Kyle Lowry has absolutely dominated the fourth quarter the last two nights against crucial opponents who are chasing Houston in the West.
WHO: Rockets 97, Grizzlies 93.
WHAT: The Rockets currently sit 6th in the West at 19-14 overall. They’re now 13-4 at Toyota Center and, once again, played brilliantly in the second half against a Memphis team that came in with the same overall record, yet holding a 2-0 edge in the season series, which is huge should the two tie in record for playoff seeding after the regular season. The Rockets clamped down defensively and made the necessary adjustments after holding a brittle halftime lead. They rode that defense to victory and are 7-3 in their last 10 games.
WHAT HAPPENED?: For the third straight game, the Rockets’ interior defense was put to the test. The Grizzlies scored 38 points in the paint in the first half, and though Houston hit 66.7 percent of its shots in the first half (a season best), Memphis was staying close by way of forcing turnovers (they’re the league’s best) and hitting more than 60 percent of their own shots. The tide turned in the second half when both defenses tightened. With the game knotted at 76 heading into the fourth quarter, the Rockets put together a beautiful defensive stretch, going on a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies missed their first eight shots of the period before finally accompanying a pair of freebies with their first field goal of the fourth with 5:44 left. That was enough for Houston to hold on to the lead. That defense, along with 9-of-9 free throw shooting down the stretch, allowed the Rockets to pull away with a pivotal win. The Rockets held Memphis to 22 points in the paint in the second half.
CHANDLER DOES IT ALL: Defensively, rookie Chandler Parsons set the tone for Houston, holding Grizzlies star Rudy Gay to 23 points on 22 field goal attempts. The 6-foot-9 second-round draft pick did an admirable job keeping Gay off the 3-point line (0-for-2) and free-throw line (5-for-5). Parsons had a nice all-around game with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists, including two wily dimes in the fourth that led to backbreaking 3s from Kyle Lowry and Courtney Lee. He, Lowry and Lee are the most consistent Rockets in regard to knowing what you’re going to get every night.
CLUTCH KYLE: In these last few big games against the Jazz and Grizzlies, Lowry has come up sensational, especially in the fourth quarters. Tonight he hit a couple of 3s that kept the Grizzlies at bay, and again had a solid, solid night, amassing 24 points and nine assists less than 24 hours after burning the Jazz for 32 and 9, respectively. His shot looks back on track, having knocked down 10 of his last 15 triples, and he’s being aggressive and taking control. We’re just going to have to accept that Kevin Martin and Luis Scola may or may not be on point during any given game, so this is Lowry’s team and he’s going to have to take over when it matters most. Scola only had 10 points and two rebounds tonight, hitting 5 of his 7 shots while committing four fouls in 20 minutes. Martin had a nice game with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, though he’s become nothing more than a shooter – opposed to scorer, and yes there is a difference – as he’s no longer a cinch to get 8 or 9 free throw attempts a game. It also helped him tonight that Grizzlies defensive specialist Tony Allen, who held Martin scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting in 19 minutes the last time these two teams met, picked up a quick two fouls in the first quarter and allowed Martin to get some early buckets that kept his confidence up.
ROCKETS’ DIAPER DANDIES UPDATE: For the first time this season, the Rockets had their two promising young buds active. In his second game, 6-foot-10 forward Greg Smith was not effective in his 11 minutes, compiling nothing more than five fouls. He seemed a bit hesitant and not as aggressive as he did last night against Utah. He mostly stood out of the way on offense and closed out too late defensively. 6-foot-9 wing Marcus Morris did not see action, as Parsons played 37 minutes due to his outstanding effort offensively and defensively. Parsons is going to make it hard for any wing to see valuable time this season.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: It means the Rockets are doing what they have to do and taking care of business before a much-deserved break this weekend. Houston is currently 2-1 on its four-game homestand, with Philly looming Wednesday. Right now, the Rockets are doing what they have to do to win games – like making free throws down the stretch – and they’ve excelled at making second-half adjustments of late. The Rockets should be eyeing the fourth seed in the West for homecourt advantage in the first round. The Lakers (5th) and Clippers (4th) currently sit in their way, but I don’t trust the Lakers at all, and the Clippers have Vinny Del Negro coaching them. Fourth place in the West is very realistic for the boys from H-Town.