The Rockets entered the game as 12-point favorites, and instead, the team lost by 12 points.
Vegas favorites went a shocking 1-4 yesterday and the country saw four of the best teams in the league get “exposed.”
Let’s take a look at what went wrong yesterday:
James Harden was double-teamed constantly during the second half, which forced the ball into other people’s hands.
This is not anything new that we’ve seen. Harden has received double teams all season long and the team has had to work around them.
When Harden escapes the double team, it usually leads to a 4-3 Houston break with a shooter open in a corner or a lane where speedy Russ can cut to the basket for a layup.
Russell Westbrook, who is shooting 42.6 percent from the field this season, shot a below-average 34.1 percent.
Danuel House Jr., who is shooting 44.1 percent from the field this season, shot a below-average 33.3 percent.
Ben McLemore, who is shooting 41.1 percent from the field this season, shot a below-average 22.2 percent.
Austin Rivers, who is shooting 41 percent from the field this season, shot a below-average 25 percent.
It was the first game all season long where Harden had failed to sink a free throw in a game and just the fifth time in Harden’s tenure as a Rocket.
It was also the fourth game this month where Harden had been held to fewer than 20 shots.
In these four games, the Rockets are 2-2.
The losses come against the Kings (by one point at home) and the Warriors.
The loss against the Kings should be considered an outlier, because the Rockets shot 48 percent and Westbrook made 13 of 17 shots. The Kings also sunk 20 threes, which is very out of character for them, especially considering they only made seven threes as a team in Monday night’s contest.
Yesterday’s game also saw uncharacteristic shooting patterns for the Warriors.
As a team, the Warriors shoot 43 percent from the field. Yesterday, they made 47 percent of their shots.
Draymond Green, who is shooting below 30 percent from three this season, made multiple threes for just the third time this season.
Damion Lee scored 22 points or more for just the second time all season and made it to the foul line 10+ times for just the second time this season.
Glenn Robinson III also made several contested threes when the Rockets failed to make open shots.
However, when the team faced the Clippers and Harden was kept in check, it was Russell Westbrook who took over.
Westbrook went on an absolute tear, getting to the free throw line and dropping 40 in Los Angeles. As a supporting cast, the next worst shooter was P.J. Tucker, who shot 3-8. Everyone else shot 50 percent or better.
When the Rockets traveled north of the border, Ben McLemore saved the day shooting 9-18 with a team-high 28 and Tucker chipped in with 18 of his own.
In games where Harden is neutralized, more often than not, someone is there to pick up the pieces. Harden cannot be Harden in every game we see. Sometimes, people need to pick up the slack, and the slack was not picked up yesterday.
Luckily for the Rockets, it’s only their tenth loss in 31 regular season games. The record is good enough for fourth in a tough Western Conference and just three games behind the top-seeded Lakers.
They also have Eric Gordon waiting in the wings as another player who can alleviate some pressure off of Harden and be another option when The Beard is doubled.
The valid concern that should be brought up is the team continuing to play to its competition, which we have seen at times throughout the year — good or bad.
While that might be a regular season concern, that should be invalid come playoff time, as the Rockets will only play teams at their level or better.
Yesterday’s game was an outlier that is being magnified by the schedule and opponent. Had this happened on December 26 against a team with little national gravitas, the noise would not be as loud as it is.
Instead, the country caught a glimpse of the Rockets, the team with the second-best offense in the league, at one of their worst moments.
The loss needs to be noted, filed, and used to help the team improve. But it does not need to be a defining moment.
One game in December does not define a season, so please do not hit the panic button.