Harden had a tough act to follow with his career-high 56 points Sunday evening, but he delivered tonight, scoring 35 points, dishing 13 assists, and grabbing 11 rebounds. He also added five steals to the box score this evening. He became the second player in NBA history to record a triple-double with five threes and five steals since Latrell Sprewell did it for the Timberwolves back in 2003.
The Rockets started out hot and looked strong, jumping out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter. The lead ballooned to 18 midway through the second quarter, but then, Jeff Green happened.
LeBron James rolled his ankle late in the first quarter, but Jeff Green was able to pick up the slack. He had 18 points at halftime and ended the game with 27 points, shooting 11-15. The lead shrunk and vanished by halftime as the Cavaliers walked into the locker room with a 67-65 lead thanks to Green and James going bananas.
The Rockets were able to grab the lead back in the third, thanks to a great shooting performance from the backcourt, Harden and Eric Gordon. Houston won the third quarter by nine, and entered the fourth quarter with a 100-93 lead.
In the fourth, Houston looked to maintain their lead, but midway through the fourth quarter, the team went cold and only managed one point for a six-minute stretch. The Cavs were able to cut into the Rockets lead from 12 to just a single point.
Then, with 1:10 left in the game, P.J. Tucker grabbed a loose ball, dumped it off to Harden, who lobbed it up to Clint Capela for an and-one alley-oop. The lead went from one to four.
A LeBron James lay-up on the other end cut the lead in half, and the Rockets were keen to connect on the next possession to put the game out of reach. After a miss from Harden and another Tucker offensive rebound, Harden would miss his second shot, but Capela cleaned it up and put it back in the game.
With the Cavs needing to score on the next possession, the team handed the ball to LeBron in the post, but Capela recorded his fourth block of the game to seal the victory for the Rockets.
Capela was the only Rocket to score in the final seven minutes and ended the game with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks. His defensive stands late against LeBron were key in the victory and he really blossomed and came through in the fourth quarter tonight.
Tucker was also an extremely important player tonight for the Rockets. He came off the bench and played 29 minutes, nearly recording a double-double with 11 points and 9 rebounds. Six of those nine boards came on the offensive end. Houston outrebounded Cleveland 45-26 and recorded 17 offensive rebounds compared to Cleveland’s four.
Two of the most important possessions at the end of the game included offensive rebounds, the Capela and-one alley-oop and the Capela dagger as he polished off the game with a lay-up after a Harden miss. In a four point game, those possessions speak louder than others.
Harden ultimately lead the crew tonight, but the team overall had a very good game. Six of eight players scored in double figures, and one of the players to not reach that plateau was Bobby Brown, who saw a rare five-minute second quarter stretch. We could have seen him pop in the fourth quarter, but Harden played the entire second half. He played 43 of 48 minutes tonight, which is not something the Rockets normally do, but given the fact that the team had not played since Sunday, it was something they were able to do tonight. I’m sure the Beard is exhausted.
In a game that was all about offense through three quarters, defense was what ultimately won the game for Houston tonight. They weathered the Cleveland fourth quarter run and held them to just 20 points in the fourth. If Houston wants to make the next step, defense needs to be higher on the priority list, and tonight, they proved in crunch time that this team can play defense, which was nice to see.
The Rockets are now 9-3 and are at the top of the standings in the Western Conference with their buddies, the Golden State Warriors. On Saturday night, the Memphis Grizzlies come back to town. Tipoff is at 7 PM CT.