As has been the Rockets' M.O. of late, the game started out ugly, but turned into a great one. It's never easy playing in Denver, and the Rockets had to put in extra work besides tonight. The Beard carried an otherwise quiet Rockets offense in the first half, and as he tired in the fourth quarter, his teammates picked him up.
When the Rockets needed James Harden at the end of the fourth quarter, he hit his first three of the game and got a huge steal - and then lost his man on the last play of regulation to give up a game-tying three. So even though he's much improved defensively, he still occasionally watches the ball on defense. Still, hard to be mad at a guy who went for 41 points and 10 assists in 45 minutes (and 18-21 from the free throw line!) and made passes like this:
The Beard also scored 8 points in overtime, once again proving that when everyone's tired, he can still fight to the hoop and get buckets and free throws.
Dwight Howard started out really poorly, but he used free throws(!) to get himself back into the game, and once he got the Nuggets' centers, Mozgov and Nurkic, in foul trouble, he absolutely feasted on the boards and in the middle of the defense. He finished with 24 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks in 43 minutes - more than you want on the front half of a back-to-back and so soon after his injury, but the Rockets needed him, and he didn't seem to tire as much as Ariza or Harden as the game went on.
Donatas Motiejunas: He scored a career-high 25 points against the Nuggets on Saturday, and he again ate Kenneth Faried's lunch, scoring on the block and from the three-point line to the tune of 18 points on 7-13 shooting. Of course, playing against the Manimal also highlighted D-Mo's biggest shortcoming - the defensive glass. Donuts got buried a couple of times.
Overall though, he again proved that he can coexist with Dwight, as long as Harden and the other perimeter guys can keep the ball moving around them. And if Donuts can continue to have nights where he hits 3-5 from three like he did tonight, he'll raise serious questions about the starting lineup once Terrence Jones can move his legs again.
Patrick Beverley: When Beverley was in the game, Ty Lawson got erased. Though Pat never looked for his shot at all in this game, he was a steady presence with the ball - zero turnovers tonight. He was a bloodhound on the glass, getting a lot of fast breaks going by himself or after some quick mini-outlets from Dwight. He had a big man double-double, with 10 points and 12 boards (plus 5 assists).
The offense looked the most fluid on these plays, and it's good to see Beverley looking healthy. It's no easy task staying in front of Lawson, especially in the high altitude of Denver, but Pat was definitely up to the challenge. He was also up to the challenge of icing the game in overtime, hitting the last four free throws to keep the win in hand for the Rockets. They were big moments, and he seemed downright excited to be in them.
Nick Johnson: Boy, did he have a rough first half. He picked up fouls at an alarming rate, and didn't seem to know what he was doing with the ball. But the reason he's going in the Up section is how well he recovered in the third quarter, improving his defense on Ty Lawson and moving better in the offense. Dwight found him on an excellent cut to the basket, and Harden found him for a corner three. His presence also raised concerns about another Rocket, who we'll get to in the next section.
Isaiah Canaan: It's not exactly fair, since it's Lil' Sip's first game back from injury. But late in the first quarter, the first bench rotation Kevin McHale threw out there was a backcourt pairing of Canaan and Nick Johnson, which was a disaster. Before Harden made four consecutive free throws to end the quarter, the Rockets had turned a two-point lead into an eight-point deficit. Canaan was barely a rumor offensively, and a sieve defensively. It was a bad situation to put him in, but he did not respond well.
Trevor Ariza: He hit a couple of big shots in the second half, but he looked dog tired in this game. He played good team defense, but the Nuggets' wings had a big shooting night against him. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler combined to shoot 12-25 for 39 points - not all on Ariza, but a lot of it. With Jason Terry, Kostas Papanikolaou and even Francisco Garcia unavailable, he had no backup and had to grind it out. I felt bad for him.
Joey Crawford: God, do I hate seeing his face at Rockets' games. The officiating in this game didn't exactly benefit either team, but it was also nonsensical.
Tomorrow, the Rockets head home to face Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Should be fun to see how our bigs match up against the Brow. Did I say fun? I meant terrifying.