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Rockets’ win over Pistons show a new winning blueprint for Houston

No longer a one-man show, the Houston Rockets exhibited hustle and grit in their one-point victory over the Pistons Friday night.  

Houston Rockets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Stephen Silas said he was hoping the referees saw what he saw. With 3.4 seconds remaining in the game, Jerami Grant scored a layup over the top of P.J. Tucker. The ball clearly went in as the buzzer sounded, but Tucker made contact with Grant on his way to the basket.

If Tucker’s bump came before the buzzer, it would have allowed Grant an opportunity to win the game from the foul line for the Detroit Pistons. But rather than watching Grant ice the game from the charity stripe, Tucker ran off the floor celebrating a victory with his teammates. The referees confirmed what Silas saw on his iPad from the sideline — Tucker’s foul on Grant also came after time expired.

“We had the iPad on the side, and we saw it. We were just hoping they saw what we saw. It was nerve-racking. Finger biting time. We came a hair of a second. That was a tough moment for sure.” — Silas

The Houston Rockets 103-102 victory Friday night was a reminder of how much has changed for the team in recent weeks. No longer could Houston lean on the shoulders of James Harden — who has averaged 30.6 points inside the Motor City since 2012. It took a total team effort on both ends for the Rockets to record a win over the Pistons.

The Rockets had seven players who scored in double figures, with three coming off the bench. Leading the way was Eric Gordon, who scored a team-high 20 points shooting 40 percent from the field. From being the team’s facilitator to their defensive stopper, Gordon took on a variety of roles for the short-handed Rockets (5-9) inside Little Caesars Arena. But Gordon’s most significant role came late in the fourth quarter as Houston’s closer.

Gordon made several plays down the stretch to keep Houston afloat after giving up a 20-point lead. But instead of draining multiple three-point shots, Gordon found success attacking the basket when providing the Rockets with a much-needed bucket. It’s a part of Gordon’s game that has benefited the most from his health when compared to last season.

“I need to continue doing that more. I just have to continue to have the energy — especially to play make more. I believe it is a game of mine that I can do. I just have to do it more. When shots are not falling, I can get to the rim. Once I get back into the rhythm, I will only get better and better.” — Gordon

But before Gordon became Houston’s go-to man, it was their grit and physicality that set the tone for the game. The Rockets finally got off to a good start — something that has fretted Silas during their three-game skid. The Rockets’ defense forced the Pistons to turn the ball over nine times en route to a 34-21 lead in the first quarter.

While Jae’Sean Tate’s and David Nwaba’s defense and hustle took place out on the perimeter, DeMarcus Cousins embodied Houston’s grit from the inside.

Cousins started in place of the injured Christian Wood and failed to replicate Wood’s scoring (23.5 ppg) with five points (2-16 FG, 1-6 3PT) on the night. But Cousins’ most notable contribution came on the boards. The four-time All-Star pulled down a season-high 15 rebounds, surpassing the 10.8 boards Wood is currently averaging on the season for Houston.

“It is kinda like the San Antonio win. We were limited on guys and everyone played a role in this win. Overall, the contributions from everybody doing their job and coming together during adverse times is what I am most proud of.” — Silas

Injuries and lack of chemistry have been a consistent problem for the Rockets all season. And the reason why Houston has only won five of their first 14 games. After the win, Silas said it seems like the team is starting to come together. And his statement will be tested Saturday night when the Rockets take on the 8-7 Dallas Mavericks.

The Rockets are in the midst of developing a new blueprint for success after losing Harden to the Nets. Hustle and grit may be enough to pull off an upset in Dallas. But hopefully, the difference between a win and a loss does not come down to a call made by the referee.