The Houston Rockets ran into a whole lot of problems during Wednesday night’s season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves and in large part, those problems were named Anthony Edwards and Karl Anthony-Towns.
With all the excitement about the young core, its potential, and how effective they might be this year, there was a ton of anticipation for the opening game of the season. And with them playing against the Timberwolves, whose name has long been tied with losing, it was easy to assume that this was a close or even winnable game for the Rockets. But these aren’t the same ole’ T-Wolves and Houston had to learn that the hard way.
In the opening minutes, it was pretty clear that this game had the potential of getting ugly. Josh Okogie was harassing Kevin Porter Jr, Jalen Green wasn’t getting any shots up, Christian Wood wasn’t as aggressive as you’d like him to be while on the other hand KAT was throwing down dunks and yelling with passion for all of the Target Center to hear; he finished with 30 points on 11-15 shooting while knocking down 3-4 threes and pulling down 10 rebounds.
If Towns was the only guy that had gone off then maybe this wouldn’t have been such a rough outing, but Anthony Edwards (and all the step-backs that came with him) scored 29 of his own and buried 6-12 threes while going 10-21 overall. But even then, two guys losing their minds on the offensive end doesn’t always guarantee a victory - until you realize that D’Angelo Russell pitched in 22 points and 7 assists on 6-16 shooting from the field while hitting 4-8 from beyond the arc.
We all knew heading into the year that Houston would have their struggles on the defensive end, and it was on display with that barrage from the Minny trio. You can chalk this down as many things but more than anything else, it’s just one of the many growing pains that a team this young has to face.
Another one of those pains is learning how to create offense when the opposing team is playing with playoff-level defensive intensity. The Rockets were trying to get into their offense and find scoring opportunities, but they saw 13 shots get blocked, 18 possessions end in steals, and ultimately finished with 24 turnovers.
It was just that kind of night.
On the bright side
Not only did Houston escape the game with no injuries, but they also were able to get Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba, Josh Christopher, and of course Jalen Green their first NBA minutes; each of them scored more than two points.
Sengun had the best performance of the night out of all the rookies, he scored 11 points on 3-4 shooting and also grabbed 6 rebounds. He was on the floor for 19 minutes, and it won’t be a shock to anyone if he’s out there longer against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Garuba and Christopher were part of a bench unit that helped the score look much better than the game would reflect. They each played eight minutes but were extremely effective, both recording a +17 in the plus-minus due to their energy and pacing that they along with David Nwaba, Armoni Brooks, and KJ Martin Jr brought to the floor.
Green didn’t have the best night of his lief but neither did any Rocket in the starting five, it was a struggle for them which made it even tougher for the rookie to blossom. The question is how will he bounce back? Once upon a time, Lonzo Ball had an ugly opening night against the Los Angeles Clippers but then bounced back with a 29-point, 11-rebound, 9-assist outing - it’s all about adapting.
With how effective the final five were on Wednesday for the Rockets, it seems imperative that they mix in those guys when the game starts to get out of hand because they might just provide a much-needed change of energy that can get the team back in striking distance. Normally you wouldn’t look deep in your bench to find a run, but when you are in the rebuilding stage, you can afford to do things a little differently.
Turnovers, like free throws, like wide-open looks for the other team, are three of basketball’s biggest sins, and with their 24 turnovers, Houston made the basketball gods cringe. Of those 24, KPJ had 9 of those, which in large part were due to how loose he was with the ball, along with staring down his targets before trying to get the pass to them. Minny tasked Okogie with the defensive responsibility of guarding him, and against OKC on Friday, it seems likely that it’ll be Luguentz Dort that’s on KPJ. Let’s let him adjust before we start throwing slander towards his name, please.
I get being passionate about your team but I plead Rocket fans not to be so quick to yell out that the sky is falling it. It may have been a valid concern for Chicken Little, but in this sense, it’s the biggest overreaction that you could have. We expected this season to get uncomfortable, and while it sucks seeing your team lose, that’s just the reality when you lose your franchise player.