Finding a way
Victory tastes sweet after losing past two to Memphis.
All the advanced analytics to come out of the minds and laptops of Daryl Morey’s math club could not have provided the Rockets with the inspiration found in two numbers — 90 and 89.
The Rockets scored 90 points in their first meeting of the season with the Memphis Grizzlies, fewer than they had in any game under Mike D’Antoni until they scored 89 in the second.
As much as the Rockets would have been delighted with any victory against Memphis, they were driven to win their way, responding to those offensive struggles with firepower the Grizzlies could not match or stop until the Rockets blew them out 111-96 on Saturday night at Toyota Center.
“Our offense is better now than it was back in that period,” D’Antoni said. “We weren’t playing well. The first game that we played them we had 67 points in the first half and we just ran out of steam. … I think we’re in a better rhythm and that’s kind of our game.” After the loss in Memphis on Oct. 28, the Rockets had the 16th-ranked offense in the NBA. They are now No. 2. Points piling up
In their five-game winning streak, the Rockets are averaging 120.6 points. They were averaging 101.6 before that run. But they had not done it against the Grizzlies, the fourthranked defensive team in the NBA and the defense that had given the Rockets fits for stretches of their first two meetings.
That changed nearly as soon as Saturday’s game began, with the Rockets going 5-of-6 on 3-pointers to open the game, bolting to a 28-10 lead.
“To get off to a good start, that was the biggest thing,” forward P.J. Tucker said. “Too many times, we come out, we let other teams attack us. Tonight, we came out on defense, got stops, got out on the break and knocked down some open shots.”
The Rockets did not maintain that level of marksmanship, but they went 16-of-45 from the 3-point line to match their NBA record with five consecutive games with at least 16 3-pointers.
Most of that 3-point shooting came from James Harden and Eric Gordon, who combined to go 12-of25 from 3-point range.
Harden had 38 points and has averaged 37.8 points on 50.5 percent shooting and 48.4 percent 3-point shooting in the winning streak. He extended his NBA record of consecutive games with six 3-pointers to five games.
Harden’s run might have fueled the Rockets, but Saturday’s win demonstrated how far they have come since leaving Memphis two weeks ago. They have become relentless about playing their way not just when things go well, as they had to start the game, but when they do not, as when the Grizzlies rallied in their comeback win in Houston on Oct. 23.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Harden said. “As long as we are consistent and know what the long-term goal is, we’ll be all right. There’s going to be times where we get up big and let it slip away, but tonight was a really good job. They went on their run and we sustained it and then we just built it back up.” Running dialogue
By the end of the third quarter, the Rockets had a 93-70 lead, scoring more points than in either of their first two meetings. But they took the start-to-finish win not by shooting exceptionally well, but by doing all the things they did not two weeks earlier when the Grizzlies had shut them down.
“We have our identity,” D’Antoni said. “We know exactly who we are. We just had to keep talking about the pace … keep talking about the bigs running, keep talking about getting the ball in quick, keep talking about getting rebounds and really pushing the ball all the way through.
“In those areas, we’ve improved a lot. I think our energy has improved. Our defense has improved because of it. When we get in transition, we’re as good as any team, any time.”
Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, left, drives for the basket while the Grizzlies’ Brandan Wright tries to get his fingertips on the shot. Tucker had 11 points.