Howard: 'We stayed together'
One game remains for the Rockets in the first half of the season of this “New Age” of Rockets basketball.
They’ll face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night at Toyota Center, coming off a four-game road trip that ended with a third straight victory on Wednesday night. Houston fell behind by 17 points in the first half against New Orleans, but closed the game on an 11-1 run to beat the Pelicans, 103-100. They improved their record to 26-14.
The last time the Rockets were better than 26-14 through 40 games was the 1996-97 season, when they were 31-9 through 40 games. They finished that season 57-25 before losing in the Western Conference Finals.
This just-completed road trip could only be described as a roller coaster, but only if that roller coaster had the biggest climbs and the steepest drops in the world. They led 11-0 in Atlanta only to go ice cold and lose by three, scoring just 80 points, their lowest total of the season. They held a 25-point lead in Washington, only to fall behind by five, before coming back to win, 114-107.
Their 104-92 win in Boston, seemed so ordinary by comparison, even though they did manage to go down by nine points in less than nine minutes. A little over 20 minutes later, Houston held a 20 point lead, which they were able to turn into their only somewhat comfortable win on the trip.
Then in the finale on Wednesday night, they endured another sluggish start, fell behind by 17 points and still trailed by seven with three minutes remaining, before outscoring New Orleans 11-1 down the stretch to claim the win.
One thing that was constant was improved defense down the stretch of each of the four games. They held the Hawks to just 2-of-10 shot over the last 8:30 of their game. Had the Rockets been able to find any offense of their own, they easily could’ve pushed past the Hawks.
Against the Wizards, after Washington hit a layup to take a 102-97 lead, the Rocket forced the Wizards to miss their final 15 shots over the last 5:25 of the game. Houston finished that game on a 17-5 run to grab the win.
In each of the final two games, they held their opponents without a field goal for the final 2:45, Boston and New Orleans went 0-5 in each instance. Following the win in Boston, McHale was asked about how the team responded to the Celtics fourth quarter comeback attempt. “We’ve been getting a lot of experience at that. Getting a lead and then giving it up,” McHale quipped.
Clearly, in the game against the Pelicans, the Rockets don’t win without those stops which had been so hard to come by earlier in games.
“We started off lethargic,” McHale said about the game against New Orleans. “We were having a hard time getting momentum, but we got it to a five point game with two and a half, three minutes to go and said we just got to make plays.”
The Rockets begin a season-long five-game home stand Thursday night with visits from Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Portland, Sacramento and Memphis.