The Washington Wizards came to Houston and were treated to a nailbiter by the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. After the final whistle the score was 113 to 112, Rockets. Houston entered the game not having lost to an Eastern Conference team at home this season and the hottest team in the NBA having won six straight. During that streak Howard has averaged 24.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2 blocks. The notable match up between these two (Besides Harden and Beal) was Gortat and Howard, the understudy versus the lead actor. The Wizards limped into game behind Bradley Beal's career high 37 points against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Wizards hadn't won against the Rockets at home since 2008.
The Rockets, of course, start with a Parsons lob to Dwight Howard because swag. Beautiful way to start the game. The early going of the game didn't look like the Rockets would have much of a problem getting whatever they want in the paint despite the presence of Marcin Gortat and Nene (Though neither are known as elite rim protectors). Random observation: early in the first quarter Houston shows its appreciation for a great team, the lower bowl is just plain barren. The early going in the first quarter was typified by some physical play by both teams. Houston up 12 early in the first quarter before Witman calls a timeout, mercifully, off a missed free throw by Jones on the and-1 and a Lin bucket. Coming out of the timeout it seems like Witman yelled at them to start moving the ball. Immediately the Wizards began playing a team oriented game. Unfortunately, Witman missed giving them the lecture about stopping the lob to the best center in the game. Out of the timeout the Wizards started piling points back on and fought their way back into the game pretty well. They ripped off a 13-9 run before a timeout by the Rockets (Lin falls to the ground, covers the ball, calls for time). Motiejunas's haircut is dumb, he looks like a less stylish Omer Asik (Didn't know it got worse than that). Harden goes to the bench with 4:10 remaining clutching his thumb. Surely this is something the Rockets can survive against the Wizards but anything more than that and you have to worry. The Rockets defense and offense faltered a bit but they closed the first quarter on a strong note and stretched their lead to twelve.
At the end of one, the Rockets lead 38-26. Harden and Howard stand out from the pack in the first, Howard gets special mention for going 5-5 from the field with 3 boards and 11 points. Without Parson's lobs that number dips down. Harden has 12 points, 1 board, and 1 assist with a dominant offensive performance.
Fun fact, Houston pulled down 17 rebounds in the first quarter. Motiejunas with the play of the game to start the second quarter with his dream shake lost flung shot at the elbow for two! The Wizards came out hot to start the second quarter and the referees seem intent on letting these teams beat on each other. The theme to start seems to be Omer Asik having no clue where he's supposed to be on the court. The Wizards go on a 10-2 run and the Rockets called a timeout to get the starters back in the game, not liking the effort. The early second quarter really just screamed physical "defense" and the Rockets failing to know how to adjust to it. The second play of the game, Howard punches Jan Vesely's shot into the crowd in a fit of rage about the non-calls underneath. The Wizards take over, 43-42 with 6:13 left in the game, Harden is not entertained and puts the Rockets up 45-43 immediately afterwards. In the words of Uncle Phil, this game is sloppy sloppy sloppy. The Rockets turnover machine when into full force in the second quarter and the offense abandoned its first quarter productivity (attacking the basket). Harden calls for a time out on a loose ball. New rule, a rugby scrum has to take place on those situations. The Wizards resort to Hacking Dwight Howard to close out the second half. Feel free to gripe about the usual commentary that goes with that in the comments. I won't go there. Houston closed the quarter aggressively.
The first half closed 63-54 Rockets lead despite a quarter marred by turnovers. James Harden has 23 points at the half and Dwight Howard has 15 points and 8 rebounds at the half. The Rockets, however, assisted on 11 of their 16 made shots (69% of shots).
The Rockets came out strong making sure to remember basketball also has a defensive component. The Rockets were disjointed early in the third quarter with teams doubling up on Howard and trapping the ball handler on the pick and roll. The Wizards came in shooting hot and McHale called timeout at the 8:57 mark to lecture his team on trading baskets with the Wizards. Coming out of the time out Howard began passing out of doubles quicker and the wings started slashing towards the rim. The Rockets also went to a modified 2-3 zone defense to help the situation a bit. Alley-oop dunk in transition over three people, this needs to be gif'd. Jaypride/Chrive, you have your mission. Rockets come out on FIRE by 5:32 they are up 65-83. The Wizards announcers spent most of the third quarter in a depressed and catty lash-out about the Rockets. There's something beautiful about that. The Rockets fired on all cylinders and limited their turnovers, a major difference maker. 2:55 left to go in the third, Trevor Ariza hits his 7th three of the game. Imagine that coming off the bench for us... at 7 million a year. I'd love the move but come on. Ariza, 32 points at the end of 3, 30 of those off 3 pointers... The third quarter closes with a John Wall airballed 3.
The Rockets lead 93-90 at the end of three. Houston committed 5 turnovers in the third and coughed up an 11-0 run to close out the quarter. Harden fell 7 points shy of his quarterly output from the first half and Dwight Howard contributed 4 points and 6 rebounds.
Rockets strike first two minutes into the fourth with a Parsons drive and bucket. The Rockets hope to hold the Wizards in check with Omer Asik on Kevin Seraphin. Given his production recently I'm at peace with this assignment. If it were Nene or Gortat? I'd advise you hit the bottle. Nene's fifth foul came at a great time for the Rockets, Dwight Howard secures the three-point play and the Rockets hit 100 points. The next few exchanges Howard is clearly advertising Nene's holding and looking for the sixth foul quick. Unfortunately, the Rockets seem to hit some sloppy fouls midway through the fourth, neither team played clean. The Rockets found themselves the beneficiaries of the penalty by the 6:29 mark of the quarter. Sadly, Houston found itself on the wrong end of a drubbing from a plucky Wizards team. Gortat fouled out with less than four minutes left in the game and they stuck around. Jeremy Lin picks up a foul and, in the process, gives the Wizards an And-1 with 2:21 left, Washington up 109-108. Nene fouls out at 1:40 on a Lin flop shortly after a Lin flop cost the Rockets their lead. The Rockets slowly march towards the end of the fourth in what Steve Kerr would call "Winning time." The crowd finally comes alive, impressive that it's picked up given 70% of the "sold out" crowd is missing. Wizards, on the last play of Regulation draw a foul with 4 seconds left. Wall sank the free throws and on the inbound, Ariza fouled out as Harden hits the deck. Houston gets a foul shot and the ball, Harden makes good. HOW DO YOU NOT ACCOUNT FOR JAMES HARDEN FROM THE LINE OH MY LORD ALL THE BASED BASKETBALL GODS ON THAT LAYUP!
Rockets 113, Wizards 112. The Rockets head into the All Star weekend winners of seven straight. The game was officiated tightly and did not deserve to go the Rockets way.
James Harden - 35 points, 6 boards, 6 assists, 4 turnovers, hero ball at the most hero moments.
Dwight Howard - 24 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocked shots. 7 Turnovers is atrocious but given how physical he was played, I'll look the other way.
Thing You Won't Talk About
The Rockets needed a clutch play at the end. One that would get an easy two points freed up in short order. The Rockets went to a time out, sat as Kevin McHale scrawled something out on an easel, and the result was an uninhibited drive to the basket by James Harden. Many will say it was a lapse by Washington. Those of us of less stubbornness will say that was a damn fine play.
Million Dollar Idea
"Everyone should pitch in and rent out every strip club in Houston in honor of James Harden."
-Also Sprach Zarathustra.
I made a promise and here it is: TDS, your mission (non-negotiable), shall be to only refer to Donatas Motiejunas as "Dinosaur", as in Dinosaur Motorcycles, and to use your Twitter and Facebook to bring the following music video to his attention:
Enjoy that nailbiter, folkers. We're the hottest team in the NBA and we're gonna go get some rest like we deserve.