Rockets 109, Grizzlies 115 - Grizzlies outshoot Rockets in Memphis

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The Houston Rockets hoped to head into a short Christmas break (it’s a travesty they aren’t playing on Christmas Day) with a win over an overachieving Memphis Grizzlies team that had lost four of its last five. Memphis uncharacteristically shot the ball at a high clip from beyond the three-point line (52%) and Houston went cold in a 115-109 loss.

The Rockets hit the ground running after the game tipped off, going on a 13 – 4 run in the first four minutes of the game. Houston was playing at a much faster pace than Memphis is used to (the Grizzlies are ranked 28th in pace), and the Grizzlies were forced to call a timeout. Following the timeout, Memphis took control of the pace and capitalized on James Harden’s early sloppiness (he had four turnovers in the opening period). Harden was out of sync and picked up three fouls in the first 9 minutes of the game, creating a troubling situation for the Rockets. Houston finished the first quarter up 31–25.

Houston went ice cold to open the second quarter, missing the first 11 shot attempts of the period. This allowed Memphis to gain the lead, taking advantage of Harden sitting on the bench and unable to facilitate the offense. Harden checked back into the game midway through the second (he usually checks in earlier than that) and immediately found Ryan Anderson for a wide-open three to tie the game at 39. Unfortunately, Houston remained cold from the field and Memphis got red hot. The Grizzlies shot 50% (7/14) from the three-point line, while the Rockets only hit on 32% (8/25). Mike Conley, in particular, was on fire – scoring 17 points on 70% shooting and leading the Grizzlies to a 54–49 halftime lead.

The Rockets – well, Ryan Anderson – found a rhythm from beyond the arc in the third quarter, hitting five threes on 45% shooting. Anderson scored 13 points in the period and hit three consecutive from downtown, allowing Houston to chip away at the deficit. Eventually, following a three from Trevor Ariza, the Rockets tied the game at 70. Memphis was up 77–75 heading into the fourth quarter.

Patrick Beverley kicked off the final period by swishing a three pointer through the net, giving the Rockets their first lead since early in the second quarter. Then, Memphis blew things open with a pair of huge runs. Immediately following Beverley’s three, Memphis went on a 10-0 run sparked by the ageless wonder that is Vince Carter. After a few more minutes, Memphis went on a 12-2 run that was punctuated by a lucky Zach Randolph bank shot to beat the shot clock and a thunderous put-back dunk by Jarell Martin. The FedEx Forum was rocking and Houston was now down by 15 points with six minutes left in the game.

The game was seemingly over because the Rockets couldn’t buy a basket and their demeanor left a lot to be desired, and it would have been had this been the Rockets team of yesteryear. Thankfully, this team doesn’t quit very easily and they pulled off a 9-0 run to cut the lead to six.

Back-to-back turnovers from Harden allowed Memphis to put up five straight points. He quickly made up for those errors by throwing a long alley-oop to Montrezl Harrell. The Rockets also found their stroke from deep as Eric Gordon (who had a really poor shooting night – xxxxxxx) and Anderson drained two threes apiece. The Rockets couldn’t stop Memphis from scoring as Mike Conley took over the offense on several possessions in a row.

Things got a little testy when Patrick Beverley (who else?) got tangled up with Conley, reaching for the ball and trying to draw a jump ball. Several members of Memphis’ bench made their way onto the court, which could’ve led to fines and suspensions had Conley not been awarded a timeout. Beverley was assessed a technical foul and Conley hit the free throw to give Memphis a 111-103 lead.

Following a timeout, Eric Gordon drove the ball to the hoop, got fouled, and made the basket. He converted the and-one, and the free throw game began. Memphis made two free throws, but Ariza followed with a three-pointer – cutting Memphis’ lead to four (113-109) with 12 seconds left. Conley (an 87% free throw shooter) actually missed a free throw and the Rockets had a chance with 10 seconds left. Anderson managed to create separation on a three-point attempt, but his hot shooting ended there. The Rockets would go on to lose this game 115-109.

Memphis has the best defensive rating in the NBA (99.4) and is now 20-12 on the season, despite significant injuries to Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons. The Grizzlies are also a bad three-point shooting team, but that didn’t seem to matter Friday as they hit 13 of their 25 attempts (52%) – excellent, especially when compared to Houston’s 38.5% shooting from downtown (an inflated number thanks to a late hot streak).

James Harden was not very good today, despite scoring 16 points and dishing out a whopping 17 assists (tying his season high). He had nine turnovers and looked clearly bothered by Memphis’ hounding defense. It didn’t help that Eric Gordon really struggled shooting (6/19 from the field, 4/16 from three) and that Memphis’ bench outscored Houston’s 55-27.

The Rockets look to get back to their winning ways on Monday, when the Phoenix Suns make a stop in Houston.

Game Ball

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Tuesday’s game ball goes to Ryan Anderson.

Anderson had a season-high 31 points on 55% shooting and was the only Rocket that could provide a scoring spark on Friday. He hit eight of his 14 three-point attempts, including a heat check corner three in the final moments of the game. Without his shooting the Rockets likely would’ve been blown out, but a 13-point third quarter went a long way in keeping Houston competitive.

This shooting performance is especially encouraging given that he was tasked with guarding perennial All-Star Marc Gasol in the post. He had his problems guarding the seven-footer, but Gasol didn't exactly dominate this game. In a game where Houston really missed Clint Capela, Anderson accepted the challenge and worked hard to help his team on the defensive end.

Now, let’s see if Ryno can keep a hot hand post-Christmas.

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