With no Dwight Howard for a third game in a row, Houston came out against an already beat up Cleveland squad and took care of business on the road. The game was over after Cleveland broke down in the third quarter as Houston just started cooking offensively. Houston retained around a 10 point lead for most of the contest but extending it to a near insurmountable 30-point lead on their way to their 47th victory of the season.
James Harden led the way in typical fashion with a white-hot second and third quarter, ultimately netting 37 points on just 15 shots (5 of 8 from three, 14 of 14 from the charity stripe), 11 assists, 3 rebounds, and 4 steals. Parsons (16 points, 6 assists, 4 boards) and Beverley (15 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists) buoyed the Houston offense in the first quarter, where Harden dished out 9 of his 11 assists.
Lin and Dmo were the pulse from off the bench, both scoring in double figures with the second unit. Although Lin's field goal percentage was awful (3-11) he was able to make his presence felt and only turned the ball over once in 25 minutes. Terrence Jones scored 12 of his 14 points in the third quarter where he and James Harden blew open the game. Jones finished with 14 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks.
Houston's scoring was balanced and effective most of the night; five Rockets not named James Harden reached double figures in scoring but no one else scored more than 20 points.
Onto the details...
Houston began the game on a 10-2 run, which quickly improves to a 17-4 run against a roughed up Cleveland squad. Parsons and Beverley carried the scoring load early on, both accumulating 9 points quickly in the first quarter. Cleveland's defense couldn't keep up with Houston on the fastbreak which is where Chandler did most of his damage (11 total first quarter points). Tyler Zeller was the only Cavalier able to consistently put the ball in the bucket, leading Cleveland in scoring through the first with 9 points.
Cleveland closed the first on a slight run to bring the score to 39-31 at the first buzzer. Houston's three point shooting was sizzling early. The Rockets shot 5 of 7 from beyond the arc in the first quarter before ending 5 of 11 and were 14 of 22 overall from the floor (64%). Houston's defense was having issues, allowing a few too many easy layups and open shots and keeping Cleveland in the game. Harden performed well in the first, dishing out 8 assists and scoring 8 points on just 3 shots.
In the second quarter, Houston let them stay in it, allowing the score to hover around 8-10 points consistently. The Rockets only scored 4 points through the first 5 minutes of the quarter. Lin was having a pretty solid bench outing (6 points, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal, 0 TOs). Motiejunas was following up his career high 20 point game by going to work in the low post, hitting all four of his shots in the game and finishing on some nifty little post-hook shots. Those two were the only scoring bench players in the first half but the starters seemed to have the scoreboard moving quickly enough. It was our defense that was hurting us the most; Houston allowed Zeller, Dellavedova, Waiters, and Jack to score and distribute the ball enough to keep the contest within reach.
Omer Asik's third start was as as any we saw last season. His play defensively in the paint is enviable for a body that big and lanky. He blocked several shots and contested an innumerable amount of others to go along with 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in the first half. Asik's last assists was a beautiful 70-foot inbound pass in the final seconds of the half to Beverley who finished the play at the rim to extend the halftime lead to 12 points.
Harden closed the half with a full-night stat line: 20 points (5 of 7 from floor, 2 of 3 from downtown), 9 assists, and 3 steals. James went 4 for 4 in the second quarter and scored a team leading 12 of those points. Parsons and Beverley rounded out the first half scoring with 13 and added 3 assists and a few rebounds each. Houston shot nearly 60% at halftime but the Cavs were shooting nearly 50% which explains the inflated halftime score.
To start the third quarter, Houston missed several consecutive three point shots and the Cavaliers came roaring back on a 7-0 run that included many of the same defensive miscues from the Rockets. Cleveland couldn't keep it up, stifling their own offense after an embarrassing 5-second inbound turnover; Houston took advantage of the blunder, accelerating the lead back to 12 points on a 9-0 run of their own.
At this point, Terrence Jones started asserting himself scoring 12 points in short order on perfect shooting followed by a James Harden three pointer that turned into a four point play after an ill-advised Cavs foul. Cleveland was melting down at this point; they simply could not handle all of the scoring threats available for Houston. Harden, in typical third quarter fashion, caught fire from beyond the arc and once Cleveland had to finally deal with Terrence Jones defensively they were as broken open as the score was. The turnovers started mounting for Cleveland and they were running back on less on defense than they were in the first half, which is saying something.
Houston cleared the 100 point mark with about 2 minutes left in the third quarter and the lead approached 30 points. Heading into the fourth quarter, Cleveland was able to whittle that lead down to around the 20 point mark but the effort was largely futile as the Rockets cruised to victory as the bench trickling into the game to close it out.
There was a bit of a scare by Cleveland as they went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to just under double digits with less than 3 minutes remaining. Harden had been out the whole quarter and the offense began to stagnate; the Rockets switched into clock milking mode just a bit too early and Cleveland tried to take advantage late.
With the lead sitting at just 8 points with 90 seconds remaining, Cleveland again missed opportunities, turning the ball over by stepping out of bounds even after Houston blew a fastbreak opportunity that would have likely closed out the game. Isaiah Canaan and Jeremy Lin hit a few free throws to put the lead out of reach as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
This was a game that every Rockets fan knew that we should win and thankfully we were not forced to go through a teaser for the most part. Closing out any opponent on the road is a tough task, albeit an easier one against an eastern conference punching bag like Cleveland. It felt like we backed ourselves into win in a game that felt much more like a blowout than anything else. The fourth quarter got dicey at the end when Houston's offense went cold and Cleveland picked up the pace, but it was too little, too late for the Cavaliers.
Over the past three games, the Rockets have dished out 30+ assists in each contest; the first time since 1994 that we moved the ball so well over such a stretch. The ball appears to be less 'sticky' in this very small sample size without Howard in the lineup. That is not to say I'd rather not have Dwight, but its nice to know that this team can win in a number of different ways depending on the unit on the floor.
Though the ending was a little too close for comfort, the second and third quarter performances by the Rockets made the near collapse bearable. Any way you look at it, a 'W' is a 'W'.
Good win and good night.
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