HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets are an average team, but they are average in the most tantalizing way. The Rockets never play an average game. They either play great, or they play terribly. Seems like either the Rockets are drilling 3s all night or the other team is.
This, perhaps, is an unintended consequence of the way they play. The Rockets like to get out wide and push the pedal to the floor, and sometimes when you do that, you spin out.
Saturday night, the Rockets had the motor rapped out and the transmission in overdrive. Deron Williams scored 20 points in the first quarter for the Brooklyn Nets, but it hardly mattered. The Nets were going to need a lot more than that. By the time Williams made another basket, the third quarter was halfway over and the Rockets led by 18. Houston (24-22) ended up beating the Nets (26-18), 119-106, at Toyota Center.
“It’s how we need to play,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “You got to be determined to do it. You got to be determined when you’re tired. … You got to keep pushing.”
This was especially true Saturday because, these being the Rockets, who allow a shade under 103 points per game, the game was hardly over with an 18-point spread in the third quarter. But this was one of the Rockets’ good nights. All-Star James Harden was doing James Harden things, which is to say he was getting to the foul line with that rangy eurostep of his. But that’s a given. Harden averages 26 points, and he’s almost always good for it. He has failed to score 20 only eight times this season.
The ebbs and flows for Houston have more to do with the role players. Jeremy Lin averages 12 points and six assists. He had 14 and nine on Saturday. Omer Asik averages 10 points and 10 rebounds, but got 20 and 16. Chandler Parsons had 14 points and 11 assists. Marcus Morris had five offensive rebounds.
Houston out-rebounded the Nets 50-31 and had 31 assists on 43 field goals.
“The last two games, we’ve played harder, played with passion,” Rockets swingman Chandler Parsons said. “It’s been really fun the last two games.”
It was important for the Rockets to have one of their good nights, because they had been on an awfully reckless path lately. They had lost eight of their last 10 games, with the two wins coming over the Charlotte Bobcats (10-32) and New Orleans Hornets (14-29), a pair of victories that count the same as any others in standings but perhaps not in the Rockets’ hearts.
Houston needed to beat somebody good, and Brooklyn qualified. The Nets entered Saturday’s game No. 2 in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.
It appeared, at first, that it was going to be another torturous night for Lin. The residue from Linsanity still seems to inspire some opponents to put him in his place, and Williams was a great candidate for such a reminder. He was the victim of Lin’s first breakout game with the Knicks last year. Lin had 25 points and seven assists against Williams and the Nets, and this established Williams as an antagonist in Lin’s ongoing narrative. The next time they met, Williams scored 38.
This was meeting No. 3.
Williams was headed for 80 after the first quarter but stopped shooting for a while and finished with 27 points and 11 assists.
But the Nets aren’t accustomed to playing at Houston’s pace – Houston is the fastest team in the NBA and Brooklyn the slowest – and Williams was the only one up for it. The Nets got the deficit under 10, but that was about as hard as they could push.
Williams left without talking to the media, which may have had something to do with this: With 1:07 left, Williams got ejected for something he said to a referee.
Finally, someone else had spun out. Thursday, the Rockets had a film session in which they reviewed some of their better performances from this season. It was kind of a reminder.
“I think we got away from that,” Parsons said. “It was good for us to see how easy it looked.”