Sometimes, a contending team doesn’t show how great it is by winning on a last second clutch shot. It doesn’t show how great it is even by blowing out the other team. Instead, the Rockets showed their contending ability and talent…by winning against the Memphis Grizzlies despite playing like garbage for the vast majority of the game.
The Rockets started off decently, finishing the first quarter with a 26-23 lead, but even then the problems which would be apparent for the next two quarters showed themselves. Houston is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league, while Memphis is one of the best offensive rebounding teams. During the second quarter, with Howard in continual foul trouble, the Grizzlies dominated the Rockets on the boards so badly that at one point in the second quarter, Memphis had as many offensive rebounds as the Rockets had TOTAL rebounds. The lead expanded to 63-50 early in the 3rd quarter, and with Houston utterly unable to make 3’s, Howard neutralized by foul trouble, and Harden totally dependent on free throws, one couldn’t help but think the game was already over.
But just like the last game against Memphis, the Rockets rallied big in the fourth quarter, behind the efforts of Jeremy Lin and Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas was called in the second quarter out of a desperate attempt to stop Memphis’s rebounding, and while he promptly gave up a 3 point play on his first defensive possession, he played well enough to get back on the court. But during the 3rd and 4th quarter, Motiejunas and the Rockets as a whole actually played defense. The Rockets swarmed Zach Randolph in the post, and Memphis lacked the offensive firepower to score afterwards, while Jeremy Lin erupted for 14 points in the 4th quarter. The Rockets could not rebound, their stars couldn’t make shots, and they couldn’t hit a three, but they played well enough with their talent to beat a hobbled Grizzlies squad.
- Terrence Jones singlehandedly kept the Rockets in the game for the first three quarters. He made his first 5 shots, ran the floor, and at times really was the only Rocket capable of scoring at all. He finished with 20 points on 14 shots, but surprisingly did not play at all during the 4th quarter, perhaps due to the fact that he did struggle defending Randolph, something which the taller Motiejunas did a better job at.
- In just the latest story in the continuing injury saga, Aaron Brooks went to the locker room late in the 3rd quarter with a sprained ankle. Brooks did come onto the bench later and indicated that he was willing to play, but Lin’s excellent play down the stretch precluded the need for that. At this rate, Earl Boykins should start preparing to warm up.
- TNT stated that James Harden is the first player since Charles Barkley to score 25 points while making 2 or fewer field goals, which sort of speaks for Harden’s performance in and of itself. Free throws. Lots and lots of free throws. More free throws, in fact, than the Grizzlies as a team. Memphis was clearly visibly frustrated with the free throws and their inability to score late in the game, and reacted by launching some hard fouls at Parsons and Lin, picking up a late technical foul, and prolonging the game with fouls longer than was reasonable.