The Rockets are all smiles in Toronto after a 119-109 win at the Scotiabank Arena.
Given the events from Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs, this was a much-needed jolt for the team to move them back in the right direction.
The Rockets lead for the entire first half and built a lead as large as 16 in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, the Raptors pieced together a 16-1 run spanning nearly four minutes and turned the game around.
However, instead of falling deeper into the hole, the Rockets pulled themselves out, stealing back the lead late in the third quarter and never relinquishing it in the fourth.
Late in the game, the Rockets offense froze once again. The team went over four minutes without scoring, but the Rockets defense was also up to par and only allowed four Raptor points during that timeframe.
The Raptors were able to cut the lead to six with less than a minute to go, and it appeared the Raptors would make it a one-possession game after Austin Rivers was called for a foul on a Fred VanVleet three-point attempt. However, the Rockets challenged the foul and the referees ruled in their favor. The Raptors never sniffed the lead closer than that moment.
This game was very uncharacteristic to the Rockets we have come to know throughout the first quarter of the season.
For the first time since opening night, someone not named James Harden led the team in scoring. It was in fact Ben McLemore who had the team-high with 28 on 9-18 shooting.
The 28 points are a season-high for McLemore, just three points shy of a career-high. McLemore took all but one of his 18 shots from behind the arc and the team kept rolling with him as he had the hot hand. The plan definitely worked, as Harden garnered much of the attention, leaving McLemore wide open in the corner for most of the night.
It was also the first game back for Danuel House Jr., who came off the bench after missing the past two games with an illness. House scored 14 of his 16 points in the first quarter, taking a lot of pressure off of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who played 48 minutes each just 48 hours prior to tipoff in San Antonio.
For Westbrook, the fatigue showed as he shot an abysmal 7-27 from the field. He still came out with a triple-double with 19 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
In Harden’s case, he looked tired but he had one of his most efficient games of the season, scoring 23 points on 7-11 shooting. Harden shot a season-low six free throws, a far cry from his 24 in the last game. Despite the volume shrinking, the efficiency grew, which is a plus for Harden and the Rockets.
It might have been an unorthodox Rockets game, but they went on the road to defeat the defending champions two days after playing a double overtime slugfest. This is no small feat and it should be celebrated. Perhaps the team could learn from this method of winning and translate it to fit their more common style.
The Rockets return home to face the Phoenix Suns Saturday night. Tipoff is at 7 PM CT.