The Rockets struggled out of the gate, managing a mere 41 points in the first half. Luckily, the Spurs shared some similar struggles and held just a 2-point lead at halftime. However, the third quarter changed Houston’s mindset as the offense performed at a level that has rarely been reached this season.
In the third quarter, the Rockets nailed nine of their 13 threes in the frame and won the quarter 43-26 to take a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter. Leading the charge was Gerald Green, tallying 12 of his 15 points in the third on a perfect 4-4 from three. His 15 points led all bench scorers.
However, this lead was erased by a valiant Spurs comeback in the fourth quarter. A 21-6 run brought the Spurs a lead again, but James Harden subsequently put the team on his back. Harden scored nine of the team’s final 12 points in the last 2:39 of the game to give his team a lead that the Spurs could not come back from. In total, Harden knocked down a game-high 39 points while dishing out 10 assists.
With Chris Paul out, Harden’s heroics were necessary, but something also desperately needed was a relevant supporting cast, which the Rockets had plenty of tonight. On top of Gerald Green’s 15 points off the bench, Eric Gordon dropped 18 points and Clint Capela had another 20-20 game with 21 points and 23 rebounds.
Capela and teammate P.J. Tucker combined for 39 rebounds, 26 on the offensive end. To put it in perspective, the entire Spurs team clutched 43 rebounds in total, with just 5 on the offensive glass.
The big reason behind the Rockets win tonight was the activity on the glass. It gave Houston several second chance opportunities which the team connected on. The team also should be admired for its persistence from its deep shots. Despite shooting so poorly in the first half, the team continued to shoot until it went in. The Rockets caught fire in the third and put their foot on the gas pedal. They were able to stretch their lead wide enough to combat the Spurs’ run in the final quarter, which ultimately led to a victory.
While Harden continued to put up miraculous MVP numbers, the balanced offense was a pleasantry tonight and something that will hopefully continue while Chris Paul is injured for the next two to three weeks.
Guys like Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker will need to chip in even more than what they had done before. Danuel House, Jr. will be someone asked to step up to the plate in more ways than one. He got his first start in his Rockets tenure tonight and walked away tonight with just four points, but his contributions tonight were beyond the box score. He played well defensively and will be asked to continue to do so while CP3 is out.
With the win tonight, the Rockets swap positions in the Western Conference standings with the Spurs, climbing up to 7th, with the Spurs falling back to 9th. Let’s see if the Rockets can keep pace in the West on Christmas Day when the Thunder come to town. Tipoff is at 2 p.m. CT.