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Game Day: Rockets at Raptors

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 107-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors

  • Rockets vs. Raptors
    DeMar DeRozan scores 29 points with Greivis Vasquez and Jonas Valanciunas adding 15 apiece to push Toronto over Houston 107-103.
  • Rockets vs. Raptors: First half
    DeMar DeRozan scores 17 points as the Raptors lead the Rockets at the half 55-50.
  • Run With Me
    James Harden misses on the transition layup after grabbing a turnover and Chandler Parsons follows with the putback jam.

TORONTO - Exorcising aint easy.

That was the takeaway in the wake of the Rockets’ latest loss in Toronto – their seventh straight defeat suffered at the hands of the Toronto Raptors inside the haunted and very unfriendly confines of the Air Canada Centre.

Houston did manage to transform a potential blowout into a nip-and-tuck affair – both surprising and impressive given the fact that the shorthanded Rockets were also playing the second game of a back-to-back after having arrived at the hotel at 3 in the morning – but that hardly removes the bitter taste left behind following the club’s third consecutive defeat. That 50th win is not coming easily, that’s for sure.

In many ways, this week has dealt up a serious case of déjà vu. That is to say, it feels like the first two months of the season all over again. With the injuries and illnesses piling up, Houston has struggled to find consistency amid all the new and unfamiliar lineups that have been forced into action.

The present reality is frustrating to be sure, but it also provides hope. The Rockets eventually emerged from that malaise once they returned to full health, and once whole, were able to flex the considerable muscle they possess with the talent on hand. Go figure, an All-Star center, a defensive-minded sparkplug and an up-and-coming second-year power forward matter. A lot. Yes, the last week has revealed more than a few holes in the Rockets’ lineup. But if the past few months are any indication, a fully healthy Howard, Beverley and Jones would go an awfully long way in filling them – and returning the Rockets to the ranks of true title contenders once more.

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

Given the circumstances (injuries and illness galore) and the surroundings (the Air Canada Centre has been a veritable house of horrors for Houston for a half-decade now), the Rockets couldn’t have asked for a much better start to tonight’s contest. Houston’s defense was on point in the early going, making the Raptors’ offense (sans Kyle Lowry – out with a knee injury) look as if it were having to maneuver its way through molasses. The Rockets forced four turnovers in the game’s first five minutes and Kevin McHale’s post-game message from last night about attacking the rim clearly sunk in, as Houston scored 24 of its first 25 points from the paint.

PHOTO GALLERY

Setting the tone and tempo was Chandler Parsons, who simply outworked and outran the Raptors’ defenders nearly every time down the floor during large stretches of the opening stanza. Parsons scored 10 points in the early going, with the vast majority coming via dunks he earned by merely racing past his man on the way down the court.

The cherry on top of Houston’s hoops sundae could be found in the way the team crushed Toronto on the offensive glass, as the Rockets racked up 11 second chance points in the first quarter alone. And not surprisingly, Omer Asik loomed as a huge difference maker, continuing upon the theme established last night. Asik led all players in plus/minus after the opening 12 minutes, sporting a +10 in that category.

Making that number all the more impressive was the fact that Houston led by just two points heading to the second quarter. Yes, that’s right, for all that the Rockets did so well during that period, keeping tabs on Toronto’s perimeter gunners was not one of them. The Raptors drained 5-of-7 from distance in the opening quarter, as Houston’s defenders too often lost track of their men, allowing far too many quality looks from beyond the arc.

Toronto then made the Rockets pay for not gaining more from their strong start when DeMar DeRozan caught fire in the second quarter. The Raptors’ All-Star two-guard made amends for a sluggish beginning by draining one 20-footer after another and then, to add insult to injury, he banked in a 3 to beat the halftime buzzer after the Rockets had just passed up multiple wide-open looks from distance in order to clang a long 2 during the possession just prior. All told, DeRozan scored 15 points in the second quarter after tallying just two in the opening period, allowing Toronto to take a 55-50 lead to the break.

- From the nowhere-to-go-but-up files, we bring you the tale of Donatas Motiejunas. Less than 24 hours after going scoreless while picking up four fouls in eight minutes of action, D-Mo bounced back tonight, delivering 13 points and five boards, though he also accrued five fouls in his 22 minutes of action tonight as well.

- As he is wont to do when he doesn’t like the way his team plays immediately after the halftime break, Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale played the early timeout card to begin the third quarter in an effort to elicit more energy from his shorthanded crew. The problem, however, is that outside of that scintillating first quarter stretch, tonight’s game was largely a half-court contest and that, in case you were wondering, most definitely did not favor Houston. The Raptors executed their way to a bevy of buckets and free throws while the Rockets, bereft of pace and lacking energy, struggled mightily to generate much of anything out of their half-court sets. Toronto’s lead ballooned to 20, James Harden was called to the bench after a couple forced shots and fourth foul, and this one appeared all but over.

And then, the improbable. It started with a couple careless Raptors’ turnovers and offensive fouls, and then a barrage of Houston 3s. Jeremy Lin, who began the game by hitting just two of his first 11 shots, knocked down three straight shots as a lineup consisting of J-Lin and Rockets reserves triggered a stunning 23-8 run to get Houston within five in remarkably short order. Isaiah Canaan added to the jaw-dropping rally by draining a miraculous corner 3 that had so much arc it appeared to soar through the rafters on its way through the twine. And when a Harden free throw trimmed the club’s deficit down to a single point in the early stages of the fourth quarter, one could sense that the Canadian Mounties were in the process of preparing the paperwork necessary to file larceny charges on the Rockets’ way out of the country.

But as is so often the case in comeback attempts such as these, all the energy exerted while making that monstrous rally seemed to leave the club short on that front in the final few minutes (remember the Wizards’ fourth quarter comeback attempt against the Rockets in January that fizzled out in the end?). The Rockets continued to work, but the offense ran dry once again, the mental miscues piled up, and Toronto eventually pulled away once more, holding on for a 107-103 victory – the Raptors seventh straight win over Houston at the Air Canada Centre.

- With the loss, the Rockets fall to 49-25. Up next: A home date with the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night on national TV.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

We played bad. We (started the game) running, were moving the ball, moving our bodies, then we went through a period where we didn’t, then got back to trying to attack. We let up defensively. We were terrible and let them do whatever they wanted to do. We finally started being aggressive defensively but they had too big of a lead.

We’ve got to go play; play harder for 48 minutes – that’d a good start. We didn’t play hard for 48 minutes. We took it easy, we gave guys too much room.

JAMES HARDEN

We just didn’t get stops and the basketball was stuck on offense. We had turnovers and a variety of things that gave them easy points.

(being shorthanded the last couple games has there been a tendency to shortcut things?)

No, there shouldn’t be. We should still play the way we play, run our offense, executing and getting shots that we normally take. It’s tough. But we had opportunities in this game tonight.

It’s tough when you have two starters out. TJ played a little bit tonight but it’s tough. We just try to give it our all. If we didn’t get down 20 in that third quarter we would have had a better chance at winning.

(Missing three starters) definitely changes things. Guys are not used to playing that many minutes and being asked to make that many plays. It’s tough but like I said, we have to figure out a way to get through it. All the good teams have had their struggles. Ours is coming late in the season and we’ve got to figure it out. All the top teams have been through a struggle like this. It’s not like we’re playing bad, we just have guys that are out and hopefully we can get those guys back.

JEREMY LIN

(how close did you feel like you got to stealing that inbounds pass in the final seconds when it was a 3-point game?)

As close as it gets. I thought we had it, but we didn’t come away with it. But, I mean, sure that was a call or a play that could have gone either way with the call, but we shouldn’t have been in that position to start with.

(how much would it have meant to steal a win?)

It would have been huge; very, very important for us. We’re a team that’s desperate for a win right now. We’ve dropped three in a row and it’s definitely not a good feeling and we’ve got a tough one on Friday. We just have to regroup.

The one thing I will say is I’m proud of how hard we played even though we didn’t play great in terms of execution or in terms of coverages and a lot of those little things.

I do know that the one thing we can fix is our effort throughout the whole 48 minutes, just sustaining that effort, being physical, playing hard on defense and playing the right way on defense and getting stops.

(does it feel like the first two months of the season all over again?)

Yeah, it’s definitely different. I know we have guys who are playing positions that they may not be used to; guys playing out of position or not necessarily knowing all the plays and having to do something a little different. Again, that’s something I think we should have fought through. Obviously I’m biased, but I think we should have won the last two games.