Well, no one ever said it was going to be easy, but a win is a win, and the Rockets got their 17th in a row Wednesday night in Milwaukee by defeating the Bucks 110-99. Despite the double-digit final tally, this was just a five-point game with a little more than a minute to go, after the Rockets shot 6-21 from the field on tired legs in the fourth quarter.
But Chris Paul hit an acrobatic shot with 45 seconds remaining, and the Rockets finished the night hitting their free throws, and they got out of Milwaukee with their league-leading 51st victory of the year.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 26 points on 8-20 shooting to go along with 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals, and the Rockets avoided a “schedule loss” by holding on down the stretch on the dreaded second night of a back-to-back.
It didn’t initially appear that the back-to-back would be an issue with Houston up by 12 at halftime off of a 30-foot buzzer beater from Harden, and they were also up by double digits for large chunks of the second half. The Bucks’ late surge made it a little close for comfort, but as they’ve done all year, the Rockets executed both offensively and defensively when it mattered most to keep the streak rolling.
In addition to Harden, the Rockets also got 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 11 assists from Paul, and as usual, he was key handling the rock and managing the offense to close the game. Paul’s presence to end games has been a noticeable change for the Rockets this year.
Houston also received 18 points from Eric Gordon, who hit several clutch three-pointers, finishing 4-8 from deep, and they also got 11 points from Luc Mbah a Moute and 10 points and 8 boards from Clint Capela, who played just 19 minutes as both teams trotted out small-ball lineups for extended stretches.
The Bucks were led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 30 points and 7 rebounds, and they also got 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists from Khris Middleton, 15 points each from Eric Bledsoe and Sterling Brown and 10 points from Jabari Parker to round out the players in double figures.
The Rockets move to 51-13 on the season and now lead the idle Golden State Warriors by a full game in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets have a night off before returning to the court on Friday night north of the border. They will travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors in a titanic battle of the best teams in each Conference. There’s also the little matter of a certain win streak, which will have the chance to reach 18 games should the Rockets defeat the Raps.