On a night the Houston Rockets couldn't get anything going outside of their two stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard were all they needed.
The Rockets won, 110-98, behind 45 points from Harden on 12-18 shooting and 14 points and 17 rebounds from Howard. Donatas Motiejunas also played well, with 10 points, 9 boards and 4 assists, but lineups focused on him and Josh Smith when D12 and The Beard were on the bench played atrociously.
Howard carried the Rockets in the first half. He went into the locker room at the break with 9 points and 12 rebounds and abused Roy Hibbert on both ends. He helped protect the rim and looked really spry attacking the glass as well as finishing in the pick-and-roll.
He was altering shots and being an all-around terror. Josh Smith, Dwight's bestie, was doing none of those things. His activity level is always encouraging -- J-Smoove doesn't take plays off -- but when he's off it affects the whole team. The Rockets went into the break up 10 points and Smith played almost 13 minutes. He managed to be a -1 in that time, and his play reflected it.
There was lots of talk in the game thread, as there is every game, whenever Jason Terry plays any minutes. The talk is mostly "why is Jason Terry playing these minutes." Isaiah Canaan has not found favor with the coaching staff and Alexey Shved yo-yos in and out of the lineup. At least Jason Terry is consistently bad? He's a phenomenal locker room presence, by all accounts, so maybe him playing brings up the morale of the team, this is the only rationale I can come up with.
In the third quarter, it was all Harden. He went absolutely bonkers, making three straight three-pointers as part of a massive run to push the Rockets to an 86-62 lead. He didn't force anything and didn't miss anything. While the turnovers were still a concern, the three-pointers started falling in the third quarter. When that happens on a team level, no team on earth can beat the Rockets.
Harden scored 17 points in the third quarter and 16 points in the fourth to finish with a season-high 45 points. It was his fourth 40-point game of the season (no one else in the NBA has more than two, by the way) and he did it with such ruthless efficiency that even when the Pacers cut the lead to 9 points in the fourth quarter, once Harden re-entered the game, it was over.
Harden also had 4 steals, 7 assists and shot 14-15 from the foul stripe. His all-around game is still phenomenal, and it says something that he missed just four shots in the game, and he was well-covered on most of his jumpers. He is just too good.
There are still concerns with the Rockets. The turnovers were more common than baskets when Harden went off the floor; Kostas Papanikolaou was especially disastrous, with a team-worst -5 in 10 minutes with three turnovers and zero points. Smith and Terry shared point guard duties, and both were terrible.
It's a frequent theme around Rockets fans that Beverley's lack of offensive creativity is hurting the team. It's certainly not helping, and Terry's even worse. The wins keep coming, but you can be sure Daryl Morey is working the phones around the league, trying to find someone who can steady the ship when Harden sits.
This afternoon was all about the Beard. He played 40 minutes and when he was on the floor, the Pacers couldn't stop him. No one can stop him. That's why he's the league's MVP at the halfway point in the season, and that's why when Houston gets great performances from him and Dwight Howard, they look like a championship team.