The Rockets showed more dominance on the second night of a back-to-back, thanks to an incredible performance from Sam Dekker in his first career start. Houston went into Memphis to get their first win of the season against the Grizzlies, 119-95.
It was a complete performance from Dekker, who scored a career-high 30 points, played a career-high 35 minutes and exerted his will over the slower Grizz frontline by canning three-pointers (he was 6-11) and cutting brilliantly for Eric Gordon and James Harden. Harden had another double-double with 29 point and 10 assists to go along with 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
There were a lot of firsts for the Rockets Saturday night. For the first time, Mike D’Antoni showed a willingness to try someone else as a replacement starter for Ryan Anderson than Corey Brewer. Brewer still played 23 minutes, and, as always, he was much more effective as bench energy. He was a plus-25 in the game and even hit a three-pointer(!).
The Rockets’ starters played largely even with the Grizzlies’. It makes sense; I’d say the combo of Marc Gasol (32 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Mike Conley (15 points on 6-17 shooting), are usually just as effective at positively impacting basketball games as one James Harden. But as has been and will continue to be the case this year, the Rockets’ bench made a difference.
Montrezl Harrell played 15 minutes and Nene and Clint Capela each played 16 minutes. As Capela gets his wind back — one day, hopefully someone asks some hard questions about why fatigue is such a problem for him — these minutes won’t be so evenly distributed. But boy, did it help in Memphis. Harrell couldn’t do much against Gasol, but Nene went buckwild in his time, with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals, plus two ferocious dunks.
Trevor Ariza shot 1-6, Eric Gordon shot 3-11 and Patrick Beverley shot 1-5 from deep. There were brief shades of the previous night’s loss against Golden State from outside, but overall, the Rockets shot 38 percent, a worthy number, from distance. Thanks, Slam Dekker.
The Rockets are now plus-7 per 100 possessions on the year, a dynamite number. That’s better than the Cleveland Cavaliers’ net rating last year. They’re 34-13, still just two games back of the San Antonio Spurs, and now have at least one win over all of their Western Conference peers. They can beat anyone, and the only time they’ve been full strength this year, they went on a 10-game winning streak.
Performances like tonight show why this team is so dangerous. Three of their key three-point shooters were ice cold, and a fourth is sick and out. Clint Capela, who was playing like the Rockets’ second-best player before he got hurt, is still not close to back to that form.
And yet, on the road against a full-strength Grizzlies team, the Rockets put Tyler Ennis and K.J. McDaniels on the floor for the final buzzer. Dekker had a breakthrough game — seriously, 30 points in 35 minutes?! — Harden shot well and did Harden things and the bench terrorized the opponents. The Rockets are 11-1 on back-to-backs. The brief lull was not a regression. This game showed that the Rockets are the cream of the crop, and they are rising.