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Three observations from the Rockets’ victory over the Thunder

A hot start. A boost from the second unit. And lack of heavy minutes led the Houston Rockets to a blowout victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Houston Rockets v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Here are three observations from the Houston Rockets’ 136-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Monday night, inside the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

A fast start was pleasing to the eye of Stephen Silas

The Houston Rockets have been one of the hottest teams in the league for a variety of reasons. But starting the game off strong has not been one of them. The Rockets have entered the second quarter trailing their opponents in three of the last five games — averaging 28.4 points during the first period. Although they came away with the win in each of the three games, the Rockets’ slow start was a concern for Stephen Silas. About an hour before the opening tip inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Rockets’ readiness and approach to the game was a point of emphasis for Silas.

Whatever message Silas delivered during his pre-game speech was received. John Wall set the tone early by draining his first two threes to score Houston’s first six points. By the end of the first 12 minutes, the Rockets scored 48 points to go along with 11 made triples. Instead of making up for lost ground, the Rockets cruised to their sixth consecutive win. Houston’s hot start resulted in the Rockets setting a franchise record of 28 threes — while shooting 53.8 percent from behind the arc.

What has been the Rockets' success on offense since the departure of James Harden? Ball movement. Prior to the start of the season, Silas said he wanted more ball movement on offense and less isolation play. This play below between Houston’s W.O.W. Factor is an example of how Silas envisions running his offense.

“As we talked about a few times, the start of the game is something we have been focusing on. I think you can see the team coming together as far as our unselfish play. The ball movement has been really good as far as getting the ball into the paint and making plays. Our three-point shooting was because we were moving the ball. It is just fun to watch the group come together.” — Silas

Do the Rockets have one of the best second units in the league?

The Rockets had seven players who scored in double figures in their win over the Thunder, and leading the way was Eric Gordon. He scored a team-high 25 points while shooting 8-for-12 from the field, 5-for-9 from behind the arc. This was Gordon’s sixth 20-point performance over the last eight games, as he continues to provide the Rockets with a spark off the bench.

But against the Thunder, Gordon was not the only Rocket who gave Houston a significant boost. The Rockets had two additional players who scored in double figures in Danuel House (13) and DeMarcus Cousins (17). Altogether, Houston’s second unit scored a season-high 68 points.

With John Wall, Victor Oladipo, and Christian Wood surpassing expectations, it is easy to overlook how deep the Rockets bench has become. The pairing of Cousins and Gordon is enough to upgrade half of the league’s starting lineup. And Houston has one of the league’s best three-point snipers in Ben McLemore playing a reserve role.

But one of Silas’ most underrated decisions as a head coach was substituting Jae’Sean Tate in the starting five for House. Although Silas’ decision took place during House’s near three-week absence, the Rockets second unit has averaged 49.0 points since his return.

In addition, Cousins called Gordon “the leader of the second unit.” And the leader has a vision he would like to come to pass for the Rockets.

“With the second unit, I want us to be the best second unit in the league. Every time we step foot onto the floor, we have to create a major impact on the floor. That’s what we have been doing and will continue to do.” — Gordon

Blowout win provides the Rockets with much-needed rest

The NBA has always been known for having a grueling schedule. And the 2021 season is maybe the NBA’s most difficult calendar to date. Every day teams are either playing or practicing, which is not giving their bodies the appropriate amount of time to recover. For a team that has a handful of players working their way back from injuries, a 30-point victory gave the Rockets some much-needed rest on the sideline.

No player played more than 27 minutes Monday night. It’s a vital yet overlooked accomplishment for Silas, with the Rockets amid a four-game road trip that includes a back-to-back contest against the Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies.

“It was very important that we make sure that guys are not getting burned out. We have a back-to-back coming up and it will be tough. We have to play Memphis — who has been on a roll. And then we have to go home and play San Antonio. Night after night. Game after game. Every night we need our best. And we have to be rested.” — Silas