Entering the game against the Rockets it had the feel of a bad match up for the Wizards. Yes, the Rockets were without Aaron Brooks, and Kyle Lowery was limited to coming off the bench, as both have been struggling with injuries. And as a result the Rockets were forced to start, Ishmail Smith, an undrafted rookie free agent. But the Rockets, due in large part to the improved play of Luis Scola and Kevin Martin are averaging 112 points per game - and the Wizards have struggled on defense, giving up 109 PPG on .501 FG%. When you combine one team that can score with another that does not defend very well, it seemed like the recipe for a disappointing basketball game.
Well almost immediately you had the sense that this game might be different. Before the game, Flip Saunders pointed out that "we are beating ourselves" averaging 18 or 19 turnovers. During the first quarter, the Wizards had only four turnovers and none by John Wall, who finished the game with only one. The Wizards also out-rebounded the Rockets early holding a 14 to six advantage. However, the biggest blow to the Rockets came when after only 6:14 of play; Yao Ming left the floor with what was first reported by Chris Miller to be a pulled tendon in his left ankle. The Rockets injury troubles, with the injury to the oft injured Yao, just took a turn for the worse.
The Rockets responded to Yao's injury by bringing Jordan Hill, Trevor Booker's cousin, into the game. However, he struggled to match up with the Wizards bigmen, particularly Andray Blatche who appeared to be too quick for him. And behind the improved energy and offensive contributions of all five starters, the Wizards were able to jump out to a nine point first quarter lead.
What was clear almost immediately during this game was that the Wizards bigs were not simply content to take jump shots. On multiple occasions throughout the game they either swung the ball or made a drive towards the rim. After the game Andray Blatche said, "We have to stay aggressive [and] keep taking the ball to the rim." And while on a few occasions they were called for charges, you have to applaud their aggressiveness.
After three quarters the Wizards lead shrank to one point as the Wizards shooting cooled a little, their rebounding edge became smaller (6) and Kevin Martin became more aggressive - as evidenced by his six free throw attempts and the 22 points he scored through three quarters.
The Rockets surge to get back into the game was aided by Wizards turnovers. No, it wasn't John Wall, he limited his turnovers to one, but rather surprisingly it was Kirk Hinrich who has a reputation for taking care of the ball. In this particular game, Hinrich had the dubious distinction of leading the Wizards in turnovers with six. However, five of his six came during the second half, but most troubling three of the six came during the 4th quarter. And two of which came on back-to-back plays which lead to four quick points by the Rockets.
The Wizards were able to increase their defensive intensity, which got the crowd into the game and the team seemed to feed off of that additional energy. The Wizards were able to hold the Rockets to only 19 points in the fourth quarter. And as Gilbert Arenas said after the game, "this was a team that averaged 112 and we held them under a 100, so we feel good about that." On this night, the Wizards played defensive against a team that is capable of scoring effectively and they held the Rockets to 21 points below their season average.
Post game comments:
- Talking about the 4th quarter - "We closed out the game and got some key rebounds; we got aggressive, protected the rim, [and] got some stops..."
- When asked if a change in his frame of mind has lead to him having back-to-back double digit rebound performances, Blatche said "No, I'm starting to get my wind back, get in shape, my foot is getting better, I have a little knee problem, but it's all about effort and aggressiveness."
- On John Wall's triple double - "It's great, I tried to get it last year, but you know...Cartier Martin (laughs)...no, man. It's great, you know he works hard. He hits the glass, he defends, he runs the offense, so you know he deserves that triple double."
- About what happened during the second practice - He said that the players treated it like a real game. "People really went at each other. Of course my team won."
- I asked JaVale if Flip talked to him about why he did not play much in the second half (or at all in the 4th). He said no, that he wasn't sure. He continued that, it could have been due to "match ups, maybe he wanted a shooter on the floor" but that he was not sure.
- About what Magic said to the team - "He told us to hold our heads up high, hang together, stick together..."
- On John Wall - "He's playing great right now..."
- On his defensive effort - "When you are playing 24 minutes you don't have to worry about fouls, so I just try to play aggressively..."
- When asked about his knee [Flip Saunders referenced his knee before the game. He said that if you don't get your weight down it can cause a knee or ankle to swell] - "I haven't had a knee problem for a year and a half now. I don't know why people keep asking me about it. You know, so, I haven't been hurt [the knee]."
- About his alley oop to John Wall - "The last game I had that same lob, but Andray Blatche... was running down the lane (smiles), so this time I gave it to John."
Luis Scola, Houston Rockets
- Scola was asked about John Wall and he said that he had a good night. When he was pressed for further comment he said that he was focused on the entire team [Wizards] and not one person.
- CH: "Have you had an opportunity to speak with Fabricio Oberto since his announcement?" LS: "Yes, I've talked with him, he's preparing himself for his new life [after basketball]."
- CH: "He seemed to have other interests outside of the game, so it seems he will make a fairly easy transition" LS: "Well it's hard because for many years this is all you do for nearly 24 hours a day...." "I wouldn't call it [Fabricio's transition] easy, but easier than some other players."
- Wall's incredible play continues as he earned his first triple double - 19 pts, 10 reb, 13 ast to go along with 6 steals, 1 blocked shot and 1 turnover. After the game Andray Blatche offered this comment, John Wall "is a hard worker both offensively and defensively... for him [John Wall] to get a triple double, that is one of many to come."
- Arenas appeared to really focus on his defensive play; he did not seem out of place or did not take many chances on steals. He played a solid defensive game.
- The Wizards finished the game with 10 blocked shots. Two players were tied for the lead with four - JaVale McGee and surprisingly Yi Jianlian. Possibly in part due to the added attention back home, Yi was very energetic throughout this game and it showed by his number of blocks.
- Stat stuffer play of the night: In the second quarter, Wall hits a three point shot, gets a steal on defense and finishes with a dunk which pushes the Wizards lead to 11 (Was 45 - Hou 34)
- Bad series of the night: McGee is beat down the floor by Brad Miller on a break, but is bailed out by a block/strip on Miller. The Wizards come back up the floor, but then Hinrich is called for a charge.
- Ish Smith is extremely quick and has been playing well. It makes you wonder how no other team decided to even spend a second round pick on the kid.
- Thornton, who did not settle for a jumper, picked up a foul against Brad Miller as he was driving into the paint. Thornton finished the game tied with Blatche for the team high in scoring, but he has to do a better job than 60% at the foul line.