If you skipped this game because LeBron wasn't in it, you missed a dandy. The game was neck-in-neck for three and a half quarters until the Rockets pulled away with a strong stretch featuring Josh Smith and Corey Brewer, and surprisingly not including the Beard.
James Harden's MVP campaign is still rolling along, but the Rockets displayed admirable balance tonight. Six players scored in double figures, though Harden led the way with 21 points to go along with 9 assists and 7 rebounds. If you can believe it, it still felt like a quiet game from James.
For the first two and a half quarters, it was the Kyrie Irving show. For all of Pat Beverley and Trevor Ariza's defensive skills, Kyrie's handles and finishing ability were too much and he kept the Cavaliers in the game. Maybe he tired out, maybe Ariza (who handled him for most of the second half) tightened up, but he quieted late in the game. Thank god -- he still finished with 38 points.
Dwight Howard -- For all of the recent talk we've been featuring about Dwight in the last couple of days, he had a great night. A Dominant Dwight night, even though he didn't score 20 points. The Cavaliers' front line is one of the ones he should be able to feast on, and he did in the second half. He finished with 17 points and 19 rebounds (10 offensive boards!), and he was an absolute monster in the middle in the second half. With Harden on the bench, he was the rock of the team. It was beautiful.
Josh Smith -- Yes, he took a few long two-pointers that made us all scream in anguish, but there is no doubt he combined with Corey Brewer to provide valuable second unit minutes. He had the best plus/minus of any Rocket, he was a willing passer and he was a defensive presence, with this HUGE chase-down block in the fourth quarter:
He also did take most of his shots in the paint, where he was very effective. He finished with 15 points on 7-10 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, AND a game-sealing three-pointer. Expert troll move from Smoove.
Daryl Morey -- James Harden will not make an appearance in Three Down, even though he wasn't a big factor until late in the fourth quarter. Morey's new acquisitions paved the way, and they look like they could be great fits. And that's without Alexey Shved being healthy yet - we'll get to what that means in a second.
Yes, LeBron was hurt, but Kyrie Irving went crazy for three quarters, and the Rockets showed that they have real, championship-caliber depth. People love to talk about potential deals, but without giving up serious depth or future assets, I'm not sure how much more this team can improve. The roster is very well-constructed right now.
Patrick Beverley -- He got roasted by an in-the-zone Kyrie Irving for most of the first half before McHale switched him off the guard, but that's not the only reason he's here. Pat was awful on offense, missing wide-open threes all over the place. He combined with our next entry on the list for some truly bad play from the point guard spot.
Jason Terry -- Coach McHale, what do we have to do to get Isaiah Canaan some minutes? Yes, Terry was 2-3 from three, but he was an eyesore on the court, especially on the defensive end. But I refuse to believe that Canaan would have provided any less, considering all JET did was spot up for the occasional corner three and literally nothing else.
I'm not saying Canaan is definitely a better player than Terry at this point. I'm just saying that it's very possible -- much more possible than the reverse scenario. He's not a black hole defensively, and he's a good shooter. Let's give him a shot.
When Alexey Shved is healthy, Canaan's chance at minutes will certainly be completely gone. I'm excited to see what he can do - I've seen a couple of Sixers games, and he's a real player with some ballhandling and passing skills. He's definitely longer and more athletic than Terry. I'm excited to see what he can do. Hopefully McHale will then see the writing on the wall with the 37-year-old.
Terrence Jones -- It's not fair, but he's only here because of how good the Rockets' rotation looked tonight. Where's he going to fit in? Whose minutes is he going to steal? I feel bad for the man, but if there's a move to be made, it's with him.
With LeBron sitting, this was a game the Rockets needed to take care of, even on the road. And they did. I've got a good feeling coming out of this game.