We had a competitive game, you guys! Maybe it took the resumption of the Patrick Beverley-Russell Westbrook rivalry to get the juices flowing (they had another double technical in the fourth quarter), maybe it was Harden going against his former team, but Houston finally looked ready to play.
The first half of this game looked scarily reminiscent of the majority of the first three games, with the Rockets simply looking bad on both ends of the floor. But they finally, truly came alive in the third quarter, assisted by Russell Westbrook leaving early with foul trouble and Dion Waiters reverting back to Dion Waiters (he had actually been pretty good so far). Harden hit a couple of shots (including a three-pointer) heading into halftime, and he was able to largely carry that momentum into the second half. He scored a season-high 37 points, and he finally looked like the MVBeard again.
Of course, when Russ came back he took over offensively (Durant was curiously absent for a long stretch in the fourth quarter. The Rockets managed to keep pace, as Ty Lawson looked really good (and the MVBeard was back) for the first time in a Rockets uniform, penetrating to score and to distribute. He finished with 14 points and 11 assists, but his curious struggles from the free-throw line continued, as he only shot 2-7 from the stripe on the game.
Dwight Howard looks strikingly similar to his regular season form of last season. He just can't sustain efficiency on the offensive end, and gets beat on head-scratchers on the defensive end (even if he's good on the majority of possessions defensively). Trevor Ariza also looks very much out of sorts offensively, missing a few gimme layups and wide open threes (he did hit a crucial corner three in the fourth quarter).
Montrezl Harrell isn't playable if Kevin McHale is unwilling to pair him with Capela or Howard. It's understandable that they don't want two non-shooting bigs out there, but Harrell needs more experience to navigate the size deficit he'd be working with as a small-ball center. He's another reason that the Rockets desperately need Terrence Jones and/or Donatas Motiejunas back healthy. A Harrell-Donuts front line might be the best bench frontcourt we'd see this season.
Marcus Thornton had plenty of energy, but he just doesn't hit as many shots as you'd like him to. It speaks to Ariza's (yes, and James Harden's) defensive versatility that a starting five with Thornton instead of Motiejunas or Jones wasn't run off the floor. In fact, McHale rode with that five in the stretch run for a little, and they kept their foot on the pedal. That's what James Harden does when he's playing like an MVP.
The season's actually started, even if the Rockets are just now realizing it. We know the talent is there for a deep playoff run, it's just a matter of putting it together and staying healthy long enough to make it that far. Tonight was a good start, and our first glimpse at how deadly Lawson and Harden can be together.