If you decided to torture yourself on a Friday night, you saw the Rockets desperately try to lose a game to the Philadelphia 76ers, who resolutely refused to be denied. With the Rockets down 3 late in the fourth, James Harden stole a pass, then drew a foul on a drive to the basket, and Sixers coach Brett Brown inexplicably punted the ball and gave away a technical foul. Harden didn't tie it up, but you could tell. The tank was on. Godawful turnovers handed the Rockets the win on a silver platter, and only Harden actually tried to win the game. He finished with 35 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 5 turnovers.
This was the Rockets' first bad game of the year. And boy, was it bad. They were bricklayers from long distance, finishing 7-of-34 (20%) from three, and pretty much everyone not named Harden, Howard or Terry was abysmal. And even Jet didn't have that great of a game. Much as this game was a moral victory for the 76ers, it was a moral defeat for the Rockets.
Even though Harden tied his best scoring night of the year, and was the only reason the Rockets stayed in the game, he wasn't the decisive creator he has been this season, dribbling far more and draining the shot clock as if it was 2012. He gave away a few charges in the second half after he stopped passing because everyone else was so ice cold. And Dwight had a good game, but he didn't get fed in the post the way he has all year, and he pretty much gave up on the pick-and-roll game that has been so productive to this point in the season. He was the monster the Rockets needed him to be on the defensive end, even if he goaltends at least once per game. He had 21 points, 16 rebounds, 7 blocks and 6 turnovers. The Rockets had 21 turnovers tonight. Did you know the Sixers lead the NBA in steals?
On a related note, Tony Wroten is a scary, scary player. His big three with under a minute left almost put the Rockets away, and he is an absolute animal in the lane. He's got that JR Smith-style irrational confidence, only he's bigger and muscly-er. I was quite grateful that the Sixers ran the final play for Michael Carter-Williams.
Really though, this game was about how thin the Rockets are. It sounds like a broken record, but with Terrence Jones and Pat Beverley hurt, the bench was a ghost town. It's mystifying that Troy Daniels didn't get any minutes. (We'd like a word in private, Kevin.) While Donatas Motiejunas (who was starting in place of T-Jones) is serviceable on defense, but right now he's a big minus on the offensive end. He's unsure of what he wants to do, and it looks like he half-panics every time he gets close to the basket.
Big Papa was off all night, with frequent lapses on both ends - losing his man for an open three on defense, and brain cramp turnovers on offense. This is the kind of game that reminds you he's a rookie. Isaiah Canaan (again a starter tonight) hit some big threes in the second quarter to keep the Rockets in it, but didn't see much of the floor at all in the second half.
All that being said, this was easily Ariza's worst game of the season so far as well. He was tentative after his first couple of shots didn't fall, and even though he was still solid defensively, he cannot afford to disappear on offense with T-Jones hurt.
So the Rockets move to 8-1, and face some vague approximation of the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Sunday on NBATV (as well as CSN Houston). It may go without saying, but the Rockets can beat exactly one team in the NBA when they play as poorly as they did tonight. Let's see if they pick it up.
UPDATE: Thanks to Ryan Dunsmore, we now have this in our lives: