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Rockets’ struggles are fine as long as they compete

A loss is a loss, but it’s okay to compare efforts.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Houston Rockets Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Opening night for the Houston Rockets was about as ugly as it can get. They were embarrassed, taunted, and at times just looked as if they didn’t belong on the floor with Minnesota. Last night against the Celtics, although they lost, saw a much better effort.

After they lost to Boston, there wasn’t a wave of hot takes or a virtual angry mob, there weren’t wandering eyes focused on Evan Mobley (or were there?) or suggestions that certain players would never pan out. Instead, there was a joyful mood floating through the air and it was in large part due to the rookie Jalen Green.

If you somehow haven’t heard, Green detonated for 30 points while knocking down 11-18 shots from the floor, 8 of those came makes came from beyond the arc on 10 attempts (!).

He already had a special night going until he hammered home a dunk late as he flew past Jayson Tatum to turn his night stoic. He had become the second player to need only three games to topple that high of a scoring mark joining only Michael Jordan in that category.

Along with that, Green became the first rookie in Houston’s history to total 30+ points and 8+ threes in a game while also becoming the first to knock down that amount of threes in an outing alone.

His effort, along with the fight that the team showed, is why the Rockets were able to compete with the Celts until they took the game over in the third quarter.

When the game tipped off, Houston was noticeably engaged on both ends on the floor - maybe because they didn’t want to sleepwalk against a talent like Tatum or maybe they just learned what happens when you start slow, but nonetheless, they played like that was a game they were supposed to win.

They played solid defense in the opening half for the most part, but there were a few times when Boston’s young star had his former teammate Daniel Theis switched onto him, and each time, he put him in the cooker, but it really didn't matter which defender the Rockets threw at him, because he finished with 20 first-half points on 8-13 shooting.

While Green was the star of the show, Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. took the responsibility of supporting roles and each was impactful. Wood had 20 points, pulled down 9 rebounds, and shot 5-14 from the field, which isn’t great, but he made a positive impact on the game. Porter Jr. added 15 points and shot 3-7 from beyond the arc as he continues to look more comfortable from deep, but he still has to be better while operating the offense, because he had 8 turnovers on the evening.

As the early part of the season continues to roll on, it’s imperative that this team continues to grow comfortable around each other, and two guys that are already beginning to click are Wood and Alpahren Sengun.

When you have the physical presence that Sengun has, guys are going to be overzealous in trying to block your shot, because they know they can’t move him off the block but are confident in their ability to outjump him. As a response, he is incredibly patient when working with his back to the basket and waits for the defender to react too early which allows him to get fouled, get the bucket, or both.

This causes defenders to pay extra attention to Sengun and suddenly they start throwing double teams at him or show a bit of help when possible, but he’s shown great floor awareness, which allows him to analyze potential cutters or who might be left open and then execute it with a quick, non-hesitant pass, which leaves Houston in scoring positions and it’s fans in awe.

So when you notice instances where Sengun sets up a Rocket player for a wide open layup, don’t just chalk it up as a blown assignment for the defense — great passes get the ball to their teammates before the defense has a chance to react. It’s why coaches at all levels plead for spacing and movement; someone will always end up open.

As mentioned earlier, this game was lost in the third quarter after the teams went in the locker room at halftime with Houston trailing 53-51, which isn’t necessarily the biggest deal in the world. Even without Jaylen Brown, Boston is the more talented and experienced team, and they took advantage of that by outscoring Jalen Green and Co. 36-21 over the course of that third period. But overall, they fought, which is all you can ask for.

With a performance like this, they’ve set a new standard for how they should be competing. There will be nights where they play hard but get blown out due to a team’s overwhelming talent, but as long as they compete at this level, there’s not much that criticism that can be thrown towards them. The opening game against the Timbewolves was unacceptable, and while you never want to lose, their outing against the Celtics generated positivity geared towards thoughts about the future, which is how a rebuild with this type of roster is supposed to feel.