What a great win and, moreover, a spectacularly entertaining game to watch.
Houston came out red hot before a regression to the mean that Miami patiently saw coming. Miami exploited poor ball security and Michael Beasley's 24 points led a bench effort that put Houston to shame. All of Houston's bench scoring combined did not equal the point totals amassed by Harden, Howard, Jones, or Beverley. The defense tightened up in the fourth quarter ending poetically with Howard guarding LeBron on a switch with mere seconds left and Miami down 3. LeBron's desperation fade-away three point attempted sealed Miami's fate at the buzzer, clanging off the rim as the lights flashed red.
Houston continues its winning ways, maintaining the best record in the NBA since the beginning of the year after surviving the Heat. The revenge match is not too far away so savor this while it lasts.
Also, Double-doubles for everyone! Dwight led all Houston scores with 22 points and all Houston rebounds with 16. Harden netted 21 and a team leading 11 assists. Terrence Jones helped contribute to this arbitrary, but nevertheless impressive statistic that the Rockets are now 26-3 in games where Jones scores 10+ points. Beverley also tied his career high for three pointers in a game. If that sounds familiar, its because he did three days ago against Detroit.
Lets get into the game though, juicy stuff.
Parsons really let you know he was back early on tonight, immediately contributing with two pin point passes for assists. Houston was taking advantage of the size and athleticism mismatch between Jones and Battier as well, setting up scoring opportunities early for the youngster.
Beverley carried over his clutch shooting against Detroit into tonight's first quarter, nailing 3 in the first few minutes. Houston's defense was stingy to start, forcing Miami to shoot over them and disallowing offensive boards. The lead was 19-10 early after a 7-0 start, shooting a blistering 8 of 9 from the field.
Houston's defense started melting down on several possessions, particularly in transition and especially after turnovers, letting the Heat get back into it after the early deficit. The Heat remained patient though, knowing that the blistering pace could not keep up indefinitely.
With Parsons and Harden taking on playmaking duties (8 of 10 assists combined in first quarter), the scoring load early on fell on where the largest mismatches lie: the frontcourt. Dwight Howard was being fronted by Miami but was still being a terror down low, cleaning glass and throwing down a few monster dunks. Terrence Jones imposed himself physically on a number of occasions as well. This pair displayed physical dominance down low, holding Battier and Bosh to 4 collective points and a single rebound nearing the end of the first period.
Jordan Hamilton ended the quarter with a beautiful, high arcing runner to beat the buzzer, closing first round of this heavyweight match with a score of 39-32. Houston shot a silly 65% but allowed the Heat to hit 52% of their shots, keeping the game within reach.
In the second quarter, Miami predictably bounced back with a 6-0 run and, more importantly, held the Rockets scoreless in the first three minutes of the period. Jeremy Lin continued his shooting slump, missing three open three point looks and committing two turnover until he got his offense moving towards the rim.
Lin was not alone here though; everyone was committing borderline amateur turnovers on lazy passes and absentmindedness in the second quarter. Compounded by a lack of a consistent scoring option off the bench, poor ball security significantly slowed Houston's attack. Miami's shooting was less consistent as well, pumping the brakes on what looked like a barnburner of a game right after the tip-off.
Houston scored just 2 points in the first 6 minutes of the 2nd before Howard finally got back in the game and took control of the ball in the post for an easy score. Terrence Jones broke the shooting drought by snapping net on a three pointer, but wretched turnovers and transition defense made our offensive recovery largely fruitless in terms of scoring differential.
Patrick Beverley's return to the game was marked by a block, a steal, and free throws after being fouled on a three-point shot. James Harden then broke Chalmers DOWN with a cross-over at the top of the key to score his first points since the first quarter.
Starters = good.
Bench = bad.
The lead was kept to a comfortable margin for Miami, despite never holding the lead. They are a fourth quarter team though, so honestly no lead is normally safe against this team.
Dwayne Wade was making his night off yesterday look very much worth it, driving the Miami offense for the most part (free throws were frequently featured here)
At the half, Houston retained a marginal one point lead 53-52.
It was a tale of two quarters halfway through the contest. After blasting off from the opening tip offensively and even defensively during spurts, the Rockets turned the ball over a staggering 9 times in the second quarter and shot just 30% in the quarter. The free throw disparity was working in Miami's favor. This was particularly true of Wade, who had 8 of Miami's 20 free throw attempts at half.
Every Miami starter not named Shane Battier had 2 steals a piece and Houston had 12 total turnovers, resulting in an embarrassingly lopsided 18-0 fastbreak score. Miami may have been trailing the whole game, but they were playing their brand of basketball and working the Rockets in a lot of different facets of the game that the initial first quarter burst helped cover up. Miami's cranked up defense held Houston to just 14 points
Harden's impact was a bit muted in the first half, although, per usual, he made up for it in a few other ways by tying for the team lead in assists with 5 and grabbing 3 boards. Dwight Howard led all Rockets scores at 13 and led in rebounding with 5.
To begin the third, Patrick Beverley returned to first quarter form by nailing his fourth three pointer of the night. James Harden also finally got into the open court, scoring Houston's first fastbreak points of the night. Beverley followed suit and the rest of the squad started to get their running legs under them in transition, resulting in both a beautiful pass and a strong finish at the rim by Parsons, extending Rocket lead to 8 on a 9-2 run.
Miami stayed patient, however, despite resiging themselves to jump shots, which led to long rebounds, which led to the biggest lead of the evening. Houston switched to a zone defense, creating fits for a Miami team that seemed more intent on making the extra pass to off-target shooters than aggressively charging towards the rim.
The lead ballooned to double digits and beyond when Dwight Howard caught a transition alley-oop dunk and Beverley drilled yet another three pointer. Harden came alive in the quarter too, aggressively pushing the ball on the break for dunks and layups and facilitating just as much offense with his passing as he had the entire first half with nearly a double-double to end the quarter.
The quarter ended offensively for the Rockets with an Omer Asik sighting, who grabbed a very impressive offensive rebound before throwing it down, and a patented James Harden runner in the lane. For the Heat and everyone else in the arena that night, the third quarter ended LeBron and one of the more ridiculous hand-in-your-face fade-away three point shot bank shots I have ever seen in my life.
Fortunately for Houston, it was waved off by just a fraction of a fraction of a second; Serendipitous, indeed.
The fourth quarter continued this trend with a Jeremy Lin three pointer finally going through the net. Ray Allen and Michael Beasley, however, responded in kind with three point buckets of their own. Shortly after, Chis Anderson was called for a technical foul after taunting Dmo after a grotesque block of the Lithuanian's dunk attempt.
Miami was on an 11-2 run and Houston responded by committing their 17th turnover of the contest. This was the Rockets' third turnover of the quarter...and there were 8 minutes left. The Rockets turned a 13 point lead into a 4 point game in the final period. Beasley cut it to one on a corner three pointer, extending the run to 14-2.
Terrence Jones started to impose his will by hitting a three pointer, throwing down a put-back dunk after an errant Dwight Howard hook shot, and patiently pump-faking his way into an and-1 situation under the basket. His torrid outburst sustained a marginal lead for Houston halfway through the final period.
Harden extended the lead to 7 points with three minutes left in the game on a fortuitous bounce that resulted in an offensive rebound, leading to a floater at the end of the shot clock. Patrick Beverley followed it up by cherry picking for a layup after closing out on an off-target LeBron jumper on the other end.
With under a minute remaining in the game, Wade cut the lead to just 5 and Toyota center rose to its feet in a thunderous roar I could feel from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Harden went iso and was able to draw the foul on Dwayne Wade, splitting his free throws and keeping the game within two possessions.
Six point lead.
A broken down play intended for Ray Allen resulted in a loose ball going to Beasley who sank a 3 pointer to cut the lead to a single possession. James Harden then tossed an ill-advised cross-court pass intended for Dwight Howard but was quite possibly the worst decision possible in that scenario. Even if Howard were to have caught it, he would be fouled and put on the line. Intentionally risky passes to players who are the last ones you want on the free throw line are last on my list of things to do late in a fourth quarter. But I digress.
On the final play, Miami logically runs a play for LeBron, who, after a few pick and rolls, has Dwight Howard guarding him at the top of the key. James was unable to exploit any mismatch because of the three point reality on the scoreboard. That being the case, LeBron chucked up a three falling away from the basket that rattled off and secured victory.
The respective coaches of last month in their respective conferences, Kevin McHale and Erik Spoelstra, faced off in a play-off like atmosphere tonight in a game that will not soon be forgotten; if not for the win, then for the show that got put on.
Although sloppy during stretches by both teams, there were some spectacular shots, powerful dunks, and breath-taking displays of athleticism that make this game as fun to watch as any.
Every Rockets starter added some of the best of what we usually see in them tonight. Parsons was passing and facilitating, Harden was both scoring and distributing, and Dwight Howard was scoring his points in the first half but hunkering down on boards in the second. Terrence Jones keeps reminding us not to sleep on him as well, showing off both his silky, if inconsistent, jumper and his rebounding prowess.
LeBron may not have scored in the fourth quarter and it very well may be that Michael Beasley took over the fourth quarter for Miami offensively, but they played a hell of a game.
I'll take that win any day of the week.