The Rockets finally passed a gut-check moment for what seems like the first time this season.
One of the most maddening aspects of the Rockets this year — and there's been no shortage to this point — is that their overall game, though full of talent and expectations, appeared bereft of heart and soul. When the going gets tough, these Rockets, up to this point, have had neither the chemistry nor the intestinal fortitude to scrape out a win against adversity.
But as we touched on here at TDS briefly yesterday, sometimes something as simple as a surprise rotation shake-up can help light a spark in a team that wasn't otherwise present. It's a quick hit of the chemistry reset button, as when Ty Lawson came back improved upon his previous return.
The Rockets showed us last night that it isn't just the players who sit (Dwight Howard, Lawson, Donatas Motiejunas) that could benefit from the fresh perspective of an external view. The players left to man the trenches without their missing teammates also gain a new viewpoint and possibly a new appreciation both for the missing players and those that take their place. It has the potential to actually effect team chemistry positively, at least in the short term.
Clyde Drexler laid out the broader concept in more direct terms at the start of last night's broadcast simply by saying, "Sometimes when you have a smaller rotation, things go well." Although Clyde was ultimately proven correct, it certainly didn't start out that way.
Despite some initial nice energy in the first quarter, the Rockets were ice-cold shooting, as they shot just 40% for the first half, including only 1-10 from beyond the arc, as they fell behind the Jazz 44-39 at halftime.
Like the Rockets, the Jazz were also playing short-handed, as they were without Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Dante Exum, and Rudy Gobert was on a heavy minutes restriction. Earlier this season, this was the type of game in which the Rockets — facing a less-talented opponent and working through adversity of their own — would have crumbled and lost.
But in the second half, something changed for the Rockets. Something looked like it just clicked.
James Harden repeatedly got to the bucket, and although he was 0-7 from deep for the game, he shot an incredible 13-18 inside the arc, and his effectiveness, particularly in the second half, allowed his teammates to go off as well.
Patrick Beverley scored all 9 of his points in the second half, Jason Terry scored 10 of his 12 and Marcus Thornton scored 8 of his 12 after the break, with Montrezl Harrell also scoring his 5 points after halftime in addition to playing energetic defense and effective box outs.
In fact, mostly solid rotations and rebounding by all of the Rockets bigs — Harrell, Terrence Jones and Clint Capela — helped propel the Rockets to get out and run. The Rockets outscored the Jazz on the break 17-2, with most of those coming in the second half.
The Rockets finally actually looked like... well, the Rockets.
The Rockets scored 65 points in the second half on 65.7% shooting, when they turned the tide with a big third quarter and closed it off down the stretch in a performance that wasn't always pretty, but it was a second straight win over a team jockeying directly with Houston for position in the Western Conference hierarchy.
Will this end up as nothing more than a harder-than-it-should-have-been win over a team equally, if not more so, banged up than the Rockets? A small blip of success in this so-far disappointing season? Or can Houston build off the positive signs in the second half and let this small taste of overcoming a shake up and halftime deficit to still secure an important victory affect them in the macro moving forward?
Every saved season needs a turning point.