It was only their 10th home victory of the season and 19th overall, but the New York Knicks pulled off their most impressive performance of the year in a 125-123 win over the Houston Rockets, Monday night, inside Madison Square Garden in New York.
With the loss, the Rockets’ six-game winning streak came to an end, but most importantly, it was another bad loss for a team trying to improve their playoff standings in the Western Conference. Houston now sits two games back of the Nuggets and Clippers for the No. 2 seed, which creates a must-win situation ahead of their showdown against Los Angeles on Thursday.
Despite losing by two, the final score does not do justice for a team who once trailed by 21 points to the 19-42 Knicks.
The Good: Robert Covington continues to excel in Houston
The lone bright spot in the Rockets’ loss to the Knicks was the performance of Robert Covington.
Since joining the team in February, the addition of Covington has been one of the primary reasons the Rockets have excelled in their experience with small-ball. Although it came in a loss, Covington’s all-around play against the Knicks might have been a sample size to how great he can be as a Rocket.
While recording 20 points in the loss, Covington was the only player who shot the ball at a successful rate, as he connected on 50% of his shots from the field and a sizzling 54% from the outside. Although his scoring was much-need, it was Covington’s play on the defensive end that stood out the most.
The 6-foot-7 forward pulled down 13 boards, to go along two steals, and a huge rejection to keep the Rockets in striking distance in the closing seconds of the game.
The Bad: R.J. Barrett came into his own
After his first meeting against James Harden last Monday, Knicks’ rookie RJ Barrett told The Athletic that he hopes to develop into an MVP candidate similar to the reigning two-time scoring champ one day in his pro-career. Although he has a long way to become half of the MVP candidate as Harden, Barrett is well on his way to becoming an All-Star caliber player in the near future.
In the win against the Rockets, Barrett had what many considered to be the breakout performance of his young career. He tied his career-high with 27 points, while shooting 55% from the field, and sealed the deal for the Knicks on a game-winning layup over P.J. Tucker.
While he may be far from receiving Rookie of the Year honors thanks to Ja Morant and Zion Williamson, his performance against the Rockets will do a lot for his confidence moving forward.
In the two games against the Rockets this season, Barrent has averaged 24.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
The Ugly: Knicks exploit Rockets’ small-ball lineup
The biggest concern with the Rockets’ small-ball lineup has been their inability to rebound the ball. Since fully committing to the play style, Houston has lost in the battle of the boards in all of the previous nine games.
Although they still managed to produce a winning record at 6-3, it would have help if the Rockets had at least one 7-footer who could clean the glass against the Knicks.
Due to their lack of size, New York out-rebounded the Rockets by 31 (65-34) while collecting 20 offensive boards. In addition to their rebounding issues, the Knicks also exploited Houston’s small-ball lineup on the offensive end by recording 64 points in the paint.
While the Rockets are making a statement they can excel without a center, Houston must be more willing to adjust their lineup when getting crushed on the inside.
He is nowhere near the player that made him an All-Star in 2011, but there is nothing wrong playing the likes of Tyson Chandler, who can help provide Houston with some size while on the court. Ten to 15 minutes of playing time for Chandler may have been the deciding factor in a game where the Rockets were demolished from the inside.