No Yao, No Aaron, no problem. The Rockets cruised to their third victory of the season (3rd in their past four), taking care of business in the Big Apple Sunday night.
Kevin Martin and Luis Scola led the way for the Rockets, combining for exactly half of the Rockets 104 points.
As we all know, the Knicks are the Phoenix Suns 2.0: meaning no defense, limited rebounding, and a high-flying-three-point-happy offense. The keys to beating the Knicks are simple: Rebound, defend the three, and last but not least, REBOUND. After all, this is the same team that lost to the Timberwolves, letting Kevin Love grab 31 rebounds.
Houston fell in love with the Knicks pace of play early, forcing up quick shots in the half court, and running the break at every moment. This fed right into the Knicks hands. New York came out of the gate hot to take the lead entering the second quarter, and by looks of things, weren’t cooling down. The Knicks looked like a different team in the first, pounding the ball in the paint at will (Amare 6-7 shooting in 1st) as the Rockets settled for mid-range jumpers. However, Just like D’Antoni’s teams of the past, defense isn’t a trending topic in the Knicks huddle. Did the Rockets not realize they were playing the softest interior defense in the league?
Houston quickly changed their game plan, pounding it to the Ice Cream Man, Luis Scola. (I heard an announcer on NBATV refer to Scola as “The Ice Cream Man” due to his variety of scoop layups, and a nickname is born!) Houston recovered from a second quarter deficit to take the lead 58-52 at the half. Both team stars were cancelling each other out and it became clear this game will be decided by each team’s supporting cast. (Scola and Martin combining for 29 first half points, and Stoudemire and Galinari with 28 combined first half points)
Both teams came out of the locker rooms sloppy. The Rockets turned the ball over 4 times in the first four minutes of the 3rd quarter, having only turned it over four times in the entire first half. And to the Rocket’s fortune, the Knicks missed 12 open layups the third quarter (I’m only mildly exaggerating). The Rockets lack of ball security led to the Knicks recapturing the lead (71-70) on Felton’s three with 6 min left in the 3rd. This was when the Rockets began to play Rockets basketball. With help of Martin and Scola once again, the Rockets ended the third on a 14-4 run entering the last quarter of play.
The fourth quarter was no fun for Knicks fans (but then again, when is it?). Houston would sit on their nine-point lead by slowing down the pace of play (only thing missing was a running back). With six minutes to go in the 3rd, New York was appearing to gain momentum after two consecutive Houston shot clock violations. Then came the dagger: Kyle Lowry’s steal off the inbound pass giving Houston a 95-77 lead. The next ten seconds immediately following would then consist of an Amare turnover and more free throws for Luis Scola, and down came the boo’s from the garden. It might have had something to do with the Knicks scoring their first field goal of the 4th with 5 minutes remaining. As an opposing team, nothing is better than hearing the home fans boo their home team. And in the garden, it is only sweeter.
As I said earlier, Houston needed to outrebound New York and limit them from three to win the game. The Rockets took my advice beating New York on the glass (+5 margin) and holding them to 3-16 behind the arc…cruising to a 104-96 victory. On a closing note, Houston still possesses New York’s 2011 and 2012 draft picks. Not many teams can say winning a game helps your lottery chances (Houston is one of those teams).