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Rockets use defense to down Grizzlies

The shots weren’t falling, so the Rockets clamped down.

NBA: Preseason-Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Our Houston Rockets appear to have grown. Last year, this very well may have been a game the Rockets lose. Houston shot just 38.8 percent from the field and were only 14-46 from beyond the arc, but they used some shut-down defense to squeeze the Memphis attack in a 101-89 victory over the Grizzlies to move to 4-0 on the preseason.

James Harden led the way with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists, but he shot just 2-13 from the field. Chris Paul was just 3-12 for 9 points.

No, it was Clint Capela, who finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocked shots and newcomers P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute who made the true difference in the game.

Luc and Tucker both had modest box scores. Tucker had 3 points and 9 rebounds on 1-3 shooting, while Mbah a Moute finished with 10 points and 2 rebounds while shooting 2-5. But they were a game-high +13 and +12 respectively, and they combined with Capela’s rim protection and Paul’s clinical defense up top to hold Memphis to just 38 percent shooting for the game. Houston also forced 19 turnovers.

It was refreshing to see the Rockets win a game with something other than their prolific shooting, and it’s a good example of the main difference between this year’s and last year’s squads. Your 2017-2018 Rockets can beat you in a variety of ways.

We even saw the Rockets focus on working the ball inside more, once their vaunted three-point attack was blunted in the first half by poor rhythm and some aggressive Memphis close outs. The Rockets shot 31 percent in the first period, 34 for the first half and were only 6-22 from beyond the arc before the break.

So the Rockets pushed the ball inside, getting free throws for James Harden (he shot 15, making 14) and easy buckets for Capela. Combine that offensive adjustment with the obviously much-improved defense, and you have a win that just might not have happened with last year’s version of the Rockets.

Houston cleared their bench with 4 minutes left to play in the game, and Isaiah Taylor flashed some quicks and some handle, scoring 4 points in limited time, and Troy Williams drained some triples, knocking 2 down for 6 points. Zhou Qi missed a three and grabbed a good rebound in his garbage time action.

The Rockets now move on to play their final preseason game on Friday night, as they return to the Toyota Center for a marquee matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. Mike D’Antoni looks like he wants to keep his main rotation sharp for the start of the regular season, so expect to see the starters, at least for a little while.

The game is the prime time contest on TNT, and the final look at our new and improved Rockets before the regular season gets underway next week.