Game 30: Rockets 96, Thunder 95
By Dennis Silva II
The mercurial ways of Kevin Martin this season only got stranger Wednesday. After a scoreless performance Tuesday in Memphis, he scored 32 against the West's top team.
WHO: Houston 96, Oklahoma City 95.
WHAT: The Rockets currently sit 6th in the West at 17-13 overall. While they’re miserable on the road (6-10), they’ve done an impressive job protecting home court with an 11-3 record at Toyota Center. Interestingly enough, the Rockets are only four games back of the top seed in their division.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Kevin Martin is what happened. A night after going scoreless for just the first time in almost six years, the Rockets’ perimeter scorer blitzed the Thunder for 32 points on 10-of-18 shooting. He was aggressive. He attacked. He was engaged. He was everything that he so rarely has been this season. Apparently a talk with coach Kevin McHale after Tuesday’s goose egg against Memphis did him well. While McHale admitted that he would do what he could to get Martin more opportunities, he also talked about Martin doing more as a player to get himself going more. Mission accomplished. Martin made the game-winning free throws, though on a bogus call that somewhat tainted a great game, and really kept the Rockets afloat after the Thunder turned an 18-point second-quarter deficit into one by halftime.
‘D’ FOR ROCKETS: Kudos to the Rockets’ defense, which was impressive late against a dynamic offensive team. Overall, the Rockets held the Thunder to 43.4 percent shooting and forced 21 turnovers, including 10 between Oklahoma City’s top tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It was a brilliant performance on that end of the floor. The Rockets amassed four charges, 13 steals and three blocks, creating many opportunities. Samuel Dalembert, whose performances have been just as mercurial as Martin’s this season, had three steals and three blocks, and Kyle Lowry had three of the four charges taken. Defense has been upgraded significantly in the McHale era so far. The Rockets rank 11th in opponents’ points per game and eighth in opponents’ field goal percentage.
NOTHING FREE FOR SCOLA: It’s getting to be a bad trend. One night after shooting just one free throw in 32 minutes, Luis Scola shot two in 32 minutes on Wednesday. The Rockets’ starting power forward is showing no power at all. He was always a relatively finesse 4 to begin with, but this year has been particularly worrisome. After averaging 3.9 free throw attempts per game last season, Scola is only averaging 2.5 this year, a career-low clip. For such a healthy shooter from the line (78.9 percent), you’d like to see him attack more instead of maybe settling for so many midrange jumpers.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: The Rockets have done a good job responding to adversity this year. It seems like they always bounce back from tough games, and after the clunker in Memphis that had McHale in fits about their effort and intensity, they completely erased that picture with a nice performance Wednesday against a dominant team. They apparently love being home, so they’ll get some chance to make up more ground. They have four games left — all at home — before next weekend’s all-star break. They play Minnesota (14-16) on Friday, Utah (14-14) on Sunday, Memphis (16-14) on Monday and then Philadelphia (20-10) on Wednesday. Obviously the last two are crucial, but none is a cupcake.