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Pistons peak too late, Houston evades collapse, 118-110

After accumulating a huge lead very early in the game, Houston nearly coasted to victory before having to deal with a late Pistons rally that threatened the W. Beverley's career 3-point shooting night, Harden's scoring/passing ability, and TJ's rebounding helped place this game out of reach, sealing the 40th win of the season for Houston.

Scott Halleran

After losing to a Clippers team that, along with OKC, top my list of "squads to avoid in the playoffs," Houston turned things around tonight against the now 13 games under .500 Pistons,  118-110.

After generating a sizable lead in the first half, Detroit clawed their way back into the game late by way of some pretty impressive Rodney Stuckey desperation buckets at the rim.  Beverley's career three point shooting night kept the lead a bit more comfortable as time began to become a 6th man on the court for Houston.

With the win, Houston notches its 40th victory of the season, marking the second fastest ascent to that mark in team history.

Jordan Hamilton the 15th start of his young career, getting the nod for the starting five in place of an ill Chandler Parsons.  Although Parson's presence would have been nice, Hamilton got a little bit of a showcase and the rest of the starters compensated adequately.

Onto the game...

Game Walthrough

Dwight went right back to drubbing Drummond in the paint, beginning the game with a thunderous slam.  Also characteristically, Josh Smith barely clanged home a three (by barely, I mean it barely hit the rim at all.

Offensively, the Rockets were cruising;  alley-oops, fast break lay-ups, three pointers, and and-1's riddled the stat sheet to start the game.  Harden's early 6 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals helped lead Houston out to an early 14-4 lead.

Patrick Beverley was also getting into the action early with some great play near the rim to go along with a very impressive full court bounce pass to a streaking Howard for a fast break dunk.

Josh Smith was both the best and worst player for Detroit early on, taking and missing several bad shots but also scoring the majority of the Piston's points.  Otherwise, the Pistons were getting little help from anyone not named Andre Drummond.

Detroit's transition defense in particular was causing them a lot of trouble, allowing the Rockets to set James Harden loose on the fastbreak when not feeding Dwight down low.  Terrence Jones also had a notable quarter, throwing down a series of opportunistic dunks and issuing one of the more comical, in-your-face rejections I've seen all year.

By the end of the first quarter, Houston racked up 41 points and amassed a lead of 21, holding Detroit 31% shooting (8-26).  Josh Smith had 50% of those attempts, naturally.  The Rockets shot 71%.  The only Rocket to miss more than one shot in the first was Jordan Hamilton.  Houston led in fastbreak points 12-4 and dominated points in the paint 30-17.

Omri Casspi joined the party to start the second with a net snapping three pointer.  He continued to stay hot too, going 3 for 3 and accumulating 11 points.  Detroit switched to a zone to try to switch things up, but Houston snuffed it out easily with some smart inside passing.  It really is hard, however, to overstate how big of a mess Detroit's defense looked overall.

Detroit's backcourt of Stuckey and Bynum helped the Piston's hover just around a 20 point deficit for most of the second quarter.  Asik's defense around the rim was notable though.  He absorbed contact, moved his feet, went put his hands straight up in defending several driving Pistons.

Harden and Howard continued their impression of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and then, after a Harden steal, Howard lobbed a surprisingly accurate lob for Terrence Jones to flush.  Houston finished the quarter with a seemingly designed play to get Dwight a spot up three from the corner.  He missed, but it was closer than you'd imagine.

Houston went into the locker-room at half scoring a staggering 69 points while holding Detroit to under 50 (46 to be precise).

Houston were shooting a blistering 61% from the floor compared to Detroit's 36% (11% from 3-point range).  Four Rockets scored in double figures (Jones, Casspi, Howard, Harden).The Rockets' defense was on point and the offense was fluid and opportunistic.

J.B. Bickerstaff called this a "mental growth game" going into half time, highlighting the team's emphasis on maintaining discipline throughout a game that already looked over by halftime.

The third quarter begame with a Brandon Jennings three pointer, reminding us all that he was still in the game.  Jordan Hamilton led the Rockets off with a smooth drive and finish at the rim from the top of the key.  Beverley followed with a three pointer, getting the two least productive starters involved early on.

Even while ahead, Houston seemed to still be dogging the ball on defense, Beverley in particular.  Detroit's three point shooting helped get them a little closer, but their defense was as inconsistent overall as it was porous throughout.

Deep into the third quarter, the game high's for the Pistons (Smith and Stuckey at 10 points a piece) remained unchanged from halftime.  No one from Motor City could stay in a rhythm individually, let alone in conjunction with one another.

Drummond did go on quite the impressive streak, however, to create a few stops at the rim with rejections to go along with another seemingly effortless dunk to pull the Pistons to within 14 with just a few minutes left in the third.  True to form though, Houston strung together a few plays and Detroit's engine sputtered.

Still, by the end of the third, Houston held a 95-80 lead.

Motiejunas opened up the fourth by extending that lead by two down low on an easy lay-up.  He followed that up by nailing a three pointer form the corner.  The Pistons, however, started to string together some stops and competed a few and-1 plays to whittle the lead down to just 11.  The starters quickly re-entered the game after the 8-0 Detroit run with eight and a half minutes remaining.

Beverley and Jones relieved some of the pressure with a three pointer and a lay-up, extending the lead a bit, but the Pistons fought back still, cutting the lead to 10.  The Houston offense was stagnating as the game went under the five minute mark.  Detroit came out of the timeout in a zone, leading to a Beverley three as the defense collapsed on Howard in the paint.  Beverley drilled another right after that from the corner, where he stood entirely unattended.

Those two shots by Beverley against the Detroit zone were what really turned the tide for me.  They extended the lead to 16 with just 4 minutes remaining instead of getting the opportunity to get the deficit under double digits. Stuckey and Bynum provided much needed scoring off the bench to push the scoreboard closer yet again.  The lead was finally ground down to single digits with less than two minutes when Drummond took a "charge" by Dwight.

After a few Harden free throws, Houston was able to drain the clock after after an offensive rebound.  Detroit simply ran out of time after they got hot offensively.  Their interior offensive took over in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late as the final buzzer sounded with an 8 point advantage for the good guys.

Concluding Thoughts

First half:  Beautiful.  Second half:  Less so.

We've seen similar trends throughout the year, so this should come as no surprise.  The lead never got in the redzone under 5 points and despite bending, the Rockets did not break when Detroit pressured them late.  Though not my favorite performance, it is one I can live with.

Both Harden and Jones logged double-doubles this evening.  Harden finished with 20 points, 5 rebounds, 12 assists, and 3 steals and Jones put in 22 points and 10 rebounds.  Jones needed a pick-me-up type game like this after his poor outing against the Clippers and his mediocre performance as of late.

Howard, while not dominating Drummond nearly as much as the previous contest, ended with a line of 17 points (on 5 of 7 shooting, one being an end of half 3-pointer), 8 boards, and an nice looking 4 assists.

Lin had a bit of a disappointing outing, scoring just 4 points on 1 of 6 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and accounting for 4 turnovers in just over 17 minutes.

To me, though, Beverley's performance was the most impactful for me, even with all of the great above-the-rim play from others.  Pat's 19 points (and career high five three pointers), 5 rebounds, and 3 assists were crucial aspects of this victory at multiple junctures in the game.

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