Denver Nuggets outrun Houston Rockets, 123-116

Scott Halleran

In a game were Houston came out looking completely gassed, Lin kept the Rockets afloat in the first half but Randy Foye's shooting and Denver's transition offense caused McHale to throw in the towel to start the fourth quarter. The Rocket's RGV D-league squad nearly came back to stun the Nuggets during garbage time, but fell short in the final minutes.

Tonight the Rockets fell to the Nuggets in a game characterized in a similar fashion to describing the types of people that exist in the world.  There are 2 of them:  people who are playing NBA levels games on the second night of a back-to-back in the thin air of the Pepsi Center and people who are not.

Houston was tired and it showed.

Harden, though able to get to the line 8 times, was only able to muster 10 points.  Parsons did not show up until it was a bit too late and Lin cooled off considerably in the third quarter.  Without Howard and Beverley, Houston is missing out on a bit of depth that forced us to rely on players who were simply not able to produce consistently, on defense in particular.

Lin lead all Houston scores with 18 points and Asik had a 12 point, 12 rebound double-double.  outside of those two only Dmo and Troy Daniels really put on much of a performance to be remembered, and that was largely after the game was over.  Parsons netted 16 points but couldn't make-up for the lack of Howard's presence and the lack of scoring from Harden.  Terrence Jones also had a quiet 11 points and let Kenneth Faried largely have his way with him on defense.

McHale threw in the towel at the top of the fourth quarter and the RGV triumvirate of Troy Daniels, Robert Covington, and Isiah Canaan almost drove Houston to a victory even more improbable than the game they stole against Denver just a few nights ago in OT.

Lets get to the details...

Game Walkthrough

Houston missed their first 4 shots in the game before Omer Asik (of all players) scored the first points of the game.  Even Omer's layup, the Rockets couldn't get anything else to go down the rim.  Nearly four minutes into the game Houston trailed 8-2 and shot just 11% (1 of 9).  Terrence Jones got the offense with a back-to-back scoring effort but the Nuggets were making Houston's pay in transition.  Kenneth Faried was the beneficiary of several passes down the court for easy buckets where no hustling Rockets could be found.  There was clear evidence of Houston being a step behind on the second night of a back-to-back;  their legs were not under them on either their jumpers or on defense.

Denver took a 23-8 lead after a couple of careless turnovers and some Kenneth Faried hustle.  Motiejunas finally started pushing the scoreboard along for Houston on a pick and roll with Harden, which was a play the Rockets went to several times in the half court.  It really is difficult to emphasize, however, the utter lack of confidence I developed in every single shot that was put up by every single Rocket on the court.  Dmo was the only Rocket who seemed even marginally capable of getting the ball through the hoop.  Lin, Harden, and Parsons were a collective 0 for 7 with just 3 minutes left in the first.

The first quarter ended with a score of 30-18.

Houston shot just 26% (7 of 27)

The second quarter started with more of the same from Houston:  missed jumpers, poor defensive positioning, and turnovers.  Jordan Hamilton broke the scoring drought by hitting a corner three pointer (10 missed three pointers in a row prior to that make).  Lin followed that possession with a floater in the lane and several other nifty shots to bring Houston closer to within single digits.  Halfway through the second quarter, Houston was down 11 points 41-30.  The Nuggets were consistently dominating Houston in transition, scoring an uncomfortable amount of points ahead of a slow and tired defense.  One thing you could count on in this game, however, was Omer Asik rebounds; with 6 minutes remaining in the first half, the Turk grabbed 7 rebounds in just 9 minutes of play.

Outside of Omer's rebounding, Jeremy Lin was the only Rocket who was keeping the Rockets in the game at this point.  Harden had only 4 points and was 0 for 5 from the floor, Parsons was similarly without a made field goal until the 2 minute mark.  Lin stepped up and nailed some key three point jumpers to help Houston keep up with the Nuggets, who were exploiting the lack of defensive energy from the tired Houston squad.  Howard and Beverley were sorely missed (although Denver has some injury issues of their own that benefited the Rockets).

By halftime, the Denver lead was ten - 68-58.

Jeremy Lin was 6 for 6 in the second quarter and 4 for 4 from beyond the arc and is the only reason any of the other starters might massive chunks of the second half.  In stark contrast to Lin's shooting, Houston as a whole shot just 40% overall and Harden failed to get a field goal in the first half.  Somehow, Houston managed a 40 point quarter in the second.  The difference in the game up to this point was fastbreak points; Denver led that category 20-10 and also explains Faried's game high 19 first half points.  Mozgov followed Faried with 18 points (a combined 16 of 20 from the floor).  Consequently, Denver thrashed Houston in a category traditionally going the Rocket's way: points in the paint, where the Nuggets led 42-28.

The third quarter kicked off with James Harden's first field goal on a mid-range jumper against Aaron Brooks.  On the following possession, Omer Asik reached a double-double with 10 minutes left in the third.  Houston was able to get out on the break a bit more in the third, cutting the lead to single digits.  There was a scary moment when Aaron Brooks attempted to take a charge on a Harden drive and there appeared to be some shin contact that sent James to the ground for a minute or two.  Harden was able to shake it off and knock down a pair of free throws but was taken out immediately after and taken to the locker room. He returned later in the third quarter with a sleeve on his lower leg

Terrence Jones drove to the lane for a dunk to cut the lead to just 5 and also contributed defensively on a couple of sequences.  Jones and Canaan followed that up with three pointers that eat into the lead.  Yet again, poor defense kept Denver ahead by near half-time margins.  Not only was the defense lackluster, but Denver was just sinking their jump shots when given the opportunity.  Randy Foye was setting people up all evening with 13 assists with a few minutes left in the third.  Foye was also carrying the scoring load in the quarter, scoring 22 of his 30 points in the period, drilling rainbow three after rainbow three to keep the Rockets at arms length (he was 7 for 7 in the quarter, 4 of 4 from deep);  he seemed unconscious and the game appeared to be blown open as the quarter came to a close.

The final period started with a Fournier three pointer and an alley-oop layup for Denver, pushing the score to 110-88.  After that, Robert Covington and Troy Daniels were put onto the floor.

The white flag appeared to have been thrown.

Also thrown out, apparently, was any pretense for trying to score in the paint.  Every Rocket began chucking the ball from range.  Troy Daniels was the only player to do so with success, hitting 3 of his first 4 three pointers.  This group of D-leaguers that Houston put on the floor was fairly effective though.  The lead was cut down to 10 points with 4 minutes remaining.  Jordan Hamilton proceeded to drill a corner three pointer, cutting the lead down to just 7.  The transition game and the three point line gave new life to Houston.  The defense also appeared to have significantly more energy, closing the gap even quicker.  McHale elected to keep this group in the game for the final minutes.

Troy Daniels nailed another three pointer to draw the game to within 6 points on the following possession.  The Rio Grande Valley Vipers seemed to have transposed their even more extreme version of run-n-gun basketball into an NBA game - and it was working.

After a heady steal by Covington on an in-bounds, Canaan finished on the other end to cut the lead to just 4.   With 90 seconds left, Jordan Hamilton missed on a deep three pointer and Fournier put the nail in the coffin with a three pointer of his own to extend the lead to 9 with roughly a minute remaining.

That, my friends, was all she wrote.

Concluding Thoughts

A schedule loss through and through, this game should not be all that discouraging and was perhaps one of the more predictable 'dead leg' losses this season.  Houston was a mile high and just coming off of a barn burner against the Lakers the night before.

Still though, Randy Foye should not blow your team up for 30 points and 15 assists.  Timofey Mozgov should not be outrunning anyone down the court.  Evan Fournier shouldn't be able to have hair that is that creepy.

These are all simply facts.

Its a loss I can stomach as we prepare for the playoffs.  I would love to see this match-up if Dwight guarded Mozgov and Beverley guarded Foye.  Alas, we wont have to worry about Denver until next season after tonight.

For more game coverage, check out Denver Stiffs

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