Even though some deep threes by the Kings late in overtime nearly gave me a heart attack, James Harden would not let the Rockets lose tonight.
He had 44 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in 48 minutes. He played defense as well as a guy with a sore back on the second road game in two nights could ever be expected to play. What more can you say? You can say this: Once the Rockets went down 95-92, they scored 21 more points. James Harden scored 15 of those points.
Boy, did the Rockets look sluggish. The refs didn't help them establish a rhythm, calling touch fouls on both sides, but the big men, thin to begin with, were in foul trouble all night. Darren Collison is a speedster, and no one could stay in front of him as the Kings got out and ran away from the Rockets in the third quarter, stretching a 55-53 lead to 65-53. That was late in the third quarter. 65-53.
The Rockets only scored 36 points in the first half, their lowest total for a half this season.. You name it, and it was cold for the Rockets early on. They defended commendably, and their game plan was to shut down Rudy Gay. It worked - he finished 4-18 from the field.
James Harden's MVP Campaign - He played power forward for most of the game. He played 48 minutes, complete with tough defense, on a road back-to-back with a sore back. And he kept penetrating and drawing hard contact. Have you had a bad back? That is the HARDEST thing to do with a bad back. He is the MVP of the NBA at this point in the season.
Donatas Motiejunas - Yes, he was in and out of the game because of foul trouble (he wound up fouling out), but he was incredibly efficient in the post, something virtually no one else was. He had 14 points on 6-11 shooting. Lots of his foul calls were veeeery questionable. Again, I worry about how effective he'll be when he has to share the court with Dwight again, but he's obviously improved a great deal, and hopefully his confidence can carry him through.
The Young Guards - Troy Daniels and Nick Johnson both started off iffy in this game, but Daniels hit a couple of big threes, and Nick Johnson...
Jason Terry was awful tonight, but it was foul trouble for Tarik Black, Donuts and Dorsey that forced McHale to go ultra-small and bring the youngsters in. They were big in keeping the Rockets in the game early in the fourth quarter. Now can we PLEASE get them some more minutes?
Trevor Ariza - Over his last ten games, he's been only 32% from three. His defense has still been excellent (especially on Rudy Gay tonight), but with him one of the few remaining healthy Rockets, he hasn't picked up the slack as much as he could have. I'll be looking into this more soon, but I'd be shocked if he's not attempting far fewer corner threes than last year.
Clint Capela - At one point, the Rockets were playing with a lineup of Nick Johnson-Troy Daniels-Jason Terry-Joey Dorsey. As far as I know, Clint Capela was healthy. The Kings' bigs were not imposing, so...what gives? Why would Capela not be in RGV if he can't get in this game?
Jason Terry - He's 37 and playing more minutes than he should on a road back-to-back, but he's also shooting 33% from three in the last 12 games. That's the one thing he is really supposed to do - obviously he can handle the ball and keep defenses honest, but if he's not hitting from three, he should not be taking minutes from young guys who maybe can.
Amazingly, the Rockets are 17-5 with Dwight Howard having missed 11 games. They get one day off, then they take on a struggling Nuggets team for the next two games. They're hanging as tough as any team can hang in this Western Conference, especially as presently constituted.