Houston made a complete 180 against Milwaukee from their Friday-night game against the Dallas Mavericks, and it started on defense. In the first half against the Mavs, Houston allowed 85 points. In their matchup against the Bucks, they allowed only a solemn 54 through two quarters to go along with an eight-point lead.
The most impressive takeaway for Houston all night was their fortitude and patience.
The Rockets started off the game down by 13 early in first quarter after the Bucks’ Khris Middleton (19 points in the first half) got off to a scorching start. Houston continued to play defense and look for their shots to wind up with a lead at the half.
Houston found themselves in a similar situation late in the fourth quarter when Milwaukee took an eight-point lead with 3:14 left in the game, their largest of the second half. But a layup from Westbrook and three consecutive turnovers from the Bucks that led to seven-straight Rockets points found them up 113-112 when 1:41 left in the game and eventually the win.
The Rockets allowed only four Milwaukee points in the final 3:14 of the match, as they went off on a 16-4 run.
Not enough can be said about the Rockets defense. Houston forced 23 Bucks turnovers while allowing only 23 free-throw attempts. They also held Milwaukee to only 9-of-35 from deep and 48.9% from the field despite giving up 60 points in the paint.
The Bucks had a ton of success going inside to their 7-footer Brook Lopez (23 points, 9-18 FGA) in the second half, but that would be their ultimate demise. Houston was outscored in the paint 60-20, but made 12 more threes (21-61 3PA) than Milwaukee. The Bucks reliance on scoring two points each possession, while the Rockets remained relentless with the deep ball, never gave them an opportunity to pull away.
Russell Westbrook was phenomenal this game, dropping 31 points, eight assists, and six rebounds on 10-21 shooting from the field, 10-12 from the free-throw line. Westbrook’s contribution was imperative as the Bucks smothered James Harden all game, holding him to only 24 points on 5-14 from the field and 11-13 from the free-throw line after he got into foul trouble early. Harden had an incredible all-around game for Houston, though, tossing in seven rebounds, seven assists, and six steals.
In the end, it would be the role players would stepped up the most for Houston. Robert Covington, Danuel House Jr., Jeff Green, and Ben McLemore went a combined 13-of-32 from three for a whopping 40% from deep. P.J. Tucker struggled with his three-point shot (3-12 3PA), but he played impeccable defense and hit a three with 2:32 left in the game to bring Houston within three points. House (4-8 3PA) and Covington combined for 31 points in the win, while Green went 3-8 from deep and held his own in the unfortunate task of guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo. Green showed tonight to be a valuable asset at the center position on both end of the court.
On the other side, Khris Middleton might have done most of his work in the first half, but he still dropped a smooth 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to go along with six turnovers on 10-of-18 shooting from the field. Giannis Antetokounmpo was a terror, per usual, dropping 36 points, 18 rebounds, and eight assists on 14-of-25 shooting, 2-5 from deep.
The Rockets don’t get the luxury of celebrating their win over the best team in the NBA for too long, as they face off against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday before meeting up with the best team in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers, on Thursday night. Houston now moves into the fourth seed at 42-24 on the season, only a game back of the Denver Nuggets for third.