MEMPHIS – This was a game played with an edge.
The Houston Rockets had it, needed it and used it to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 107-91 on Tuesday night. It was a season-tying fourth consecutive win for the Rockets (20-19), who are now over .500 for the third time this season.
“Wins, style points don’t get you wins,” Trevor Ariza said. “You get a win, and then worry about style after the game.”
There was chirping on both sides and the Rockets made sure their voices were heard, not only by the refs but their opponents, too.
The Grizzlies were grinding inside on Clint Capela, Terrence Jones and Howard with Marc Gasol, Jeff Green and Zach Randolph. Bickerstaff had to rotate his frontcourt personnel to maintain the physical pace inside. The Rockets won the rebounding battle 42-31, second chance points 28-12, and the center matchup. Howard had 14 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks to Gasol’s 20 points, five boards and three blocks.
Jones had a strong 20 points, including three 3-pointers and a few drives to the paint that showed that he can be trusted more often. With the paint protected, the Rockets moved the ball well in finding the open man -- Jones in some cases -- to make some big shots.
“I feel like I’m a spread 4 and that I can make plays off the dribble for my teammates and myself,” Jones said. “Coach expects me to do that on pick and pops and I felt like I did a good job of that today.”
Jones’ game was not the only thing active; his voice was too. He was yelling from the bench at his teammates after big shots were made and also when he was playing following made buckets.
One of the big sequences occurred midway through the fourth quarter after Jones was popped in the eye fighting for a rebound, which later resulted in Bickerstaff drawing a technical. He made consecutive 3-pointers each time to break a tie.
Jones’ last 3 came with 7:13 to play, and the Rockets never let the lead slip away after that. The game-clincher came from James Harden, who dribbled past the Grizzlies' best defender, Tony Allen, and hit a nasty pull-up 15-footer for a seven-point lead with 6:14 left. The only thing left was to figure out the postgame meal on the bus ride to the airport.
“It makes my job a lot easier, and I think just getting guys in rhythm or guys getting in a rhythm getting a feel tonight,” Harden said of the balanced attack, where five Rockets were in double figures, led by his 25. “TJ did a great job not only knocking down 3s but just doing a good job on Zach Randolph, being aggressive with him and then just working on the floor.”
The Rockets weren’t backing down from the Grizzlies, a team who had beaten them in two previous meetings and held them to just an 88.5 points per game.
Memphis was minus Mike Conley (Achilles) and Matt Barnes (thumb) for the game. Houston knew it was going to be physical game regardless, hence Howard taking whacks on the arm fighting for rebounds, Harden trying to fight through screens and Capela, despite scoring just one point, holding his own against the heavier Randolph.
“It was a good win in the sense they beat us the last two times and we needed a tough game like this to show our growth and our trust in each other,” said Marcus Thornton, who scored 16 points off the bench.
In the last few weeks, the Rockets have talked about just staying together and feeling that the victories would come. Last week, the Rockets won consecutive games over Utah and a tightly contested overtime victory against Indiana.
In the midst of the wins, Houston lost Ty Lawson, their backup point guard, to a league suspension and were stunned by the absence of backup power forward Donatas Motiejunas for an undetermined length of time to a sore back. Even Howard missed a game, the Utah win, with a sore back.
Memphis came in with its own set of problems Tuesday night, something the Rockets didn’t care about, because why would they?
The emphasis was just to win the game and not worry about how pretty or ugly it looks.
“I think our guys are in a great spot right now,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s confidence, there’s belief, there’s togetherness, there’s poise. All those things that we talked about in October, are starting to come to fruition and it’s because of the stick-to-it-ness of our guys. They stick with it. Things keep coming thing got hard. We didn’t fracture, we stayed together. We’re starting to see the fruits of it now.”