The Rockets took the lead late on some timely defense by P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza, and Luc Mbah a Moute, and a last-second swish by Kevin Durant that would have won the game for the Warriors was waved off after replay showed the ball was clearly still in his hand when the game’s final red light appeared over the hoop.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 10 assists, while Eric Gordon finished with 24 points. It was that duo that spearheaded the Houston offense in crunch time, and it was Gordon in particular, who was an absolute maetsro in getting to cup. Gordon was 0-6 from deep, but still shot 9-16 from the field overall.
But ultimately, it was Houston’s newfound focus on defense that tipped the tide during crunch time, as the Rockets held the Dubs to 20 fourth-quarter points on 44 percent shooting and clamped down when Houston needed it most to secure the opening night upset victory.
Tucker finished with 20 points and 6 rebounds, and he was also a game-high +20 in 29 minutes of action. Fellow newcomer Mbah a Moute finished with 14 points and four rebounds, and the duo each shot 6-9 from the field and were also 6-9 collectively from three-point range, showing they can contribute on both ends of the court.
Chris Paul had an off night scoring the ball, finishing with just 4 points on 2-9 from the field as he obviously wasn’t at 100 percent health. A balky knee didn’t prevent him from racking up 11 dimes and also playing vintage tough Paul D in his 33 minutes.
The Rockets also got 13 points from Ryan Anderson and 12 from Clint Capela to round out the Houston scorers in double figures. Ariza also had a solid line of 8 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals, including one late that helped push Houston over the top.
It feels a bit disingenuous to keep going back to the defense in a game in which the Rockets gave up 122 points and allowed the Dubs to shoot 53.8 percent from the field, but where this group of Rockets appear different from last year’s version is the ability to ramp up the pressure with the game on the line.
Houston led 2-0, then didn’t lead again until 119-118 with just a little over a minute to play on an Ariza triple, and it was the the rise in defensive intensity as the game drew to a close that allowed the Houston offense to chip away at the lead until the mighty eventually fell.
The Dubs were led by Nick Young (what?), who scored 23 points on a blistering 8-9 shooting, including 6-7 from the deep. They also had 22 from Steph Curry and 20 from Kevin Durant. Draymond Green pitched in a near triple dip, finishing with 9 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists, but he exited the game in the second half with a twisted ankle and did not finish the contest.
The Rockets are back in action tomorrow night in Sacramento, but for now just enjoy this very sweet (and very late for us East coasters) big win over last year’s NBA champs!