The Houston Rockets played a much better game tonight, but the result was the same. In a back-and-forth contest with the Indiana Pacers, the Rockets went up early, only to fall behind, regain the lead in the fourth quarter, but fail to close it out, as they lost their second straight contest 114-107.
John Wall lead the way for Houston, putting up 28 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block on 12-20 from the field, but he also committed a key turnover with 2 minutes in the game and Houston trailing by just 2 points. It was a pivotal moment down the stretch and the beginning of the end for the Rockets.
Houston was playing without Christian Wood who sat with a sore left knee, and were still without one of their best shooters in Ben McLemore, who remains out recovering from COVID-19, and also Danuel House, who was out with a sore back.
DeMarcus Cousins played well in Wood’s place, going for 9 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals, and 4 blocks, and he was a major force on the defensive end, but doesn’t quite carry the offensive capabilities of Wood at this stage of his career.
You’d have to think Wood might have made a difference, as the Pacers were able to double James Harden often and hold him to just 15 points on 5-14 shooting overall and 1-5 from deep. Wood’s presence would have made that strategy more difficult, especially with Wall playing well.
Houston was a little bit tighter defensively tonight, though the small ball lineup did get abused at times, and they were more effective when Boogie was on the floor. However, the big man played just 23 minutes, so without Wood, Houston was forced to go small when Cousins sat, and they suffered.
Eric Gordon looked quick tonight, going for 20 points and had 2 blocks on defense, but he was just 2-10 shooting from deep, and the Rockets could really use EG to find his stroke.
David Nwaba looked dynamic at times and was a huge catalyst on several Houston runs. He finished with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks, and his athleticism continues to stand out.
P.J. Tucker was finally not a net negative, going for 10 points and 6 rebounds while hitting 2 triples and was moving everywhere on defense, finally showing shades of the Tuck we all know and love. Let’s hope he can build off of that and these aren’t now simply one-offs because of his age.
Houston’s biggest downfall again tonight was their three-point shooting. They finished just 8-30 from beyond the arc, and were just 3-15 in the first half. When they started hitting threes in the second half, the game tightened up, but they just weren’t able to sustain it from deep. Getting McLemore back will certainly help, and Harden should break out of a current shooting slump soon, but this is a big improvement area for the Rockets.
Indiana was led by Malcolm Brogdon, who finished with 35 points and 7 assists and Domantas Sabonis, who finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists. He dominated when Boogie sat.
The Pacers also got 20 points and 5 boards from Justin Holiday while also receiving 18 points and 9 rebounds from Victor Oladipo.
Houston now falls to 2-4 on the season, and while it’s not an ideal start, the Rockets have been shorthanded in some form or fashion all season. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that they hung tight with one the league’s hottest teams on the road despite missing three players from their regular rotation and with James Harden having a subpar game.
It’ll be important, however, for the Rockets to get back in the win column Friday night when they return to the Toyota Center to take on the Orlando Magic before upcoming back-to-back contests with the Los Angeles Lakers.