It was Houston’s season high in points and the team is now 3.5 games ahead of Los Angeles for third place in the Western Conference.
The game started out with a full Rocket offensive blitz with 37 first-quarter points. James Harden almost had a double-double in the first quarter alone, scoring 17 with 9 rebounds. The lead ballooned into the 20s before Clippers PG Austin Rivers was ejected in the second quarter.
Rivers was ejected for “intentional” contact with the referee. Though the instant replay may have shown another story, he was still tossed and the Rockets caught a break. Austin’s dad argued the call and hit the showers as well. The Clippers played this game without Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, and now they were down Paul’a replacement, head coach AND they were down 20. They should have put this team to bed, but that was far from what happened.
Led by Raymond Felton and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers crept back and the lead shrunk to as few as six. Then, it was the Rockets’ turn to erupt, and that’s when Montrezl Harrell went ballistic. Harrell came off the bench and had a career-high 29 points. Harrell was a +39, Eric Gordon was a +42, and Corey Brewer was a solid +29. This game was a blowout, but it was because the bench brought them back to where they were before. Along with the bench’s fantastic night, Harden ended the game with a triple-double, tallying 30 points, 13 boards and 10 assists.
Houston has one of the best benches in the West, and it is a big reason why Eric Gordon and his 17.4 PPG deserves Sixth Man of the Year and why Houston can be elite. The bench has a playmaker and shooter in Gordon, solid defenders in Beverley and Brewer, a great all-around stretch four in Sam Dekker and Harrell manning the paint. With Rockets trade rumors swirling around and Kosta Koufos being linked to Houston, Harrell proved why those rumors should go ka-put.
He was simply dynamic and took over the game in the fourth. Tonight was easily the best game of his career, and I hope that this game is not his ceiling, because if he has more to offer and can contribute more down the line, the Rockets will be a legitimate threat to challenge the Spurs and Warriors and not just a bridesmaid.
The three games this week have had very similar narratives. Rockets go up big, Rockets coast, Rockets lead shrinks, Rockets still win by double-digits. This team is like a broken record at this point. I wish that the Rockets wouldn’t coast and shrink their leads by turning the ball over, but wins are wins. With the Rockets playing at such a fast pace, turnovers are inevitable, and the tradeoff is worth it, but if this team needs to improve anything it is taking care of the ball.
The Rockets have won a franchise-record 14 games in December, and that number could extend to 15 tomorrow night against the Knicks. The Rockets’ annual New Year’s Eve game tips off at 7 CT.