It wasn't pretty, it wasn't easy, but they got the result they wanted. In their season opener facing the loftiest of expectations, the Rockets, led by Dwight Howard and his 17 points and 26 rebounds, got a 96-83 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats at the Toyota Center.
It was a game punctuated by its ugliness, and neither team seemed particularly interested in playing their best basketball. The Rockets missed seven out of their ten first free throws, and neither Chandler Parsons and James Harden were able to gain any traction offensively for three quarters. As the game wore on, however, Harden broke out of his early slump and helped propel a lethargic Rockets offense to the victory in a big fourth quarter.
Without Francisco Garcia, the Rockets may just have lost this game. Garcia led the Rockets offensively for most of the game, drilling everything he looked at, and finished with 19 points on the night. As so many players were struggling from the floor early on, Garcia's steadying presence off the bench was exactly what they needed from the veteran wing.
Let's dig deeper into this game, analyzing three different aspects of the season opener.
The Twin Towers grab every board in sight
We knew Dwight Howard was a good rebounder, we just didn't know he was this good. From the start, Howard made his presence known in the paint, gobbling up rebound after rebound, and just two minutes into the second half, he had already grabbed 20 rebounds on the night, a total which would have been the third most in any game for the Rockets last year.
On the game, he tied his career high with 26 rebounds, and simply controlled the paint whenever a shot went up. And when he went to the bench, his center counterpart Omer Asik picked up the slack, grabbing 14 boards himself.
It's obvious that it's nice to have a pair of strong centers who can play down low, but we saw just how valuable that pairing was tonight. Despite playing against a pretty darn good rebounder in Al Jefferson, the Rockets absolutely manhandled Charlotte down low, out-rebounding the Bobcats 54-37.
Injuries, injuries, injuries
You have to hope this is not a sign of things to come. Going into the season opener, the Rockets were expected to play three different guards in their rotation. By the end of the first half, all three guards had retreated to the locker room to be treated for a different injury.
Harden was the first to go, dealing with a tight lower back that needed to be stretched out. After getting it worked on, he quickly returned to the bench. He looked a step slower than usual all night, and was not able to get the same elevation that he usually gets, but improved throughout the game and had a 16 point fourth quarter. Lin would go later in the first half, getting a cut on his chin that couldn't be fixed easily on the bench.
The most troubling injury, however, was Patrick Beverley's, who went to the locker room early in the second quarter with a rib injury. He would return to the bench, but was knocked out for the game after getting x-rays. Let's hope they don't find a crack later on, because that would be an injury that could affect him for the next few months.
Rockets give some clarity on the rotation
All preseason, we tried to decipher exactly who would be in the rotation for the Rockets. Tonight, the Rockets game some clues as to who would be in the rotation, essentially going with an eight man rotation until the injury to Beverley.
Assuming the rotation holds, it appears that McHale will be going with his starting lineups along with Lin, Casspi, and Garcia off the bench. The Rockets made their first subs at the six minute mark of the first quarter, bringing on Lin and Casspi for Beverley and Asik, and tended to maximize the amount of time Howard played alongside four shooters.
Overall, the Rockets made sure that one of Asik and Howard were on the floor at every time, and it paid dividends. The Bobcats were unable to get anything going down low all game, and the Rockets held on for the victory.
It wasn't pretty, but at the end of the day, the Rockets are 1-0.