Winning ugly games against bad teams has become a specialty for James Harden and the beleaguered Rockets and tonight was no different as they put together a good fourth quarter to close out the New York Knicks, 91-86, and move to 11-3.
The game was tightly contested from start to finish, but the tide was perhaps turned for good when Carmelo Anthony left in the second quarter with back spasms and didn't return. With 14 points, Anthony was the Knicks leading scorer when he left the game, and it's telling that no other Knick would claim that title from him as the game went on.
James Harden continued his run of spectacular play, finishing the game with 36 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and a block while maintaining his devotion to hard work on the defensive end of the floor. (Err, except on this play, which we won't discuss in detail because it makes me a little bit despondent.)
Those numbers- while eye-popping- have become a necessary standard for play by the 6'5" guard in the absence of superstar center Dwight Howard.
Other Rockets absences included the still ailing Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley, which opened up minutes for young players like Tarik Black, Isaiah Canaan, and the big Lithuanian- Donatas Motiejunas.
D-Mo looked particularly impressive tonight, shooting an efficient fifty percent from the field and scoring 13 points while pulling down 8 rebounds and a block.
Rookie player Kostas Papanikolaou again showed his value as he found ways to contribute despite having trouble scoring the ball. He finished with 4 points but rounded out the stat sheet with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. Not enough can be said for this kids' motor. His wild flailing and clunky presence in the paint bring a much-needed energy on defense for Houston's bench.
The Rockets' big off-season acquisition, Trevor Ariza, has trailed off considerably after a hot start from behind the arc to start the season. Tonight he was 3 of 10 from the field, but like Big Papa, found ways to contribute elsewhere. He finished with 5 rebounds and 3 assists to go along with his 10 points.
The Rockets did just enough to put away a Knicks team that played 12 different guys, none of whom could find a discernible offensive rhythm. Needless to say, Houston is going to need more offensive output and better closeouts on shooters if they plan to hang with the improbably capable Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
Hopefully by that time, Dwight's strained knee will be feeling better and Houston won't be relying on guys like Joey Dorsey to slow down the juggernaut that is DeMarcus Cousins.