The game started out as an offensive explosion as both teams hardly missed in the opening quarter, but the shots started settling down, at least on the Rockets’ end. A big reason why the Lakers were so strong on offense in the first half was their domination of the glass. Los Angeles out-rebounded Houston 27-12 in the first half and LA took a 72-65 lead going into halftime. The 72 points were the largest total that the Rockets had given up in a first half all season.
The Lakers kept their rhythm going into the fourth quarter as the lead was as large as 17 in the middle of the third quarter. The young squad entered the fourth quarter up 11, but then the Rockets began to chip away and double down on defense.
The Lakers failed to score in the first three minutes of the final frame and put just 10 points on the scoreboard in the opening seven minutes. The Rockets were able to make a dent into the lead but were unable to overtake the Lakers.
Houston tied up the contest at 119 when the Beard completed an and-one with 1:16 left to go. Rookie of the Year candidate Kyle Kuzma answered with a three of his own (He’s gonna be good, y’all.) but then James Harden strained his left hamstring in the waning seconds of regulation. Despite a premature exit, Harden scored 40 points and racked up 11 dimes. Here’s what Harden had to say about his ankle postgame to the Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen:
James Harden on his hamstring pic.twitter.com/gdYRppgIRR— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) January 1, 2018
The newest Rocket Gerald Green entered the contest for Harden and made his presence known when he hit a game-tying three to send the game into overtime. Green had 10 points and hit double digits for the second game in a row. He’s doing his best to earn a guaranteed contract, and with play like this, I’m not sure why he wouldn’t be guaranteed at this point.
Overtime came and Chris Paul took over for the Rockets as the primary ball handler. He showed shades of a traditional offense while also mixing it with Mike D’Antoni’s offense, and it was perhaps his most impressive showing as a Rocket. Any questions about him being unhealthy went out the door as he looked strong in OT, scoring 15 of his 28 points. He also dished out 10 assists to complete a double-double.
CP3’s strongest moment was when he created an isolation play on Kuzma and was able to drive to the bucket, put the breaks on, shake Kuzma, and make the layup. The bucket put the Rockets up a deuce with four seconds left to play.
On the ensuing possession, Brandon Ingram drew a questionable foul on P.J. Tucker and Ingram put himself on the free throw line. He sunk both of his free throws as the game extended into double overtime.
Double overtime was close as the teams traded buckets and stretched out small leads that would not last very long. Trevor Ariza had five of his 26 points, including a long corner triple that gave the Rockets their first lead of double OT, and was quietly a very important part of the Rockets victory.
The game was knotted up at 142 with seconds to go where an offensive rebound and putback by P.J. Tucker put Houston ahead for good. The go-ahead bucket were Tucker’s only points in the contest, but it could not have come at a better time for Houston.
The Lakers had one last chance to even it up but their chances were thwarted by Tucker, adding to his heroics from the prior possession. Tucker easily gets tonight’s game ball. Tonight was exactly the reason why the Rockets went out and signed him over the summer. He came through when it really counted for the Rockets tonight.
The loss was a heartbreaker for the Lakers, who were leading majority of the contest. Julius Randle had a season-high 29 points and 15 rebounds. He was one of four Lakers to drop 20 points or more, including former Rocket Tyler Ennis who notched 20 points and 11 assists.
Both teams came into the game struggling but the Rockets pulled it out. Houston heads into 2018 with a 26-9 record, sitting second in the West. The first game of the New Year comes Wednesday when they head to Orlando to face the Magic. Tipoff is at 6 PM CT.
Happy New Year!