HOUSTON When the tables turn as decisively as they did defensively in the second half for the Rockets Monday night, the knee-jerk reaction is to laud the effectiveness of their small lineup on that end of the court.
However, there were offensive benefits in stationing forward Patrick Patterson in the middle and utilizing Chandler Parsons as the second big. During those stretches when the Rockets' spacing was superb, it was easy to see how this unorthodox unit can serve dual purposes.
Buoyed by a diametrically opposite approach from what paid dividends the night before against the Jazz, the Rockets used abundant quickness to fend off the Grizzlies and squeeze out a 97-93 win at Toyota Center.
"I thought Patrick did a really nice job in the pick-and-roll coverage with (Grizzlies center Marc) Gasol, and we played that small lineup quite a bit to close the game," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
"Our bigs, Luis (Scola) and Sam (Dalembert), got in foul trouble in the third quarter and I thought, Oh boy.' We were able to withstand it and just keep playing."
The Rockets (19-14) played the majority of the fourth with guards Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee teamed with Parsons and Patterson. That combination worked splendidly defensively for after the Grizzlies (18-15) shot 53.3 percent through the opening three periods, they went more than six minutes without a basket to open the fourth, starting the period 0-for-8 with three turnovers.
Some of that defensive success was derived from simply executing better via personal pride. But there was an element of athleticism involved, with rotations against the Grizzlies' pick-and-roll coming quicker with Parsons and Patterson flying around providing support.
Parsons has, halfway through his rookie season, cultivated a reputation as a versatile defender. He defended Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay (9-for-22 field goals) especially well when the assignment fell in his lap, but also held his own during those spells when power forward Dante Cunningham was on the floor. Matching up with bigger players defensively serves as a stark contrast to what Parsons did at Florida.
"It's a little tougher to rebound because the guy is coming harder," Parsons said. "But I think it gives me a mismatch and a good opportunity on the offensive end to beat my guy off the dribble and make plays."
Said McHale: "What he can do is he can play make, too. When we do go small you don't mind the ball swinging to him, especially if he's got a big four on him. He's able to put the ball on the floor and make plays. He's valuable on both ends of the floor, not only defensively but offensively."
An added benefit offensively comes when opposing centers try to follow Patterson when the Rockets execute their pick-and-roll. Gasol, who had four inches and 30 pounds on Patterson, had difficulty helping on the perimeter when the Rockets used Patterson to set the screen for Lowry.
When Lowry had the crease he took it. After the Grizzles answered the Rockets' 10-0 run with a 6-0 spurt to cut the deficit to 86-82 with 5:21 left, Lowry slipped through a crack in the defense and converted a layup through a Mike Conley foul. He completed the three-point play for a seven-point cushion that the Rockets used to keep the Grizzlies at bay.
While Lowry poured in a game-high 24 points along with nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals, Patterson stood out by grabbing nine boards, setting hard screens, and frustrating Gasol with his quickness. The Rockets have gone small to varying degrees of success, and the familiarity with which Patterson has with his responsibilities when he slides over to the center spot have essentially become second nature.
"Because I am at the five-man position I am the biggest guy on our team on the court, therefore my responsibility is greater," Patterson said. "As far as stopping the ball from penetrating to the basket to doing a better job on screen-and-rolls, most of the time I'm guarding someone who's bigger than me at the five, so keeping them off the glass and giving my teammates a chance to get rebounds (is paramount)."
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