Rockets win bruising battle with Grizzlies

MoiseKapenda Bower, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- One night after their perimeter shooting and abundant athleticism served as the foundation for a victory in San Antonio against the Spurs, the Houston Rockets relied on wholly disparate attributes to subdue the Memphis Grizzlies at home Thursday night.
The Rockets turned to grit and guts to slug their way to a 100-92 victory over Memphis at Toyota Center, parlaying a burst of fourth-quarter energy into a win that seemed unlikely up until the rally commenced.
"We were having a hard time getting our energy up," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "Last night's game was a big game. You could feel it in the shoot-around (Thursday) that we were draggy. Guys put a lot of emotional and physical effort into last night's game, and I really extended guys. I extended them again tonight. Really got extended."
Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin sparked the comeback with 14 fourth-quarter points after performing miserably over the opening 36 minutes. His backcourt mate, James Harden, finished with 27 points on just two field goals, the most points in NBA history with so few baskets.
Harden tied the franchise record my making 22 free throws on 25 attempts.
Houston (20-11) rode a makeshift lineup throughout the final period. Harden, Lin (18 points), forwards Chandler Parsons (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Francisco Garcia and center Donatas Motiejunas played the entire quarter and completed the rally.
Motiejunas, a little-used second-year player, followed a block of Memphis guard Mike Conley with a transition dunk at the 6:38 mark of the fourth, building the Rockets' lead to 83-80. That sequence was at the heart of a 9-0 run.
Motiejunas finished with four points and three boards in a season-high 23 minutes.
"D-Mo won us that game," Harden said of Motiejunas. "He came in with energy, hadn't really played in a couple games, and we needed somebody to rebound the basketball. He did a great job of battling Z-Bo (Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph) and just competing."
Randolph dominated inside, pairing 23 points with 17 rebounds and five assists. However, he was the lone Memphis starter to score in double figures until Conley (11 points) scored with 22 seconds left.
In the aftermath, Randolph was incensed at the free-throw disparity. The Rockets attempted 40 free throws, while the Grizzlies shot just 20.
"It's obvious. It was the refs tonight," Randolph said. "Eight against five. In the second half, a man (was) shooting free throws every time. We're out there playing hard, and (the refs are) dictating the game."
With center Dwight Howard saddled by foul trouble, the Rockets proved helpless on the glass against the Grizzlies (12-16). Randolph and Memphis center Kosta Koufos (11 boards) were a particularly effective rebounding combo, especially during the Grizzlies' turnaround second quarter.
Memphis managed just six second-chance points in the first quarter despite grabbing eight offensive rebounds. The Grizzlies did a far superior job cashing in on their additional opportunities in the second, closing the half with 17 second-chance points off 14 offensive boards.
The Grizzlies seized control with an 19-4 run in the second period, combining exceptional help defense -- Houston mustered just one basket during one seven-minute stretch -- with a surprising burst from NBA Development League call-up James Johnson, who had 11 points and three steals by the break. He added just one point after halftime.
Johnson drilled a 3-pointer with 22.9 seconds left to give Memphis a 53-45 halftime lead, an advantage that swelled to 13 in the moments after Howard went to the bench with his fifth foul at the 7:52 mark of the third. For Memphis, that momentum proved unsustainable.
"It's definitely a discouraging loss," Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said. "We had the momentum throughout the game. They weathered the storm, got to the foul line and attacked as the aggressors, and you have to take your hats off to them."
NOTES: Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced the re-hiring of Gersson Rosas to co-lead the scouting and player personnel department along with Gianluca Pascucci. Rosas returns following an aborted three-month stint as general manager of the Dallas Mavericks. He previously spent nine years with the Rockets. "This is home," Rosas said. "There is some unfinished work to do, and I'm excited to be back to do it." ... Following his recall from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League, Grizzlies F James Johnson averaged 7.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 blocks in two starts. "He just gives us a level of athleticism we don't have," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. "He's been right on trying to learn what we try to do and what his role might be." ... Grizzlies F Tayshaun Prince returned to the starting lineup after missing three games due to left knee soreness. He scored nine points.

What to Read Next