The Houston Rockets played the Eastern Conference's favorite injury-riddled punching bag tonight and came out with a win 99-93. The Rockets came out looking like a strong defensive team that showed a lot of commitment. The offense was clicking as well and Harden didn't really seem inhibited by his ankle in any way, shape, or form. This was a fun game to watch by the Rockets and one where the lesson is going to have to be learned long term that this is what you do to teams with injuries and just weaker teams in general.
The first quarter was a clinic from James Harden. 6/7 for 17 points in the first quarter. This is what you do to a rookie SG like Bradley Beal. I want you to step back and appreciate that stat. One Rocket tied the Washington Wizards offense. Granted, the Wizards offense has been anemic without John Wall. Patrick Patterson and Greg Smith stymied the Wizards with strong defensive showings and Omer Asik makes every hook shot look painful. Aside from that the Rockets actually executed a really well disciplined and productive first quarter.
The second quarter picked up with the Wizards making some adjustments but unfortunately, they're still the Wizards. The Rockets were moving the ball and cutting properly to start but then things got sloppy. Silly turnovers marred the second quarter. Traveling and offensive off the ball fouls disrupted rhythm and stone hands lost some defensive rebounds. The Rockets managed to botch some pretty easy looking fast breaks as well with awkward passing. The Wizards trimmed the Rockets lead from 14 points to 3 points off a Tony Douglas heave to end the half.
First Half Standout Stats: 7 assists, 9 turnovers.
A good discussion that came up on DC's broadcast is that McHale said he needs to find a way to get Jeremy more aggressive and confident and he'll compliment Harden. Something we've all been clamoring for here and something I hope Jeremy embraces. Jeremy has remedied his earlier problems as pointed out by commentators here (Turnovers and defense are all better now) but if he wants to elevate his game to the next level he'll need to get aggressive again.
The third quarter started off frazzled and overall pretty messy. The Rockets picked up right where they left off. Lin seems to really apply himself to the defensive end drawing a couple of charges on the night. You can't help but watch this Rockets team and wonder what if Jeremy applied himself like that on the offensive end? The Wizards put on a block party against the Rockets and it left a mark on the minds of the Rockets. Drives to the hoop were tentative and scared. Patrick Patterson hit perhaps what was the greatest circus shot of the game (More so than Douglas's mid-court bomb) when he was fouled on the way to the hoop, launched the ball at the backboard, and by the grace of whatever deity you profess faith to, the ball went in.
The Rockets decided to play some gang defense following a time out from Kevin McHale. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what Kevin was needed back for. Under Sampson the Rockets would get lackadaisical and not take their defensive assignments seriously, McHale called the time out, barked at the team, and the next three possessions were tough interior defense plays. That timeout call about midway through the third seems to be the turning point of the game.
The Rockets entered the 4th quarter only up by 4 but they came out showing aggression, ball movement, and creative driving in the lane to stretch their lead out. The Wizards certainly didn't help their case any by turning the ball over as much as they did but the Rockets were actually executing down the stretch. Really the fourth quarter was a frustrating spectacle of "Just put them away already!" and there wasn't much of note in it. The game just devolved into a horrible menagerie of "Who can screw up less to close this thing out?" It's sad because of the tone the Rockets set in the first quarter. This one mercifully ended with the Rockets taking it to improve to 10 wins and 11 losses on the season.
1.) James Harden - 31 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists. He came in under on his boards and assists but he lead by example with his scoring, his driving the lane, and his shot selection (50% FG tonight).
2.) Patrick Patterson - He displayed everything a PF should tonight and caught Emeka Okafor on a hot streak. His defense was suspect but he was also playing against one of the best defensive PF/Cs in the league. Okafor turned in an efficient night but Okafor's hook shots and post moves won't be that hot every night. Good overall showcase by Patterson despite a relatively mediocre stat line.
3.) Kevin McHale - The game got sloppy, we can't argue against that. But when the Rockets started to reel McHale called a time out and clearly demanded defense out of his players. The team responded out of time outs from Kevin and showed some discipline on the floor. The execution was lacking but the effort showed back up.
1.) Lethargy - The Rockets managed to check out after a great first quarter and respond when Kevin McHale rallied the troops. The Rockets looked like they were playing down to the leve of the Wizards and that's never ok.
2.) Tentativeness - Rockets players need to stop being scared to drive the lane when a couple shots get blocked. The same applies for open shots. The only time an open shot needs to be passed up is when you're putting the ball on the floor. The hockey assist is prized by this team's front office but it's certainly not a winning basketball when you're making a bad pass off a good situation.
3.) Turnovers - The problems continue on this front. 18 this game. 13 came from the starters with 5 allocated to Harden. The Rockets need to crisp the passing up but I really feel like addressing the tentativeness of this team will go a long ways towards fixing the turnover problems.
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