‘Not backing down’: Ime Udoka proud of Rockets’ physical play, support of teammates

HOUSTON — Rockets forward Dillon Brooks sent a message to the rest of the NBA before even stepping on the Toyota Center court.

“When you come to play Houston, you know it’s going to be a physical battle,” Brooks said in October 2023 as part of his first press conference since signing with the Rockets. “It’s going to be a challenge. When you come play Houston, you know it’s going to be a physical battle. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s not just a walk in the park no more, when you come to Houston.”

With the 2023-24 season now in its final month, those words are as strong as the day he spoke them — and throughout the season, Brooks and his teammates have put them into action.

Toughness is a character trait that Brooks displayed when he was with the Grizzlies, as he took on the likes of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James in the 2023 NBA playoffs. Though Memphis ultimately lost that series, Brooks did not flinch.

In Houston, the unwavering mindset starts with head coach Ime Udoka, who believes that his team must fight fire with fire when opponents try to bully them with on-court physicality. That’s what the Bulls tried to do on Thursday in Houston’s 127-117 victory.

With 6:02 remaining in the third quarter, Chicago forward DeMar DeRozan committed an egregious foul against Rockets guard Jalen Green, sending him to the floor grimacing in pain.

As the medical staff rushed over to check on him, DeRozan and Brooks got into an altercation, which subsequently led to DeRozan swinging an elbow to Brooks’ chin. That led to an on-court encounter between both teams, with teammates and coaches separating them.

Once the officials reviewed the video footage, they determined that DeRozan’s foul on Green was a Flagrant 2, and he was ejected from the game. Brooks was given a technical foul and ejected, as it was determined by referees that he escalated the situation.

“I didn’t love it being that he [Brooks] got elbowed, and he walked over and didn’t say anything crazy,” Udoka said regarding the scuffle. “What they say the rules are is the guy that kind of instigates it, that gets it to that step after DeRozan did what he did… he got (ejected) because of that. Don’t love that he got hit, but if you walk over, that’s basically the rule, and that is how they explained it to me.”

Even though the Rockets lost one of their hottest offensive weapons in Brooks, who scored 23 points in 25 minutes played while playing excellent defense against DeRozan, Houston did not succumb to the Bulls’ rough play. Instead, the Rockets used it as motivation to finish the game and secure their seventh straight win.

“It has been good,” Udoka said when asked about his team playing more physically in recent weeks. “I think we talked about from the start of the season about effort and competitiveness. Not a bad thing to have these types of chippy games… I don’t mind that part at all.”

“It is good that guys are battling and getting competitive,” Udoka said of his improving team. “We are all playing for something, and they are not backing down. A guy takes a hit, and teammates are going to stand up for each other. You have seen about three or four of those [on-court scuffles], and it is a good thing, in my opinion.”

Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire