HOUSTON -- With star power in abundance and the high-scoring Cleveland Cavaliers occupying the visiting bench at Toyota Center on Thursday night, the Rockets took a bit of a detour from their established identity, displaying a resolve and a tenacity infrequently matched to their DNA yet critical to their aspirations for building a championship contender this season.
For three periods the Rockets were who they usually are. They had 100 points on the scoreboard entering the fourth quarter and hit that mark by blitzing the Cavaliers with 55.6 percent shooting and 14 3-pointers, more than Cleveland allowed per game entering play.
But then their offense bogged down due to fatigue and the Rockets (9-3) were forced to try something else to keep the Cavaliers at bay. The tactics they utilized featured second and third efforts on the offensive glass and a willingness to hit the floor for loose balls. Their ability to score and scrap paid dividends, and could again when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night.
"I told them there are different ways to win a game," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "You can have points; you can outshoot them. But, when we out-scrap them, outplay them, and get all the 50-50 balls, get all the rebounds, that bodes well for nights that you are not on. We'll definitely take it, they played well."
With guard Chris Paul (knee) and forward Luc Mbah a Moute (knee) unavailable, the Rockets were shorthanded, and that lack of depth played a role in their late-game collapse on offense. D'Antoni tweaked his rotation and, with the Cavaliers going small, played P.J. Tucker at power forward. That strategy worked as Tucker corralled six offensive rebounds and produced the unselfish plays that make winners of teams accustomed to glamour and quality shot-making.
"If I'm at the four, I feel like can't nobody stop from getting offensive rebounds," Tucker said. "So, a lot of times I float through space. That's a lot of real estate to move in there and be able to sneak in there to get live rebounds. So, for me, I think those are plays that win games. We get an extra shot on at a 3-pointer. The way we shoot the ball, those swings, and-1s, (center) Clint (Capela) got an and-1, offensive rebounds, I think those are the plays that win games."
The Grizzlies (7-4) already own a pair of victories over Houston this season, fully embracing the multitude of ways the Rockets only recently discovered might be necessary to win. Memphis has shifted to a more up-tempo brand of offense, but it's rigorous defense remains.
In a scheduling quirk, the Grizzlies and Rockets will complete their four-game season series by Nov. 18, with Memphis again serving host to its Southwest Division rivals at FedEx Forum. The Grizzlies can claim a series victory with a win on Saturday, a result that might have value later.
"I'd rather get them all out of the way," Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said. "Get all four games out of the way as quick as possible. They're a good team and we always look forward to playing against the best in the league. It's going to be another battle."