After shockingly long introductions and struggling with NBA League Pass, the Rockets finally got their home opener on Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks.
It took a moment, but the Rockets started hot, shooting 59% in the first quarter, including 5-8 on threes. Eric Gordon continued to look great, James Harden seems to get more and more comfortable at the PG every possession, and Nene added 9 first quarter points off the bench. At a fast pace, this Houston team showed one thing for sure: this team is, at the very, very least, going to be fun.
The Rockets second unit came out strong tonight and built a nice little lead in large part to two and-1’s from Eric Gordon and two 3’s by Sam Dekker. Meanwhile, perhaps in part to already seeing Dallas once this season, the Rockets defense looked noticeably better throughout the first half. Some real effort in transition, some better rebounding, a few shot clock violations; all a welcome sight after last season. Despite a late quarter run by Dallas, the Rockets ended the half on a 10 point lead.
And then the Rockets decided to just not play with any conviction to start the second half. Some uninspired offense and some overtly nonchalant defense, the Mavs quickly cut the lead to three points in just 4 minutes. Just a lid on the basket in the third, and this isn’t what you need Wesley Matthews gets hot. Wes put up 10 points in the first 6 minutes before he finally started to miss.
After some touch fouls, an Andrew Bogut flagrant 1, and pretty stupid charge call that turned into a double tech, this rivalry got “chippy.” I only say that in quotes because it really only manifested itself in those incidents. The only real damage it did was making Harden play with a lot more intensity, which led to a late run to end the quarter. Houston still led by 10, in spite of themselves, after three.
The fourth started cold as well. One thing to watch as the season goes on will be what kind of offense the second unit commits to. Eric Gordon is a terribly capable scorer, and Sam Dekker’s shot seems to be improving, but there is going to need to be some (read: “a lot more”) ball movement if the bench wants to score at a consistent rate. The starters had to come back in with 9 to play.
And then no one on either side could really score. The Rockets lead got as low as four, but it was just brick after brick for Houston and Dallas. The Rockets, just as they have since he showed up, look their best when James Harden is running the ball in transition. Instead, most of the fourth was spent tentatively passing around the perimeter and just jacking up shots.
Call it bad offense. Call it good defense. I’m not really sure what it should be called. All I know is that this relatively unwatchable fourth quarter led to a three point game in the last 15 seconds and Wes Matthews capitalized on that with a 30 footer. This gave James Harden 6 seconds to get fouled, though, and he did. He had to keep us in suspense, though, making his second of two free throws putting the Rockets ultimately ahead 93-92.
You take the good with the bad, I guess. Some very encouraging things as the game progressed, but there’s still plenty of kinks to work out, and there’s a much better team than the Mavericks waiting in Ohio for the game on Tuesday.