In a one o'clock game in Toronto, the Rockets sleep-walked through 48 minutes of basketball, falling to the Raptors by a score of 103-96. The Raptors, carried by Jose Calderon's triple-double, threatened to give up the lead to the Rockets a number of times, but made enough free throws down the stretch to hold off a Rockets comeback attempt.
Despite not having Kyle Lowry or Andrea Bargnani, the five win Raptors simply looked like the better team, with crisp offensive sets and shooters hitting their open looks. The Rockets, on the other hand, never got anything going, shooting just 41% from the field and 30% from behind the arc.
In lieu of our traditional three up, three down segment, we're just going to look at three global observations about the game. Let's delve deeper!
1) Marcus Morris Took Advantage of His Opportunity
When it was announced that Patrick Patterson would miss time with a bone bruise on his foot, I surmised that it would open up an opportunity for Greg Smith to get big time minutes in the front court. Today, it was not Smith that took advantage of Patterson's absence but rather Marcus Morris, who has struggled as of late.
With a spot in the starting lineup Morris played 37 minutes and scored 19 points, looking well in tune with the first team offense. In a sense, Morris is an even better fit with that first unit, as he can get off outside shots in traffic and space the floor better than Patterson.
Despite his smaller size, Morris has impressed on the boards, out-rebounding Patterson by nearly 2 rebounds per 40 minutes. The fact that Patterson plays alongside Omer Asik plays a part in this, but it is definitely worth noting the strides that Morris has made this year.
2) The Defense from the Guards Was Unacceptable
With both allowing about league average PER's from their counterparts (per 82games.com), defense from the Rockets starting back court has not been a major issue thus far in the season. However, the performance by Lin, Harden, and even Toney Douglas was unacceptable, as the Rockets were consistently torched by Jose Calderon, Alan Anderson, and DeMar DeRozan.
With out of control closeouts, missed rotations, and general malaise, the Rockets allowed Calderon, Anderson, and DeRozan to consistently get open, giving the Raptors wide open shots all over the floor. For a team that was missing two of their best three players, the Raptors certainly did not have any problems scoring.
At the end of the game, the damage was fairly staggering. DeRozan scored 19 points, Anderson got 24, and Calderon had 18 points 14 assists, and 10 rebounds, with the latter vastly outperforming Jeremy Lin.
3) James Harden Showed Why He Is a Superstar
Not only did the mediocre defense give some insight into why Harden is a superstar, but his offensive performance affirmed the same conclusion. On a night where his shot was not falling, Harden managed to get into the paint consistently and draw fouls, scoring 28 points despite not converting on any three pointers.
At times earlier in the season, Harden would continue to bang his head against the wall and clank three pointers, but Harden looked far more disciplined in this contest. Instead, he nearly led a comeback as he scored consistently into the fourth quarter.
In the end, it simply wasn't enough as no other Rockets stood out down the stretch, but Harden showed a far more mature approach than one we might have seen earlier in the season, certainly a good development for a team whose future depends on his play.