VIDEO: Shaq and Kenny discuss the Rockets’ firing and where they go from here
HOUSTON — The situation was unpleasantly familiar. Late in the third quarter and the Rockets down by 17 points.
But on the first night of what they hope will be a turnaround to a miserable start that cost Kevin McHale his job, the Rockets showed their first real sign of fight in the season.
It took a running 30-footer by Corey Brewer with 0.9 seconds left in regulation time to give the Rockets a chance to pull out a 108-103 over the Trail Blazers and give J.B. Bickerstaff his first career win as a head coach.
“It’s what we needed,” Bickerstaff said. “The way it happen, I say, is the way it needed to happen. You know, our guys were down. We’ve been down before. Ten point leads stretched to 20 point leads. So for us to be down in the fourth quarter and show perseverance, show fight, show the grit, toughness and togetherness speaks volumes for our guys. Speaks volumes for the commitment to what we’re trying to do.”
The earliest change in the Bickerstaff era was replacing point guard Ty Lawson in the starting lineup with Jason Terry. But the most noticeable difference was the Rockets finally not hanging their heads and packing it in when Portland built a 69-52 lead.
This time James Harden flashed back to last season’s form and went on the attack in the fourth quarter and finished with 45 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first player in NBA history to post those numbers in a single game since steals became an official stat back in 1973-74.
More important for the Rockets, Harden became the spark the turned into the raging fire that led to 56 wins a year ago rather than the disinterested 32 percent shooter of this season’s 4-7 start.
“There was a concentration,” Bickerstaff said. “There was a focus. There was a commitment to it. Hard, difficult. No matter what the situation was, he fought through it. He prepared his guys. He talked to his guys.”
Bickerstaff said his plan is to take the Rockets back to playing their style from last year.
“I think it’s to get back to who we were, who we’ve been. Who we were when we had our most success. Last year we were a 5-6 (ranked) defensive team in the league. You look at where we are this year and we’re near the bottom. We’re a transition team and some of that stems from our defense. We get out and run because we created so many turnovers last year. So that’s the plan. We got to get back to that. We’ve got to be aggressive defensively, turn people over. We’ve got to protect the paint. We’ve got to protect one another and we’ve got to get out in transition and make people pay.”
The Rockets began collecting payment through the last 12 minutes of regulation tine.
“We started playing the right way, the way we’ve been playing the last year or so,” Brewer said. “We made a lot of shots. We got a lot of open looks.
“We had extra fire because we lost four in a row. Doesn’t matter what happened today, whether coach got fired or not. We needed a win and we got a win.”
A new beginning, they hope, that came in an old, familiar way.