The Rockets won a no-doubter Tuesday evening over the Kings, as they never trailed on their way to a 130-108 final score.
The story of the game, however, was the Rockets hot outside shooting as the team matched the NBA single-game record they set earlier this season with 26 threes (at a 42 percent clip!). Although every Rocket save Clint Capela and Gary Clark hit at least one, James Harden (7 threes) and Eric Gordon (5 threes) were the main catalysts from beyond.
The Rockets were led by Harden’s 36 points and 10 assists, while Gordon and Danuel House both chipped in 19. Chris Paul struggled from the field, going only 3/12, but dished out 12 assists to only 2 turnovers.
Buddy Hield led the Kings with 20 points, but finished a game-worst -25 for the game. Otherwise, Marvin Bagley continued to impress, contributing 19 points and 8 rebounds to the losing effort.
The game began with the Harden and Paul relentlessly attacking one of Nemanja Bjelica or Willie Cauley-Stein in pick and roll or isolation each trip down, creating either lay-in’s for themselves or open three’s for others to open up an 8-4 lead.
However, the Rockets went cold from beyond for a stretch allowing the Kings to keep it a one-possession game behind a flurry of shotmaking from Buddy Hield.
After the teams traded baskets for a few minutes, the tide shifted for the Rockets. With Paul and Capela exiting the game for their normal rest, the bench-plus-Harden lineup hit four of their final five threes to close the quarter on an 11-2 run, putting Houston up 33-23.
Unfortunately, the bench-plus-Paul lineup didn’t fare nearly as well to start the second quarter, as Bogdan Bogdanovic sparked a 10-5 run, pulling the Kings back within five.
Shortly afterward, the Rockets threatened to pull away following back to back three-point possessions from Eric Gordon, but a personal 5-0 run from Hield once again kept the Kings within striking distance down six.
After re-inserting Paul into the game with about four minutes to go in the quarter, the Rockets blew the game open. Harden scored eight of his 23 first-half points in short order to create the game’s first real separation before P.J. Tucker hit his third three of the half to beat the buzzer, putting the Rockets up 62-46.
Early in the third, after the Rockets had pushed the lead to 19, a 7-2 Sacramento run pulled them within 14, threatening to make this a game once again.
Harden had different ideas.
Four of the next five Houston possessions saw Harden create an open three for himself or another— with the only exception being a ferocious House dunk— stretching the lead to the mid-twenties.
Once again, the bench-plus-Paul lineup struggled to finish the quarter, allowing a 9-0 Kings run powered by Bagley to make it a 14 point game entering the fourth.
Luckily, that same lineup found their stride to begin the fourth, with Paul assisting on four straight Houston field goals to stretch the lead back above 20.
After three straight threes from Harden and Gordon stretched the lead to almost 30, the Rockets called it, inserting Chris Chiozza and Clark to put the finishing touches on the squad’s superb outing.
Chiozza hit lucky number 26 with about a minute and a half remaining, but the Rockets went cold from there, failing to break what’s currently the most fluid record in the league.
The win put the Rockets a half-game ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for third-place in the Western Conference and pulled them within 1.5 games of the second-placed Denver Nuggets.
The Rockets are back in action tonight at the LA Clippers @ 9:30 pm CST.