The first half was playing out like every other Rocket game we’ve seen this season. They keep their head above water in the first and watch helplessly as their opponent starts to pull away in the second.
But something changed Wednesday night, and when it got down to the final minutes, the most unlikely of candidates took over the contest.
Shane Battier scored 11 points over a two-minute span as the Rockets shut the door on the Lakers at crunch time, pulling out a 109-99 win at the Toyota Center.
Battier was a machine. He hit back-to-back triples, made a move that dropped Kobe Bryant to the floor to hit a 17-footer, then got fouled on a three-point attempt. After knocking down all three of those free throws, the Rockets led 105-99 with 41 ticks left, the Houston crowd was on fire and the improbable victory was in their hands.
“We got down early, kept fighting,” said Battier. “We said ‘if we hang around in the fourth and make plays, you never know.’ Fans are great. I’m really happy for them. This is for them. They haven’t had much to cheer about this year. This was a big win for us.”
The offensive outburst was ridiculously out of character for Battier, but it wasn’t the only mold broken on the night.
In the first three minutes of the second quarter, the Rockets went from down three to down nine and Rick Adelman was forced to call timeout. It was a familiar scene played out in so many games this season and you couldn’t blame the fans for thinking the Rockets would roll over and die.
They didn’t, and an impressive 11-0 run just before half (See: Video of the Rockets 11-0 run) showed the Rockets were here for a fight.
“Our effort was unbelievable,” said Chuck Hayes, who had a sweet reverse layin during the run. “We could have easily folded when they went up 9 or 10 points in the second quarter but we came back, cut the deficit at half and fought the whole second half.”
Kevin Martin had a brutal start, going 0-7 in the first quarter, but he shook it off quickly, hitting 6 of his next 10 shots and finishing with a team-high 22. Luis Scola added 14 and 9 and Kyle Lowry again did a bang-up job leading the attack and taking care of the basketball: 10 assists to just 2 turnovers.
Key: Stopping Gasol
Pau Gasol is having a career season, coming in with season averages of over 21 points and 12 boards. Facing a big man with that size and skillset, the Rockets didn’t appear to be able to match up, but Chuck Hayes and Jordan Hill did a terrific job on Gasol, limiting him to just 8 points on 2-8 shooting.
It was Hill who took the assignment in the fourth quarter. Gasol did not score a single point in that final period.
“He hasn’t experienced very much guarding him, but I thought he battled him in the fourth quarter,” said Adelman about Hill. “He has the length to keep Gasol away where he can’t go over the top of him, and that was huge.”
At 6-12 on the year, the bright spots are few for the Rockets, but there isn’t one brighter right now than Jordan Hill’s development. He’s starting to get it.
Battier is right: The Rockets haven’t given the fans much to cheer about this season, and their problems didn’t just disappear with this win, but credit the Rockets for showing some old school heart and effort in a big game against a big rival. This was one game that this fan thoroughly enjoyed.
Is this the catalyst? We will soon see with a road back-to-back that presents a challenge as the Rockets face the upstart Memphis Grizzlies then tackle a rematch against Derrick Rose and the Bulls in Chicago.