EditorsNote: Resending per client’s request
Backcourt carries Rockets to fifth win in row
HOUSTON — Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni frequently provides simple answers to probing questions, challenging interrogators to ponder just how straightforward basketball can be.
The starting backcourt of James Harden and Eric Gordon combined for 64 points and a dozen 3-pointers as the Houston Rockets extended their winning streak to five games with a 111-96 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night at Toyota Center.
Harden paired 38 points with eight assists while Gordon scored 26. They teamed to shoot 12 of 25 from behind the arc as the Rockets (10-3) withstood a series of runs from the Grizzlies (7-5), who claimed the first two meetings between the Southwest Division rivals this season.
Memphis rallied from a double-digit deficit to win in Houston on Oct. 23 before rolling to victory five days later at FedEx Forum. The Rockets led wire-to-wire in the penultimate game of the season series, which is set to conclude next Saturday night in Memphis. When pressed on what was different this time as opposed to the first two games, D’Antoni didn’t overanalyze.
“I think our offense is better now than it was back in that period,” D’Antoni said, referencing the opening two weeks of the season. “The first game that we played them we had 67 points in the first half and we just ran out of steam. We were doing that in that period. I think that we’re in a better rhythm and that’s kind of our game. We’ve been playing well and there’s no reason why we can’t against any team scoring points.”
Memphis fell into a 28-10, first-quarter hole and spent the remainder of the game attempting to climb out. Undermining that effort was the combined 10-for-26 shooting from Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, who totaled 27 points and eight assists. The Grizzlies shot a sound 48.1 percent, with reserve guard Tyreke Evans tallying 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting plus six assists.
But the Grizzlies committed 20 turnovers and finished at a deficit on the glass (minus-5) and in free-throw attempts (minus-10). With Gasol and Conley misfiring, they just didn’t have enough.
“They had an edge tonight, which is what I expected,” Memphis coach David Fizdale said. “They have pride over there and we had them 2-0 in the season series. So, I really expected them to come out hitting hard, so we tried to prepare for that.”
Houston led by as many as 25 points while recording a season high-tying 14 steals. Reserve forwards P.J. Tucker (11 points, seven rebounds) and Luc Mbah a Moute had three steals each.
There were spurts throughout but the first one by Houston, a 9-0 run on three catch-and-shoot 3s to open the game, set the tone. The Rockets extended to an 18-point lead on a Nene finger roll with 4:03 left in the first quarter before Evans helped Memphis respond with seven consecutive points as part of a 9-0 rally. But at the end of the quarter, Harden stabilized things.
With a reverse layup and a 3-pointer, Harden pushed the Houston lead back to double digits. When Memphis cut a 15-point, second-quarter deficit to five at the 2:34 mark, Harden answered again, closing the half with two free throws, a driving layup and a 3-pointer.
“They came out and made a lot of shots and were the more aggressive team,” Conley said. “We let the game get away from us. It’s hard to play uphill against a very good team.”
This pattern continued in the third quarter until Memphis managed just two field goals over the final four minutes while the Rockets closed on 15-4 push with Harden tallying nine points.
“They made a big run in the second quarter and we kind of held it off and ended the quarter the right way,” Harden said. “Then in the third quarter it was win or give them a little life, and we did a really good job in the third quarter.”
NOTES: Grizzlies G Ben McLemore made his season debut after missing the first 11 games following offseason surgery on his right toe. McLemore will play off the bench and in “short bursts,” according to coach David Fizdale, at least until McLemore gets his body in game shape. ... Rockets F Luc Mbah a Moute returned to the rotation after missing one game with a left knee contusion. The timing of his return couldn’t be better with Houston facing a back-to-back and set to play three games in four days, including hosting Toronto on Tuesday. ... With Rockets C Nene making an appearance off the bench in the first quarter, he will not play on Sunday against the Indiana Pacers. Reserve C Tarik Black will serve as the backup to Clint Capela.