HOUSTON -- Even the Memphis Grizzlies' stifling defense could not slow the Runnin' Rockets, who, behind another exceptional outing from James Harden, raced to a 121-96 victory Saturday night at Toyota Center.
The Rockets (14-12) extended their home winning streak over Memphis to 13 by posting at least 30 points in each of the first three periods. Harden again showcased efficiency, scoring 31 points on 13 shots while also recording eight assists and three steals.
Harden had plenty of support as seven Rockets scored in double figures. Houston improved to 6-0 when shooting 50 percent and hit 10 or more 3-pointers for the 12th time, making 12 of 28 from behind the arc.
Marcus Morris added 16 points while Jeremy Lin chipped in 15 points and 11 assists. Houston center Omer Asik also recorded a double-double by pairing 14 points with 12 rebounds.
Mike Conley led the Grizzlies (18-7) with 16 points and six assists while Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 11 apiece. Forward Rudy Gay, Memphis' leading scorer at 18.7 points per game, finished with just six points.
Perhaps foolishly, the Grizzlies attempted to run with the Rockets early; they trailed 33-32 entering the second quarter. But that frenetic pace benefitted the Rockets, who lead the NBA in possessions per 48 minutes. Houston opened a double-digit lead with its 31-point second quarter and upped that lead to 18 points by scoring 30 in the third.
The Grizzlies entered play leading the league in average points allowed (89.2 per game) and defensive efficiency (98.0 points per 100 possessions). Before the Rockets torched their defense, the Grizzlies had allowed 100 points only once, in their season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Halloween at Staples Center.
During their four-game winning streak the Grizzlies had surrendered just 79.8 points per game. Houston had 94 points entering the fourth.
NOTES: There is no secret formula behind Memphis' defense. The Grizzlies' willingness to defend both in transition and from the onset of the opposition's half-court set serves as the foundation for their success. "If we're guarding a guy, it's hard to take an early shot," coach Lionel Hollins said. "When you're guarded, you've got to make another pass. And (if) you guard him, he's got to make another pass. Next thing you know, the shot clock is down." ... Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph and Asik rank fifth and seventh in total rebound rate at 20.9 and 20.4 percent. Rockets coach Kevin McHale sees similarities in their approach to rebounding. "The get in there, they muck around, and they get their hands on a lot of balls," McHale said. "They're both willing to lean on people, hold, push a little bit. That's what you've got to do if you want to hit the offensive glass."