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Game Day: Rockets at Warriors

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 116-112 win over the Golden State Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s Friday night matchup with the Golden State Warriors:

POST-GAME

Pat Beverley and Steph Curry have known each other since high school. They've gone one-on-one and head-to-head countless times, including during their shared offseason workout sessions in North Carolina this summer. They know each other's games and all the accompanying herky-jerky jukes, fakes and feints inside and out. There is no mystery between these two on the basketball court. So with the game on the line and the ball in his hands, Beverley had no shortage of experience from which he could draw as he comfortably and confidently rose up to knock down the biggest shots of Friday night’s affair right in his good buddy’s grill.

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Beverley put the finishing touches on a terrific pair of individual performances in the Rockets' Portland-Golden State back-to-back by scoring 9 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to help lead Houston to a stirring 116-112 win over the Warriors. Beverley left his fingerprints all over this game, both with his non-stop harassment of the Warriors’ spectacular point guard and also with his cold-blooded shot-making when the outcome of Friday’s tilt still very much hung in the balance.

With Dwight Howard battling second-half foul trouble, James Harden misfiring and Chandler Parsons ailing, the Rockets needed a jolt to push them past the finish line. Little wonder, then, that their perpetual spark plug would step forth and provide it.

“If we’re going to chase our goals and the dreams that we have for this season, we have to win games like tonight,” said Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, who filled in for Kevin McHale for the second game in a row. “Pat Beverley, especially, at both ends was really good.

“Pat always tells us about his float game. Well his float game last night sunk. Tonight his float game was pretty good. He hit big shots.”

To be sure, none were bigger than the back-to-back buckets he hit in the game's final two minutes with his team clinging to a three-point lead against an opponent that has already made quite a name for itself this season thanks to some rather remarkable rallies on its home floor. But with the Warriors threatening to add another comeback notch to their belt, Beverley gave Curry a dose of his own medicine, first connecting on a step-back 22-footer over the outstretched arms of his training partner before sinking a 15-foot floater the next time down the floor, effectively slamming the door shut on Golden State in the process.

All told, Houston scored on 10 of its 13 possessions during the final four minutes of play, setting a rock-solid example of the sort of unselfish, late-game execution the Rockets' coaching staff wants to regularly see from its players.

"I don’t want James to have the ball at the 4:20 mark and feel like he has to be superman – that’s not fair to him or us," Sampson said. "The ball has to move. Tonight, we ran stuff to make sure that it would move. We got the ball out of his hands and if it got back to James that would be great – he would be the guy I’d want to have the ball in the last 10 seconds – but I don’t want him to hold the ball for 14 seconds to get to 10 seconds. Let’s see what we can get before then. If you see something good, take it."

Beverley did and the Rockets benefitted as a result. It's a lesson that served Houston well tonight, but of far more importance is what it can mean for this team in the big picture. If the ball and bodies move, it makes everyone a threat to score. And when everyone poses a potential problem, the defense is left with no recourse save to pick the poison of its choice. The Rockets possess all the necessary ingredients to loom as a late-game nightmare for opponents. And Friday night showed that, when they follow the recipe, they can indeed be downright deadly. 

OBSERVATIONS

- A significant key to the Rockets’ success during their rout of the Warriors last week: getting Andrew Bogut in big time foul trouble, depriving Golden State of the only real rim protection and dependable defensive paint presence on their roster. Houston wasn’t able to duplicate that scenario tonight; instead they did themselves one better, drawing three fouls on Steph Curry in the game’s first six minutes. Keep in mind: the Warriors’ offensive rating with Curry on court is 112.0. When he's on the bench it’s 86.5 – the biggest such disparity in the NBA. That said, Golden State’s sweet shooting point guard still managed to play 19 minutes in the first half, but even if he didn’t pick up an extra foul during that time, the tentativeness with which he had to play on the defensive end still made this an extremely favorable result for the Rockets.

- Make sure you spend 15 seconds (or more) checking out James Harden’s soaring, signature one-handed tomahawk, buzzer-beating flush that brought the first quarter to a close. Then spend 15 seconds (or more) appreciating the Chandler Parsons’ spur of the moment savvy in delivering that clever, last-second pass to his streaking teammate.

- Speaking of highlights that simply must be seen, this one might be even better than Harden’s and it is unquestionably rarer. Near the midway part of the second quarter, Harden kicked the ball to the corner with the shot clock winding down. Nothing terribly unique about that – except for the fact the recipient of his pass was none other than Dwight Howard, who calmly rose up and drained the corner 3. The best part: Howard initially received the ball with his foot on the line. Knowing that’s the worst shot in basketball, Howard promptly recalibrated his feet in order to maximize the expected efficiency of his attempt. And yes, I’m sure all of that went through his head during the fractions of a second he had before firing away.

- Steph Curry and Harden execute those cross-court, one-handed passes to wing shooters as well, if not better than, anyone in the NBA. And while we’re here, I’m hereby petitioning those in charge of the league’s statistical nomenclature to dub those dishes “the Nash” (alternative title: “Nashes”) in honor of the man who made them more often and better than anyone I’ve had the privilege of watching in my lifetime.

- Houston owned the all-important 3-pt battle tonight, hitting 12-of-29 from deep while the Warriors could only knock down 6-of-22, bringing their two-game total against Houston to 8-of-38 from 3 vs. HOU this year. Golden State, you’ll recall, came into the game leading the league in 3-point percentage, having hit nearly 42 percent of their attempts from downtown so far this season. Some luck is certainly involved, as it always is in these statistical snippets, but the Rockets’ defensive game plan and execution against the Warriors has been on point.

- After three straight games that saw him record a double-double by halftime, Howard could only muster a measly 13 points and 8 rebounds during the first two quarters of play tonight. That'll still decent, I guess. Chandler Parsons was very, very good in the opening half as well, bouncing back from a poor shooting night to lead the team with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

- Unfortunately for Parsons, he looked to be playing the majority of the third quarter in obvious discomfort – the result of a thigh contusion suffered early in Thursday night’s game against the Blazers. By the 6:30 mark of the period, it was such that he had to be replaced by Francisco Garcia. With Harden ice cold and Howard battling foul trouble, this was danger time for Houston. Someone had to provide a spark. Garcia and Omri Casspi were only too happy to oblige. The Rockets’ reserves combined to connect on back-to-back-to-back triples to give Houston an 8-point lead late in the third period, and then the coup de grace occurred when Casspi telepathically teamed up with a cutting James Harden for yet another tomahawk slam.

- Now it’s unfortunately time for your nightly reminder that the Rockets’ biggest bugaboo remains their inability to secure defensive rebounds, especially while Omer Asik and Greg Smith remain sidelined due to injury. As mentioned in today’s preview (please scroll down if you missed it), the Warriors are not a good offensive rebounding team. Nonetheless, they grabbed more than 40 percent of their misses tonight. Andrew Bogut and Marreese Speights, in particular posed serious problems. Speights, in fact, was a man possessed during Golden State’s 12-2 run to being the fourth quarter. His eight offensive boards tied a career high. Houston’s defense simply can’t be considered anywhere close to elite until this problem is solved.

- Can't say enough about the latest gutty effort put in by Parsons. With his leg bothering him, his back still a bit balky and a nasty cold bug further depleting his stamina, the third-year forward still managed to pour in 23 points to help his club come away with a win it desperately wanted to grab following Thursday’s disappointing defeat at the hands of the red-hot Trail Blazers. Houston’s win also means the Rockets have laid claim to a potential end-of-year tiebreak with Golden State since these two teams only play each other once more this season.

- Tonight's win also ups the Rockets' record in the second night of back-to-backs to 5-1, pulling them into a tie with Portland for the best mark in the league in that category.

Next up for Houston: A Sunday showdown with the Kings in Sacramento.

QUOTES

ROCKETS COACH KELVIN SAMPSON

ON TONIGHT’S GAME:

“We talked about it today in our scouting report meeting. If we are going to reach our dreams like we have for our season, we have to win games like tonight. Back-to back and getting in this morning at the time we did – those aren’t excuses. We have to go play. Golden State made a run, and we knew that they would, especially in that fourth quarter, but we answered. I thought Patrick Beverley played well on both ends tonight. We executed some stuff down the stretch. Our shot selection was much better. The only thing I was disappointed in was our rebounding. As I’ve said if Omer Asik or Greg Smith – we need to have a rebounder in our second unit. Just don’t have one. That’s why getting a win on the road without one of them is a plus”

ON PATRICK BEVERLEY:

“Pat (Patrick Beverly) always talks about his ‘float game’, well last night his float game sunk. Tonight, it was pretty good. He hit big shots. I thought James (Harden) trusted his teammates a little bit better and that’s important.”

ON PATRICK BEVERLEY NOT LOOKING TO SCORE:

“Yeah we want the team to look to score. It wrinkled me today in our meeting – I don’t want James Harden to have the ball at the 4:20 mark and feel like he has to be Superman. That’s not fair to him or us. That ball has to move. We ran some stuff today to make sure it moved and got the ball out of his hands and if got back to him that would be great for the final ten seconds I just don’t want him to hold the ball for the 14 seconds leading up that that.   We want to see what we can get before that and take that.”

ON THEIR SHOOTING TONIGHT:

“We had a weird free throw shooting night. I kind of figured it was our night when D12 (Dwight Howard) hit that three from the corner and hit seven straight free throws – I’m not sure he’s done that in practice. To be fair, Dwight Howard, nobody works harder at free throws or stays as long after practice as he does. Nice to see him be rewarded. After a game last night, playing in a tough environment here, this is one of those confidence building nights.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

ON HAVING A BALANCED OFFENSIVE ATTACK:

“When we have a balanced attack like that it makes us so much harder to guard. Patrick Beverley hit some big shots in the fourth quarter and those were huge for us. James [Harden] was great all game long, Dwight [Howard] was great, and it just makes our team so much harder to guard instead of one guy.”

ON GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START:

“It’s always good to get going early; get a layup, get a free throw, something like that just to get your confidence up. I was in a good place in the first half. Everybody contributed and everyone had their moments, so I think that’s what we‘ve got to do moving forward.”

JAMES HARDEN

ON SHARING THE BALL OFFENSIVELY:

“Yeah that’s something going into every single game. We want the ball to jump around and everybody get involved. Once we do that it’s just kind of tough to beat us because we’re getting in the lane, knocking down threes, and getting dunks.”

ON DWIGHT HOWARD’S RECENT PLAY:

“Phenomenal. He’s taking his time in the post once we feed it to him, he’s passing out of double teams, rebounding the basketball, he’s doing everything we ask him to do. His focus level is definitely at a high right now. He’s just worried about winning and that’s what we need from him. He’s one of the leaders on this team. He has to bring that mindset that he’s going to do whatever it takes to win.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

ON HIS FREE THROW SHOOTING:

“You guys are at practice every day. I work extremely hard every day on those free throws. I think the last couple of games they actually have been a lot better. I’ve been shooting with a lot of confidence and that’s the biggest thing is just going up there and knowing I can make them. That’s what I’ve got to do from here on out.”

ON WINNING THE BACK END OF A BACK-TO-BACK:

“Last night was a tough one for us. We played against a great team. They play great at home. We come in here playing another team that plays amazing at home and for us to pull off a win tonight was great. Steph Curry, he didn’t have one of those big nights where he’s just hitting threes all over and Klay [Thompson], we did a great job on Klay. So it was a solid win for us.”

ON BEVERLEY’S DEFENSE ON CURRY:

“He did great, he did an excellent job. He was up into him, made him take tough shots, and that’s great when you’re feisty like that. Basically, he was being a pest and Steph couldn’t get away from him. We’ve just got to keep that up, keep that kind of defensive intensity up and we’ll be great.”

WARRIORS HEAD COACH MARK JACKSON

ON THE HOUSTON BACKCOURT:

“Patrick Beverley is a big time defender. He did a good job all game long trying to pressure Steph (Stephen Curry) and stay connected. He played well and then hurt us down the stretch hitting some shots on the offensive end. James Harden is a big time player and played well overall. He made some plays and that’s what big time players do. I don’t think that was what hurt us. What hurt was not taking care of the basketball with too many untimely, careless turnovers.”

ON THE OVERALL ENERGY TONIGHT:

“I thought the energy was fine. I thought we competed, fought, battled, but we were carless at times. You look at the fact that the rebounding was 56 to 32 and the fact that we dominated in the paint with 66 to 40 and second chance points 25 to 8 – we did a lot of good things. We turned the basketball over and that cost us. I thought Mo (Marreese Speights) did an outstanding job with the minutes that he played. I thought Toney (Douglas) was much better. You look at his line and it doesn’t say much, but I thought he played well defensively and had an impact by disrupting what they were trying to do. It was a tough loss for us, but ultimately it was because we turned the basketball over too much. Can’t do that.”

ON THE ROCKETS TWO WINS OVER THE WARRIORS:

“If you look at their record right now they are the better basketball team, but so was Denver at the end of season. We have to continue to build and work hard and be ready when it matters most. I trust the guys in the locker-room that we will take care of business. We have to put together a string of wins and that starts with taking care of the basketball and when we do that it won’t matter if we are home or away.”

ON PATRICK BEVERLEY’S DEFENSE:

“If you think about it, that’s why we went out and got Andre Iguodala because of his playmaking ability. A guy can defend a guy like Steph (Stephen Curry) like that and we have another guy that can initiate the offense. Harrison (Barnes) had a good game and Klay (Thompson) played well, but that isn’t their strength right now. We will be just fine. We are missing a guy that we went and got for that specific reason. Give (Patrick) Beverley credit he played great defense.”

WARRIORS FORWARD DRAYMOND GREEN

ON TONIGHT’S GAME:

“We did some things, but we never take a moral victory. We did those things well and we still didn’t play our best game. It’s coming, we just have to continue to get better. It’s coming.”

ON DWIGHT HOWARD’S THREE POINTER:

“You want him taking that shot 100 times out of 100. It’s just that type of night. It’s tough; he probably hit every free throw. It’s just little things like that you just don’t expect. You still have to fight through and find a way to win the game.”

ON MARREESE SPEIGHTS:

“It’s what we needed. One of the things we thought coming into the season that we had was depth, and guys have to get their feet wet and get used to the system. Hopefully we can build on this, but it’s no surprise, he’s been a good player in this league for five or six years. I think we know he can score the basketball and he gave us a lift on defense got some offensive boards and brought us energy to the game and that was great. It’s exactly what we needed.”

WARRIORS FORWARD MARREESE SPEIGHTS

ON BASKET AT THE END OF THIRD QUARTER:

“It got me going because I was just happy to be out there in the second half. Like I said, Coach [MarK Jackson] had confidence in me and never gave up on me. I have to keep working hard and try to get these wins. ”

ON IF TONIGHT IS A TRUE INDICATION OF HIS GAME:

“That’s what everyone was supposed to see from me since day one, but a lot of things didn’t go right. I put that all on myself; I can’t really blame anybody else. My teammates and coach they never gave up on me so I have to keep working for them.”

ON WHAT MARK JACKSON HAS BEEN SAYING TO HIM:

“We’ve just had a couple conversations this year. I know what I have to do and I’ve just been doing that every day, trying to get better and better and knowing that it’s going to be a long season and I feel like I can help this team in different types of ways.”

PREVIEW

The Basics:

Houston Rockets (15-8) at Golden State Warriors (13-10)

Point Differential:

Golden State: +3.1 (NBA rank: 9th)

Houston: +5.7 (NBA rank: 6th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Golden State: 103.8 (11th)

Houston: 107.8 (2nd)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Golden State: 99.8 (7th)

Houston: 100.4 (8th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Golden State: 98.43 (6th)

Houston: 99.03 (5th)

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: 52.7% (4th)

Houston: 53.6% (3rd)

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

Golden State: 17.3 (28th)

Houston: 17.9 (30th)

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

Golden State: 50.6% (10th); offensive rebound rate: 29.5% (23rd); defensive rebound rate: 74.9% (14th)

Houston: 53.6% (1st); offensive rebound rate: 28.9% (6th); defensive rebound rate: 73.8% (20th)

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: .270 (17th)

Houston: .407 (1st)

Looking for a rock solid formula for knocking off the Warriors? Limiting them to season lows in field-goal percentage, 3-point field-goal percentage, 3-pointers made and assists is a pretty good place to start. That’s precisely what the Rockets did when these two teams met just a week ago at Toyota Center – a game that not coincidentally saw Houston seize a 24-point halftime lead while strolling to a relatively stress-free 105-83 victory. Of course, flexing that sort of dominance on one’s home floor is one thing; doing it within the frothing, bubbling cauldron of pandemonium known as Oracle Arena – on a Friday the 13th, no less – is a different kettle of fish altogether. Such is the challenge that awaits the Rockets tonight. 

Know Thy Enemy

- Let’s rename this category “know thy enemy’s injuries and the accompanying adverse effects” for one day only. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but it’s certainly an apt place to begin when peering into the less-than-golden state of the Warriors these days.

The biggest loss, of course, is the continued absence of Andre Iguodala. During the Dubs’ first 13 games of the season (read: prior to Iguodala’s hamstring injury), they produced a defensive rating of 96.5 – the equivalent of a top-3 mark at this point in this season. Since that time, however, the Warriors’ have given up 104.1 points per 100 possessions – an efficiency rating that would place them just outside the league’s bottom-5 defensive units. Without Iguodala’s all-world defensive skills and smarts, Golden State is less versatile, less dynamic and far more prone to hemorrhaging points to perimeter playmakers – something James Harden took full advantage of last week while dropping 34 points, seven rebounds and four assists on the Warriors.

Then there is the recent wrist injury suffered by Jermaine O’Neal which leaves an already thin Warriors’ frontcourt that much more bereft of beef along the interior. That positional depletion places an even bigger burden on Golden State’s starting center Andrew Bogut, who battled foul trouble a week ago which went a long way toward preventing him from making any sort of significant imprint on the game. If Houston can summon a repeat of that scenario tonight, Dwight Howard ought to be in for yet another beastly evening of box score stuffing to fall right in line with the 20.8 points and 16.8 rebounds per game he’s averaged over the course of the Rockets' last five games.

- Despite those key injuries, Golden State still possesses the great equalizer, of course. The Warriors remain the league’s top team in terms of 3-point percentage, having connected on nearly 42 percent of their attempts from downtown this season. Not surprisingly, they’re even more accurate within the friendly confines of Oracle Arena where they knock down better than 45 percent of their triples. Klay Thompson is especially dangerous at home – Golden State’s third-year guard is shooting an even 50 percent from distance and averaging nearly 24 points per game at Oracle this season. 

In the spotlight

It’s no secret: Houston’s defensive rebounding has been a persistent bugaboo all season. The Rockets rank fourth in the NBA in effective field goal percentage against but the fact that they’re just 20th in the league in hauling in their opponents’ many misses is creating a drag on their overall ability to prevent points at an elite level. Howard is certainly doing his part – he’s second in the NBA in rebounds per game – but he needs more help securing the boards, especially when he commits to blocking an opposing player’s shot.

“The biggest thing is our guards have to come in and crack back – that’s still a big concern for us,” said Dwight Howard following last night’s loss to the Blazers during which the Rockets allowed Portland to corral 30 percent of their misses. “When I leave to go block shots or Terrence goes, our men are in the paint causing havoc. So as a team, guys have to get in there and block out.”

Part of the issue certainly has to do with the tight rope Houston’s perimeter players must walk in terms of striking the perfect balance between break-outs when a shot is launched and hanging back to help collect the ensuing rebound. But as Howard points out, there is no fast break if Houston doesn’t first come up with the loose ball.

“The most important thing is securing the ball first – that’s what Portland capitalized on tonight is getting to loose balls, and we can’t play like that and expect to win.”

The good news: Golden State is not a good offensive rebounding team and the Rockets diligently took care of the defensive glass when playing the Warriors last week. Doing so again tonight is an absolute must, especially because any extra possessions against this Warriors team only increases the odds that they will end up with an open 3 against a scrambling defense.  

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