HOUSTON (CBS Houston) — As individuals, the Rockets are collection of players with some intriguing aspects to their games but then there are the flaws in all of them.
Collectively it can be a different story. There is truly something to be said about the sum of all parts.
We saw Wednesday night just how dangerous the Rockets can be when they are working well together. Kevin Martin was the shining star, but the Rockets received contributions from some of everywhere and they needed every little effort to hold off the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, 96-95, at Toyota Center.
The swatting basket Patrick Patterson scored in the second, Sam Dalembert’s three blocked shots and 12 rebounds, Jordan Hill’s 2 for 3 shooting from the field off the bench and backup point guard Goran Dragic’s one rebound were all just as essential to the Rockets impressive win as any of Martin’s team-high 32 points.
In all the Rockets had 10 players log minutes Wednesday night and each player made a critical contribution in what was a tight and back-and-forth game that came down to two made free throws by Martin and three missed shots around the basket by Oklahoma City’s star Kevin Durant.
“This team has to play hard,” said first-year Rockets coach Kevin McHale, whose team is now home for a six-game homestand. “It’s not like we are saying we have five All-Stars on this team and we just go out there and step on the floor and win. We have to play hard every single night.”
The Rockets struggled with that during their six-game road swing in which they went 3-3 when the opportunity to go 4-2 or even 5-1 was right there. Perhaps all the preaching McHale has done about the value of hard work and how it eventually pays off even when the shots aren’t falling finally sunk in.
That isn’t to say they are quick studies because the Rockets certainly didn’t look great all night. They shot just 42.5 percent from the field, got outrebounded 45-41 and blew an 18-point second quarter lead.
But even when Durant and Russell Westbrook led the Thunder on a ferocious comeback and it looked hopeless for the home team, the Rockets kept fighting. They came up with turnovers, got critical stops and just pretty much came up with all the hustle plays necessary to eek out a much-needed grind-it-out win.
“Every win is a slug it out win for us but that type of win shows our toughness and our grittiness down the stretch to keep fighting,” said point guard Kyle Lowry, who contributed 11 points, nine assists and four rebounds to the win. “They made some big runs and they made some big shots and stuck with it.
“It shows we are growing as a team and getting tougher as a team.”
That toughness showed through in the second half after the Thunder finally captured the lead in the third quarter. But as soon as Durant, Westbrook or James Harden made a big shot to give the Thunder a lead the Rockets came up with a hustle play to not only keep it from going too far but to reclaim the lead.
Oklahoma City never led by more than three points.
“The biggest thing for us was stops,” said McHale, whose team has now recorded quality Western Conference wins over Denver, Portland and Oklahoma City in the last week. “You have to do that sometimes because the ball doesn’t always go in. It’s a very very big thing made around here if the ball don’t go in the world is coming to an end, but a lot of times that ball doesn’t go in. You have to find some ways to win.”
That was likely a reference to Martin, who was coming off a scoreless 0 for 3 showing in which he logged under 19 minutes during Tuesday night’s loss to Memphis to wrap up the six-game road trip. Martin, the Rockets leading scorer, had shot just 26 percent from the field and averaged 7.3 points during the road swing.
But Wednesday night Martin looked much more like his old self, getting the ball in the flow of the offense and knocking down big shots with opponents in his face. His drive to force Kendrick Perkins to foul him with 23.6 remaining became the clutch play of the night. Martin knocked down the two free throws to reclaim the one-point lead for the game.
“It’s phenomenal, he really played well,” McHale said of Martin. “I talk to Kevin last night on the plane and said we have to do a better job. I think he understands.
“As a player it’s always incumbent upon you to try to work your way into the game. I thought his ball pressure and defense early in the game really got him going and then he made some shots. Basketball is a game that if you play really hard good things happen.”
Martin, who was held scoreless Tuesday for the first time since becoming a starter six years ago, tied his season-high of 32 points Wednesday night.
“It’s not about the points,” Martin said. “(Tuesday) we got beat and I was over there sitting and that wasn’t pleasant. Tonight it was good to be out there. That was a total team effort starting with our preparation and the way the coaches manage the game and the way the players played the game. You don’t beat the best team in the Western Conference without doing that.”