The Rockets, like the script in so many games before, fell down big in the first half. At one point they were trailing by 18 points, only to fight all the way back.
The used execution, energy, and key bench play down the stretch to overcome a very game Raptors.
Must win game
Going 0-2 to start a key five-game road trip is not how a team who expects to make the playoffs should do. And there was a point in the first half when going 0-2 seemed very likely. The Raptors are one of the top teams in the East and the Rockets would be way out of the playoff race if they shared a conference.
In the first half of the game, the Rockets allowed the Raptors WIDE open looks, Jonas Valanciunas was getting dunks, Luis Scola found the fountain of youth and was nailing shot after shot. The defense was just bad, allowing the Raptors to shoot 52%.
But the Rockets, like all season, had no quit in them.
"They dug down," Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "We didn't give in. Even when we were struggling we still fought, we were still competing. I thought, that's a good team, the Raptors are a good team, they got guys that can score the ball, they're good defensively."
The Rockets locked everything down in the second half of the game and were able to walk out winners.
"We've got to use this (win) to propel us into something special," Bickerstaff said.
It's a game that can galvanize a team right now fighting and clawing their way to the playoffs. Maybe, finally, they can find their way.
Scrappy defense late
By the end of the third, the defense was getting their hands on a lot of loose balls off of deflections, they were closing out on open shooters and making all the right rotations. Not many guys were allowed to have free and easy looks at the basket, a stark difference with the first half.
Late in the game, the Rockets started pressuring the ball after the Raptors got past half court. They made Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan give up the ball and pass it to other shooters, which would lead to bad shots.
The Rockets went small, with just Dwight Howard as the only big for the most part until he fouled out and Clint Capela replaced him. Both did a great job protecting the rim, changing shots and making big play after big play down the stretch.
James Harden also did a pretty good job of sticking with his guy, when in small ball he's asked to guard the bigger guys and it worked. He held his own against Patrick Patterson
"After giving up two-30 point, first quarter, second quarter, the third and fourth quarter we held them to the low 20s," Bickerstaff said, "that's a sign of who we can be. We were aggressive, our small lineup was really, really good. We were really, really active, the rotations were good."
Someone other then Harden
Night in and night out the offensive savior is James Harden, Sunday night was no different as he finished with 40 points, 14 assists, 5 rebounds and only one turnover.
The Rockets still need more than just Harden, and they got it in Corey Brewer, who came off the bench and finished with 23 points, on 9-19 shooting, but he nailed five massive three-pointers.
When Bickerstaff inserted Brewer early in the game, he started to spark something, and he stayed with him for the rest of the game. Brewer was doing such a good job that coach had to stick with him, even forgoing a power forward in the second half to go small.
It worked out. Brewer's energy was infectious and spread through the team. On every rebound, he was off and sprinting down the other way trying to get the easy layup. He still missed his fair share, but the pressure he was able to put on the defense was big.
For the most part, the Raptors did not try and go small with the Rockets, so on offense Harden and Brewer were both able to take advantage and get to the rim a lot.
The Rockets outscored the Raptors in the second half 62-46.