The Beard shot just 4-14 from beyond the arc, but he got to the bucket basically at will and was routinely abusing Tristan Thompson all night on switches, including this absolute beauty in the closing minutes of the fourth to give the Rockets a two-score lead they would not relinquish.
The Rockets also had 50 points in the paint as a team and outrebounded Cleveland 52-38, including 20-4 on the offensive boards. All those extra possessions lead to 15 Houston second-chance points, which was one of the deciding factors in the game, given that the Cavs actually outshot the Rockets 52 to 42 percent from the field.
Houston did knock down 16 of their 45 triples, as they combined with the Cavs to shoot 88 threes for the game, tying an NBA record.
This was a back-and-forth contest that featured 16 lead changes throughout the night. The Cavs were up by as many as 14 points early in the third quarter, and then the Rockets came back to take the lead, but neither team could put the other away until late in the final period when big plays by Nene and a big shot by Patrick Beverley finally put the game out of reach.
It had been neck-and-neck to that point however, with Cleveland getting big games from LeBron James, who had 30 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, and Kyrie Irving, who finished with 28 points and 8 assists. The Cavs also had 16 points from Richard Jefferson, who caught fire in the first half to the tune of perfect 6-6 shooting, including 4-4 from deep.
The Rockets ultimately had more players making plays, however, with Ryan Anderson finishing with 16 points and 6 boards, Beverley and Eric Gordon scoring 13 apiece, and Trevor Ariza and Nene ending the game with 12 each. Nene also finshed with 6 boards, 3 steals and a block, and it was his toughness and inspired play in the fourth quarter the helped close things out for the Rockets.
The Rockets even received contributions from the guys who weren’t scoring. Clint Capela only had 8 points, but did finish with 11 rebounds. While Lou Williams, who is still struggling with his shot, going just 2-7 for 5 points, once again pitched in by making plays in other ways by grabbing 6 boards, dishing 2 dimes and snatching a steal.
This was a good win for the Rockets, despite the Cavs being a bit shorthanded without Kevin Love and Kyle Korver. They faced early adversity, overcame it with ramped up intensity in the second half and put the Cavs away on national TV. It was that extra effort after the break that was the difference in the game.
With the win, the Rockets move to 46-21 and now have a 4.5 game lead over the Utah Jazz for third place in the West. The Cavs fall to 43-22 and have just a two-game lead over both the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards out East.
The Rockets now get two nights in a row off before playing the Lakers at home on Wednesday night.