Tonight in what was the Rockets official second game, but actual first game played, they fell by two points in overtime. This is the sort of loss that might be disheartening.
Except it wasn’t.
Tonight the Rockets fielded a team of just nine available players.
Four of those players were actually drafted in the NBA Draft.
P.J. Tucker was chosen 35th in 2006, who had a largely forgettable game.
James Harden was chosen third in 2009.
Bruno Caboclo was selected 20th in 2014, no matter how many years he might, or might not, be away. (He played all of 4 minutes in an OT game, with a thin bench, so maybe he’s not here yet?)
And Sterling Brown was the 46th pick in 2017.
The rest of the Rockets roster tonight went undrafted, from Christian Wood, who generally looked great, but somewhat off-kilter given his lack of time with his new team, to Danuel House Jr, David Nwaba, Jae’Sean Tate, and Brodric Thomas.
The Rockets actually lead substantially in the first half, but that was cancelled out in the second half by CJ McCollum having his best 3pt shooting night of his career, hitting 9 of 16. It was his 3pt shot in in the waning seconds of overtime that sealed the game for Portland.
It seemed like the sort of game in the second half where the last full possession would win it, and so it proved.
(Note - I’d like various Portland Trailblazers to stop having career nights against the Rockets. They can do it against someone else. There are other teams in the NBA.)
James Harden may be disgruntled, but a showing like this one could gruntle him a bit. The Rockets were highly competitive without their most, and third most, expensive players on the roster being available. Not to mention a former all-star center, and a 3pt shooting sniper.
Harden, himself, went for 44pts, 17ast, 4rbs, 1stl. There’s a lot of talk about Harden being heavy, but it was tough to see how it hurt him tonight.
Christian Wood, was Harden’s prime double entendre (or plain old entendre) partner. Wood scored 31 pts, grabbed 13 rbs, dished 3 ast, and had a block. He got outmuscled at times by Portland’s big center rotation of Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter, but adding Demarcus Cousins to that picture should definitely help. Overall, though, Wood looked fast and dangerous on offense, and somewhat lost on defense.
For that matter, the whole Rockets team looked lost on defense. This is understandable for a unit that probably quadrupled its minutes together tonight. Portland’s core players have been together three seasons. This year’s key Rockets haven’t played all together once.
Rotations should be more crisp in coming days, and assignments missed less frequently as the team gets more time together in game situations.
Tonight was a narrow defeat, and the Rockets might fall again in Denver as well. Based on tonight’s results, however, Rockets fans can take heart in the depth of the team, its flexibility, and energy. Even though the season is shorter, it remains set at 72 games, which is only roughly 14% shorter than usual.
Based on tonight’s showing a complete Rockets team should be very good indeed, and make up any lost ground, given time together and health.
Tonight it seemed as though the Rockets might have notched the win had any one of John Wall, Eric Gordon, Demarcus Cousins or Ben McLemore been present. They should return to the Rockets by Wednesday to face the Sacramento Kings. Let’s hope good things are happening by then in what has been a turbulent off-season (to say the least) for the Rockets.
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