It was a fun, run-and-gun game for three quarters, and then the Rockets slowed down and caused us all some heart palpitations. But the Beard is the Beard, so Houston held on for the win. James Harden had 33 points on 5 assists, and laid out to grab a loose ball off of his own deflection late in the game. It was an "I'm not letting us lose" MVP moment.
This was not the type of game I was expecting from two of the top 10 defenses in the NBA. Offensively, the box score for the Rockets was dazzling tonight, and they were flying down the court all night on the stingiest transition D in the NBA. On the other hand, they were using defense as a way to catch their breath, leading to lots of missed rotations and failures to get back in transition.
Hey, it made for a fun-as-hell game to watch. The Rockets kept the Bucks at arm's length for three and a half quarters, mostly because they just wouldn't stop scoring. The offense flowed brilliantly through James Harden and Josh Smith, with Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones, Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer all having big stretches.
Let's go back to J-Smoove for a second. He had 14 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists in what was probably his best game in a Rockets uniform so far. Sure, he had a couple of bad turnovers. But for prolonged stretches, he functioned a lot like a point center, guarding the biggest Buck on the floor and running a lot of breaks himself. His ability to find open three-point shooters anywhere on the court while he's driving is staggering.
Donuts had a good game when he was on the floor, scoring 14 and protecting the rim quite well. (Seriously, he and Josh Smith can be devastating together defensively.) But he picked up his fourth foul in the third, McHale pulled him, and never put him back in for some reason. While he was gone, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks feasted at the rim.
My God, the next time Giannis shows up in Houston will be too soon. He was everywhere, an unguardable Kraken who also gets chasedown blocks on James Harden and rebounds like a, um, Kraken. He had 27 points, 15 rebounds and 4 assists.
As far as the guardable Bucks go, Trevor Ariza erased two of them. Jared Dudley and Khris Middleton combined for 15 points on 6-15 shooting, and he was guarding one of them most of the time he was on the floor. Offensively, he had the type of night he's had a few times this season -- hot in the first half (this time was the hottest), ice cold in the second until one big shot late, just as I start to write in this recap about how he didn't score in the second half. He still tied his season high with 24 points, and threw in 6 assists and 3 steals as well.
Amongst all of these other developments, I couldn't help but think about the biggest issue currently facing the Rockets: their point guards. Jason Terry was awful tonight (1 piddly point), and while I think he still has a place on this team, it should be as the second backup guard at best. And the first backup should be Pat Beverley.
I love Pat's energy, but he's been lost on the offensive end for a while now. He just doesn't see the floor the way the rest of the team does, for whatever reason. He always seems to think a couple of seconds too long with the ball in his hands, allowing the defense to reset. What's more, he left corner shooters open multiple times in the second half, getting bailed out by a few misses.
The Rockets need a point guard, and I think they need one badly if they're going to contend for a ring. They're still in third in the West as of this posting, however, at 35-15. Their next game is a doozy, as the Blazers come to town on Sunday in the early evening. See you then.