Houston went into Toronto as the best road team in the league while they entered the building of the best home team in the league, and early on, the homecourt advantage helped Toronto jump out to a double-digit lead.
The lead ballooned to as much as 19 points and the Rockets looked ice cold from the start. The team shot just 40 percent in the first half compared to the Raptors’ 55 percent. The Rockets also made just a single three in the opening half as the Raptor defense forced them to settle for shots inside the paint.
The Rockets dug themselves into a huge hole in the first half that was simply too much to recover from. Despite their valiant efforts to get back into the game, their efforts came just short. The deficit was 15 at halftime, but the Rockets were able to cut it to 8 at the end of the third and the lead was completely erased with 2:10 to go as James Harden hit a three to tie the game at 102.
However, the Rockets went scoreless for a two-minute span that allowed the Raptors to climb back into the driver’s seat and put the game away. The Rockets had their chances to respond, but ultimately came just short. Harden was unable to sink the final shot from the logo and the Raptors sent the winning streak into extinction.
There are two ways to look at this loss. You can say the Rockets lost the game by playing poor defense in the first half or you can say the Raptors won this game. Toronto played extremely well because, well, they are an extremely good team. Former Rocket-turned-Rocket-killer Kyle Lowry had a team-high 30 and made seven of his nine triples. DeMar DeRozan added a cool 23 and received some MVP chants from the raucous Toronto crowd. Jonas Valanciunas had a double-double and had some incredible stops on Clint Capela in the waning possessions of the game. And Fred Van Vleet, my God. He had an incredible night as well. 11 points for him, but it felt like more. It astonishes me that he went undrafted.
For the Rockets, they did not play horribly, but they didn’t play a solid 48 minutes. They outscored the Raptors by 12 in the second half but it was too little, too late. The team shot 49 percent from the floor, but made just nine threes in 27 attempts. That number is usually a lot higher and the team needed just one more three to tie the game up. You can say bad on the Rockets for missing all those threes or you can credit the Raptors for playing stout defense.
All in all, the Raptors played a very great game for four quarters and barely won. In the playoffs, a team is going to have to win four games against the Rockets, and it still looks like a daunting task. The streak may be over, but the Rockets still looked like a team that is going to fight for a championship. There are not many teams better than the Raptors and they were able to beat the Rockets tonight. But good luck to teams who need to win four games against them. They’ll need it.
The Rockets look to start another winning streak on Sunday as they face the Mavericks in Dallas. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.