Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/31/11
It seemed that the only way for Rockets guard Kyle Lowry to ease the cramp that caught him by surprise as he dressed on Saturday night was to stand and stretch it out. Minutes later across the locker room, guard Kevin Martin opted for an impromptu massage on the cramp in his foot. Both played 40-plus minutes against the Hawks at Toyota Center, capping the finale of a back-to-back-to-back with inspiring displays of energy and endurance. Their feet issued mild protests to the challenge, leaving Martin thankful that this scheduling quirk came during the opening week of this compressed season and not the stretch drive. "Good thing we had the back-to-back-to-back at the beginning of the year. We'd rather have it now than mid-April when you're trying to make that playoff run," Martin said. "It wasn't too bad tonight." Clearly Rockets coach Kevin McHale agreed, shortening his rotation and riding Lowry and Martin to a 95-84 win built on guts and determination. Martin posted a game-high 27 points, his third consecutive 20-point outing after a sluggish preseason preceded an ugly shooting display in the opener at Orlando. Lowry missed all six of his shots but few noticed while he delivered a career-high-tying 18 assists and one dazzling block. "I really extended those guys because I knew we were taking (Sunday) off," McHale said. "Those two guys probably are capable of doing it more than anybody. "That's too much, the 40 minutes, but I really wanted to win this game bad so I let those guys go longer than they probably should have. They have a little more gas in the tank than I think." Twenty-four hours after being run out of FedEx Forum by the Grizzlies in Memphis and 48 hours after they did the same to the Spurs at Toyota Center, the Rockets (2-2) mustered the will to jump on the previously undefeated Hawks (3-1) early and ride their strong defense to victory. Their defense was at best suspect against the Grizzlies, and McHale pulled no punches when offering critiques during a late-afternoon shoot-around. Judging by the Rockets' response the message was delivered with clarity. Despite the fatigue the Rockets challenged shots all over the court and kept the defensive breakdowns to a minimum. McHale recalled some 20 breakdowns in Memphis, but could remember only two or three off the top of his head Saturday. Even as the Rockets struggled to maintain the pace from their scorching start offensively, their defensive commitment remained firm through every Hawks rally. "Our defense was solid tonight. Guys helped," McHale said. "It was just way more awareness of what we wanted to do." Said Lowry, who added a pair of steals: "Defense was the key to tonight. We held a really good scoring offensive team to 84 points, and with the weapons they have that's pretty impressive. We walked through some stuff and our emphasis was to play defense or get out the game." Lowry recorded six assists in the first quarter as the Rockets shot 56.3 percent with eight assists on their 13 baskets. Their superior passing yielded numerous easy shots and a 31-22 lead heading into the second. That efficiency didn't last, but the Rockets were resolute. Center Jordan Hill grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds, including 11 on the defensive end. Reserve center Samuel Dalembert added 10 rebounds, with five coming on the offensive end. The Hawks rallied time and again, but the Rockets muted the impact of those runs with their rebounding and defense. The final salvo came early in the fourth quarter. Former Rockets guard Tracy McGrady had cut the lead to 12 points with a 3-pointer and Vladimir Radmanovic followed with a steal and outlet pass to Jannero Pargo, who had a clear path to the basket. Lowry appeared out of nowhere to challenge the layup, elevating above the rim to reject the shot and preserve momentum. The crowd of 14,390 was invigorated. "Plays like that always give you a little bit of oomph," Lowry said. "I think the crowd got energized and everybody got energized, so it was definitely a play that was well needed." Said Hill: "Oh man, it was definitely a great play. A lot of people probably would have given up on it. But that's what makes Kyle so special. He's got a lot of heart. He went after it, he went hard and it pays off and he got it." McHale's decision to shorten his bench paid dividends, too, as Terrence Williams, Jonny Flynn and rookies Marcus Morris and Chandler Parsons combined for six seconds of action, all from Parsons. What the Rockets experienced over the past three days was a roller coaster of performances, with the takeaway being they don't have to do this again. "What a difference 24 hours makes again," McHale said. "I'm glad we don't play tomorrow night. I don't think I'd be able take what they would do." Follow me on Twitter @moisekapenda
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