This could have been the second Rockets win of the season. Kevin Porter Jr’s last second 3pt attempt was this close. That said, this was also the Rockets best game of the season, despite it being a loss.
The Lakers needed everything they could get from their future Hall of Famers to narrowly defeat the Rockets tonight. Russell Westbrook scored 27 on efficient shooting. Anthony Davis scored 27, and used his Fall-Down/Shoot-Free-Throw super power frequently, (Carmelo Anthony added 15pts on excellent shooting off the bench). But those great outings wouldn’t have been enough without a vintage Lebron James takeover in the fourth quarter where he scored eight straight points off drives or ISOs and turned a Rockets league around in favor of his team.
The Rockets aren’t the first team to experience this, and won’t be the last, but it couldn’t have been Frank Vogel’s plan to play James 36 minutes, Davis 32 and Westbrook 37 against a team of teenagers like the Rockets.
Tonight however, we saw a glimpse of what these Rockets could be. Tonight the Rockets started Kevin Porter Jr, Jalen Green, JaeSean Tate, Alperen Sengun and Christian Wood. Guess what? It worked. The Rockets ran up and down the court with the Lakers in the the first half in what has to be some of the most entertaining and engaging Rockets basketball in a long, long, time. When the dust of the furious pace of the first half settled, the score was 70-64 in favor of the Rockets.
At one point in the second half, the Rockets managed to extend that lead to 11 points, for a short time, before Lebron James took over the game. No one on the Rockets could slow him down, and the Lakers held on to win a hotly contested game. The final minutes saw a late Rockets surge, including an amazing Jalen Green 3pt shot from 36ft over Anthony Davis, and a Kevin Porter attempt that would have given the Rockets the win, should it have found the net.
Moral victories aren’t as good as real victories, but as losses go, even as games go for the Rockets thus far, this was as good as they get this season. Beating OKC is nice, but not the same.
Possibly the substitution of an ill Eric Gordon for DJ Augustin’s 13 minutes would have changed the result. Augustin is perfectly fine, but for a point guard, he doesn’t rack up many assists. Mostly he shoots corner threes and hangs onto his dribble.
The Rookie Rockets all looked pretty good. Kevin Porter Jr can’t seem to mesh scoring, defending and passing in a single game yet, but the fact that we see him doing all those things well individually gives me hope. Tonight Porter accomplished two of three. He played defense, with 4 steals, and one block, and dished 8 assists to 5 turnovers. Which isn’t the best ratio, but does represent progress.
This was Jalen Green’s best game, with 24pts on 9-15 shooting. Yes, he’s scored more, but he hasn’t had a game of such varied offense, and threat to the opponent. He also dished 5 assists. Green’s speed is otherworldly, and once he begins to finish through contact, the sky is the limit. He basically didn’t score or shoot after the first half until the Rockets late comeback attempt. That shouldn’t happen, even if Christian Wood is playing well.
Speaking of the man, Christian Wood also played a fine game. Playing at his natural position, center, rather than power forward had to have helped. No, he’s not going to stop Anthony Davis, but honestly, who really does? Wood splashed 26pts on 11-19 shooting, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished 3 assists. Unfortunately he shot 1-5 from the FT line. 4 of 5 is a Rockets win. Woods free throw shooting is broken, and 20% isn’t going to get it done in a game. (There is probably a PF draft pick in the Rockets future, unless it’s Sengun or Garuba, just like there’s probably a PG pick, too.)
JaeSean Tate and Kenyon Martin Jr also had fine outings, with 20pts for Tate, and 14 for Martin, who was superb in the first half, but less so in the second.
It wasn’t such a great night for Alperen Sengun. He’s such an interesting player that his outings aren’t ever bad, per se, but his turnover and foul rate is high, which limits his minutes and effectiveness. The sky remains the limit, but he’s not there yet. He does seem to be learning that clever flip shots at the basket get big men nothing but pain in the NBA. Dunks are usually required. I’m not sure he’s utterly ground bound, so much as he realizes he can do more, have more options, if he doesn’t leave his feet. Which is generally correct, but not at the rim.
It was a forgettable night for David Nwaba, given the unenviable task of trying to slow Lebron James. Armoni Brooks also played, but shot 1-4, and if the shot isn’t falling someone else needs to be out there.
In all a fine effort with a slightly disappointing result. But the spark is there of a bolder, brighter Rockets team.
As for the Lakers, they had the look of dads being proud of still being able to take a game against their teenage sons at the park, swaggering around a bit by the water fountain post game. Good for them, but that’s not quite the same as contending for an NBA title.
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