The Rockets won their third straight game Monday night, 102-95, over the Charlotte Hornets. They now sit at 15-14, over .500 on the season for the first time since they were 4-3 and Kevin McHale was head coach.
James Harden led the way with 36 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and an almost-fully engaged defensive effort that helped hold the Hornets to 34.9 percent shooting as a team.
The game was ugly from the outset and never got very pretty. There was a full three minutes in the third quarter where neither team scored. The Rockets led after three quarters 69-60. A foul was called more than once every minute through the first three periods, too. It was unpleasant, but at leas the Rockets were winning.
Then the fourth quarter started, and Dwight Howard immediately got a fifth foul. For the next four minutes, the Rockets would have no Howard and no Harden, but the bench, led by Terrence Jones with seven points in the quarter, extended the lead to 13 points. But a 10-0 run by the Hornets that included plenty of dumb fouls and questionable calls not going the Rockets' way, and an extended Rockets shooting slump saw the game tied at 88.
But James Harden, in his seemingly infinite power, would not let the Rockets lose. After Tyler Zeller got a layup to put the Hornets up one point with less than a minute to go, Harden came back down the court and got an and-1 layup, made the free throw, and put the Hornets away, including free throws to ice the game.
At total of 60 personal fouls were called in the 48 minutes of game time, and no one was happy about it. The Rockets got called for 33 fouls, and Dwight Howard fouled out in just 26 minutes of play. His sixth foul was a dumb, obvious reach-in on Jeremy Lin. But four of his first five fouls were highly questionable. Clint Capela got four fouls in four minutes before being able to avoid the whistle down the stretch.
With the starters in foul trouble and Donatas Motiejunas still looking uncomfortable (2-7 from the field, but had 4 assists), Terrence Jones stepped up. It's true! For all of the second half, Terrence Jones was the best Rocket big man. He had a huge dunk on Frank Kaminsky, a terrific block on Spencer Hawes, and looked faster and stronger than every Hornets defender thrown at him (All of whom, except for Marvin Williams, were white. Al Jefferson was suspended).
To close the third quarter, Jones took the ball coast-to-coast past three defenders and finished a layup with his off-hand with 0.3 seconds left. It was a perfect encapsulation of his raw ability, and a reminder of what he so often lacks: aggression to make the right play.
More notes and observations
- Jeremy Lin's pointy hair wasn't enough to shake his Rockets demons. He picked up three quick fouls as soon as he entered the game flailing around on Harden, and even though he had a nice moment or two, he missed back-to-back free throws that would have cut the lead to two with 17.1 seconds left. He hits one of those, the outcome might have been different.
- Marcus Thornton is back from his shooting slump. His quick release in rhythm is so much fun to watch. He finished with 13 points on 4-7 shooting. Not only is he the Rockets' best outside shooter (now that JET's decline has deepened), but he's a great ball-mover. If he doesn't have the shot, the ball doesn't stick. He's a keeper.
- Patrick Beverley's superb stretch of play continues. He was a game-leading +20 tonight with 11 points and 7 rebounds. His offensive rebounding is a delight and his defense is back to Mr. 94 Feet level. Throw in the fact that he's shooting 41.7 percent from deep in December, and he's making Ty Lawson look reeeaaaal expendable