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James Harden, Chris Paul, defense send Rockets over Thunder

Houston’s two stars and some cranked-up D gave the Rockets a win in the first preseason game.

NBA: Preseason-Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets looked like a well-oiled machine for three quarters, building a huge lead while the starters were playing, before the reserves let things tighten up bit, but still resulting in a 104-97 Rockets victory.

The Rockets led 90-73 after three quarters, however, and the starters looked as good as one could hope for the first on-court appearance of the season.

The offense was sharp, particularly from downtown, as Houston hit 24-55 on their three-pointers, and the Rockets finished with five of their main rotation in double figures.

Eric Gordon led the way in the scoring department with 21 points, including shooting 6-8 from deep, while Trevor Ariza finished with 18 and was equally as hot from downtown, knocking down 5-7.

James Harden had 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 10 assists, while Chris Paul totaled 11 points and 7 assists. The duo made a statement early at the start of the game, with the first sequence starting off with a steal by Paul and finishing with a three by The Beard on the dish from CP3. Get ready for the regular season because these two are going to get it done.

Ryan Anderson was the fifth player in double figures, finishing with 10 points.

But perhaps the most significant aspect of this Rockets victory was how well the defense looked. Houston is going to be rugged with P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, and while it’s hard to believe, the Rockets could very well be better defensively at the point with Paul taking over for Patrick Beverley. CP3 was everywhere tonight, snagging 2 of the Rockets’ 9 steals and just generally causing havoc, even if it’s less frenetic and more controlled than the havoc Beverley caused.

Houston held Oklahoma City to just 40.8 percent shooting on the night, and it appeared obvious that this team already looked better defensively than last years’s squad.

It was a great first game for our revamped Rockets, and though I would have liked to have seen a little more action inside off the pick and roll to Clint Capela, who finished with 9 points and 5 rebounds, that’s really only nitpicking on what was an impressive opening-night victory.

The Thunder, who were without Russell Westbrook due to a sore knee, were led by Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Anthony had 19 points, all coming in the first half, and George finished with 15 points and 5 boards. It will be interesting to see how these three fit together once Westbrook is back and if they can contribute consistently when Westbrook is shooting.

Game one of the Paul/Harden era was a smashing success, and the most important takeaway from this admittedly meaningless preseason game was how different the Houston defense looked. They just have a different feel on defense already, and that was with Nene not seeing any action and P.J. Tucker running the backup five for a significant stretch.

Tucker and fellow newcomer Mbah a Moute tied for the Houston lead with 7 rebounds, and they’re both going to have a significant effect on the defense this season.

Good win, Rockets. It’s going to be a fun season for us fans.