the ball as well. I had to work to find open teammates and I didn’t do that and I made some bad turnovers.”

(On the teams recent slow starts) “I can’t. I know there is no reason for it that’s excusable. Two game sin a row now and we have another teat tomorrow against Memphis and it’s very disappointing. As a starter, we have to come out there with unlimited energy.”

ANDREW BOGUT

(On the game) “When you have losses like this, the best thing you can do is have a game the next day and stop talking about it and thinking about it and when you have two or three days to think about it, it makes it a lot tougher. The problems defensively were our problems. Give them credit, they made shots and we were missing easy shots. We just need to come out with better energy. Everybody’s tired this point in the season, so we can’t use that as an excuse. Our starting group needs to come out with better energy and buckle down defensively even if we missed every shot in the first quarter, but we played defense the way we’re supposed we think we can still be in ball games. When we let them get easy baskets early on, we struggle.”  

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,145, marking a 12th straight sellout at Toyota Center.

The Rockets held the Warriors to 27-of-76 (.355) from the field, 2-of-16 (.125) from beyond the arc and just 10 assists in a 105-83 victory tonight. Golden State set its team season lows in field goal percentage (was .405), 3-pointers made (was five), 3-point field goal percentage (was .278) and assists (was 16).

Tonight marked the sixth time already this season that Houston has held its opponent under .400 shooting (Rockets record: 5-1).

The Rockets also held the Warriors to an opponent season-low 12 first quarter points on 4-of-20 (.200) from the field. Houston also kept Golden State to a 12-point quarter last season, limiting the Warriors to a dozen points in the fourth quarter at Golden State (3/8/13).

Houston dropped in 61 first-half points (.525, 21-40 FG) tonight, which marked the seventh time this season the Rockets have opened a game with 60-plus points over the first two quarters.

The Rockets, who outrebounded the Suns by a 54-40 (+14) count last game vs. Phoenix (12/4/13), took the battle of the boards by a 52-43 edge tonight. It was the Rockets eighth 50-rebounds game this season, which ties for the most in the NBA this season (eight by Philadelphia).

Houston tonight grabbed a season-high 14 steals with the starters accounting for 12 of those thefts. The previous best was 13 at San Antonio (11/30/13).

James Harden totaled 34 points (13-22 FG, 7-9 FT), seven boards and four assists. Harden now has 30-plus points in three of his last four games and seven overall on the season.

Dwight Howard posted 22 points (5-8 FG, 12-20 FT), 18 rebounds, three steals and one block tonight, giving him 12 double-doubles already this season. Howard, who entered tonight’s game fifth in the NBA in double-doubles this season, also picked up his sixth 20-point outing of 2013-14. Since 2008-09, only Luis Scola and Omer Asik have posted back-to-back games of 18 or more rebounds. Howard also finished with 15 points (4-11 FG, 7-9 FT) and 18 boards vs. Phoenix (12/4/13).

Terrence Jones recorded 16 points (7-12 FG), 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks tonight. Jones, who had just one double-double in his rookie campaign, now has five double-doubles on the season. Tonight also marked the first time in his career to reach each of those statistical categories in a game.

Chandler Parsons returned tonight after missing the past two games (back spasms). Parsons topped the team with five assists and three steals.

Stephen Curry collected 22 points (5-14 FG, 1-5 3FG) behind an 11-for-11 outing from the free throw line. Curry joined Dirk Nowitzki (10-11 FT) and DeMar DeRozan (10-11 FT) as the only players this season to reach double-figure makes from the free throw line against the Rockets.

David Lee scored 11 points (4-7 FG) tonight. Lee has now scored in double figures in a career-best 96 consecutive games (third longest active streak in the NBA).

Harrison Barnes nabbed a career-high four steals to go along with 14 points (5-16 FG) and seven boards. 

PREVIEW

The Basics:

Golden State Warriors (11-8) at Houston Rockets (13-7)

Point Differential:

Golden State: +3.6 (NBA rank: 9th)

Houston: +5.3 (NBA rank: 4th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Golden State: 104.5 (9th)

Houston: 108.5 (1st)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Golden State: 99.9 (6th)

Houston: 101.4 (9th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Golden State: 98.33 (7th)

Houston: 98.87 (6th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Golden State: 53.6% (4th)

Houston: 54.6% (2nd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Golden State: 17.4 (27th)

Houston: 18.4 (30th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Golden State: 50.4% (13th); offensive rebound rate: 23.3% (24th); defensive rebound rate: 74.7% (15th)

Houston: 53.6% (1st); offensive rebound rate: 28.6% (5th); defensive rebound rate: 73.8% (21st)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Golden State: .275 (14th)

Houston: .406 (1st)

Well this should be fun. If Houston is looking for a good way to remove the bitter taste of back-to-back defeats, there should be no finer elixir than an opportunity to get well against the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets and Dubs, if you recall, developed a not-so-friendly rivalry a season ago in the wake of Houston’s NBA record-tying 3-point extravaganza last February. And while the two teams’ meetings weren’t always nail biters – a pair of 30-plus point blowouts for either side sandwiched two relatively close games – there was certainly no shortage of animus and not exactly well-hidden ill will. Sounds like just the kind of matchup to get everyone in the holiday spirit, right?

But forget about whatever venom and vitriol has leaked from last season into this one. From a pure basketball standpoint, tonight’s game ought to be a blast with treys, turnovers and points aplenty. Yes, each club’s lengthy walking wounded list means we won’t get to see either team at full strength, but the remaining star power on hand should still be plenty strong enough to make tonight’s tilt the marquee matchup in the NBA this evening. Oh, and for what it’s worth: Houston has walked away victorious in 17 of the last 20 meetings between these two teams.

Know Thy Enemy

- I could tell you Steph Curry shoots better than 44 percent from 3-point range. I could regale you with the fact that Curry has knocked down a ridiculous 67 percent of his spot-up jumpers so far this season. I could even reveal that Golden State’s point guard with the Midas shooting touch hits nearly 55 percent of his shots when defenders go under the screen on the pick-and-roll (something that should be a finable offense, by the way, when defending Curry) and still manages to connect at a better than 47 percent rate when defenders go over the screen. But those are just numbers. To get a real sense for just how lethal Curry is, take a quick look at his shot chart (Note: Feeling as though NBA.com’s shot chart was lacking in this instance, I took the liberty of creating one of my own).

Ok, so maybe this overstates things just a bit (Curry’s hasn’t been hot from everywhere this season; his finishing touch around the restricted area has actually been less than stellar thus far), but hopefully the hyperbole gets the primary point across: Curry’s range begins the second he enters the gym. Do not let him out of your sight – EVER.

Something else to note: The 25-year-old averages 17.5 field goal attempts per game – a mindboggling 14.5 of those are of the pull-up jumper variety. No one in the NBA takes more.

One last word on Curry’s off-the-charts offensive potency: When the fifth-year guard is on the floor, Golden State’s offensive rating is a remarkable 114.3 – a mark that would lead the league by a mile. When he sits, the Warriors’ rating plummets to 87.2 points per 100 possessions which is markedly worse than the offensive efficiency rating posted by last place Milwaukee. The moral of the story: Stephen Curry is both very good and vitally important. Quite the stunning revelation, I know. As always, Rockets.com remains the source for all your breaking news needs.  

- Of course the Warriors’ 3-point barrage does not simply begin and end with Curry. His backcourt mate, Klay Thompson, attempts almost as many 3s per game and is knocking down nearly 48 percent of them. And whereas Curry derives much of his offense from pull-up Js, Thompson is a catch-and-shoot maestro, knocking down three catch-and-shoot 3s per game while compiling a 49 percent hit rate on those attempts.

Golden State, in fact, currently has five players who are connecting from downtown at a rate of 44 percent or better; little wonder, then, that the Warriors are lapping the field with a league-leading 43.7 percent 3-point shooting mark as a team. Fortunately for Houston, two of those five players won’t be in action tonight as Andre Iguodala and Toney Douglas remain sidelined due to injury.

- Speaking of Iguodala, the Warriors’ big summer splash had been everything Golden State hoped for and more to start the season, shooting at a career-best rate prior to his being sidelined due to a hamstring injury. But his absence has, not surprisingly, been felt far more on the other end of the floor. While the Warriors’ defensive rating of 99.9 looks mighty fine and places them 6th overall in the league, Golden State has posted a defensive efficiency mark of 107.1 over the course of the six games Iguodala has missed – a rating that would rank them 29th in the NBA. Now it should be noted that four of those six games have taken place against teams possessing a top-10 offense so the schedule certainly hasn’t done the Dubs any favors in that sense. But Iguodala is rightfully regarded as one of the game’s premier wing defenders and there’s no denying that the Warriors’ defense misses him desperately.  

In the spotlight/Injury update

Suffice to say Houston’s last two games have only served to highlight the importance of Chandler Parsons. The third-year swingman continues to battle back spasms, though the good news is that he is on the mend and inching closer to a return – perhaps as soon as tonight. Parsons went through shootaround this morning and says that constant treatment – which included a two-hour acupuncture session yesterday – has helped to decrease the pain he’s been experiencing. That said, he also added that a degree of tightness remains so don’t expect a final decision regarding his status for tonight’s matchup to be made until the final hour.

Parsons was a big part of the Rockets’ success against Golden State last year, averaging 21 points, 6.7 assists and 5 rebounds per game during Houston’s three wins over the Warriors while shooting 60 percent from the field and beyond the arc in those contests.

Jeremy Lin (knee), Omer Asik (right thigh contusion) and Greg Smith (knee) have all been ruled out for tonight’s game.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.