The game featured several large momentum shifts that swayed the game back and forth. The Rockets jumped out to a 16-point lead early in the first half and it looked like the Rockets were going to cruise to their sixth straight victory.
But then... Chris Paul grabbed his infamous hamstring. And jogged immediately to the locker room.
Many Red Nation hearts sank at the sight of one of the most infamous moments in Rockets history seemed to repeat itself. At this point in the game, the Rockets led 45-37 with 6:43 left in the second quarter.
The Heat were beginning to chip away and this moment killed any momentum the Rockets worked to build up until this point in the game. By halftime, the Rockets led by just five.
In the third quarter, the Heat began to pull away, outscoring the Rockets 29-18. The Rockets looked incredibly fatigued after playing in the second half of a back-to-back, and the Heat, a team that hasn’t suited up since Sunday, took advantage.
The Heat’s lead grew to 11 and all of the Rockets’ momentum was washed away. However, the team pulled themselves right back up. In a span of five minutes, the Rockets constructed a 13-1 run to pull ahead of the Heat.
However, the lead was short-lived thanks to a Tyler Johnson 5-0 run which gave the Heat the lead for good. Johnson was one of several role players that won the game for Miami. His late-game heroics combined with 19 points were extremely helpful.
Complementing Johnson was Josh Richardson with 22 points and Derrick Jones Jr., who scored 15 points off the bench.
The Rockets lost this game for three reasons.
First, the schedule, which was something out of control. Despite playing on the second half of a back-to-back and facing a team that had not played in three days, the Rockets still found themselves with a chance to win in the end.
Second, the injury, which was also something out of the Rockets’ control. However, the way the team responded was something the team had control of.
Lastly, the coaching, which was something most definitely in the Rockets’ control. Erik Spoelstra brutally outcoached Mike D’Antoni tonight. Coach Spo exposed matchups that the Rockets were undermatched with. Miami outscored Houston in the paint 52-20 and the Rockets could not respond. Miami also established a zone defense to prevent Harden from even entering the paint, forcing him to kick the ball outside to shooters that had gone ice cold. And finally, the fact that MDA did not begin hacking Whiteside until it was too late was a fatal mistake.
Hassan Whiteside wasn't even in the vicinity with this free throw. pic.twitter.com/O1OzGCVcZs— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) December 21, 2018
This free throw was attempted with 5:46 left in the game and the team had just a one-point deficit.
Whiteside was hacked only once, with 2:17 left in the game and the Rockets trailed by five after Whiteside split his pair of free throws.
All in all, despite all of the things going against the Rockets tonight, this team still had a legitimate shot at winning this game. And they couldn’t finish the job.
Good teams can escape the bad luck and win games they should not, but great teams finish the job. This is a good basketball team that is in the pursuit of being great, but it is simply not where it needs to be.
The pursuit of greatness for the Rockets continues on Saturday as the team hosts the Spurs. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. CT.