Kevin Porter Jr. crossed half court of the Golden 1 Center with the ball in his hands late in the fourth quarter. With 1:37 left on the game clock, the Houston Rockets held a one-point advantage over the Sacramento Kings and hoped to revenge a loss sustained against their current opponent nearly 48 hours earlier.
Christian Wood came down to the perimeter to set a pick for Porter with the intention of giving his point guard enough space for an open shot. Porter, who connected on four of his triples prior to his latest attempt, drilled his fifth three-pointer of the game as the Rockets took a 114-110 lead with 78 seconds left in regulation.
Porter’s late-game execution against the Kings marked the third time over the last seven games he came up huge down the stretch of a close game, as the Rockets took a 118-112 victory over the Kings on Sunday. He hit a similar clutch shot against the Spurs in the Rockets’ win in San Antonio, days after Porter drilled his first career buzzer-beater as Houston stole a victory against the Washington Wizards on January 5.
Porter’s recent clutch performances are the latest example of the continuous growth the Rockets have experienced as a whole through the first 45 games of the 2022 NBA campaign.
“As a team, we want poise to be a part of our identity, and me being the point guard, I try to stay as poised as I can for the other four that are out there with us. Down the stretch, I love those shots, but being poised is what it is all about.” — Porter
Shortly after the Rockets’ six-point victory over the Kings, coach Stephen Silas said it was a complete team win for Houston, as the game symbolized nearly every area of progress for his players. One moment that stood out to Silas when observing his players applying the lessons learned from the sidelines was Jalen Green’s offensive rebound with 24.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Through the first 30 games of his young career, Green has established himself as one of the most athletic players in the league. He is one of the fastest guards averaging 103.6 in pace, and every night, Green is gliding through the air to add more highlights to his never-ending rookie dunker reel.
But rather than using his strenuosity for a chance to be featured on Sports Center’s nightly top-10 plays, Silas has challenged Green to use his athleticism to have a more extensive impact on the game — whether it be helping the Rockets gain an additional offensive possession or assisting on the defensive side of the ball.
As the result of Green using his athleticism to out-rebound three Kings following a missed three-pointer by Porter, Houston gained an additional offensive possession that ensued in Eric Gordon scoring a late go-ahead basket for the Rockets.
“That was the biggest play right there. I thought my shot had gone in, but it rimmed out. Thankfully, he was there to pick me up, and that’s what we need from one another. When we miss something, we have to know that our guy is there to pick us back up. That’s what Jay [Jalen Green] did for me. He then passed it to E [Eric Gordon], and he picked us all up with his layup.” — Porter
Each player who stepped onto the court for the Rockets displayed their growth in the win over the Kings, but none was more significant than Wood’s leadership.
Since Wood took the helm as the face of the Rockets franchise following the departure of James Harden in January of 2021, there has been continuous doubt on his on-court leadership qualities. It’s a query that has grown in recent weeks, following Wood’s in-game dispute with Silas on New Year’s Day in a loss to the Denver Nuggets.
One of the many questions surrounding Wood’s leadership is whether or not he is vocal enough as a defensive anchor. But against the Kings, Silas attributed Wood’s on-court communication as the rationale behind Houston’s defensive success in Sacramento.
Due to Wood becoming more vocal on the defensive end, Silas noticed his team became more aware of picks and had more protection behind the ball.
The Rockets held the Kings to under 30 points in three out of the four quarters, which has become a primary defensive objective for Silas. As one of Silas’ many quotes, “communication brings organization.”
“We were talking. Guys were moving and scrambling all over the place. We were not letting them get easy or open looks, and we were trying to make the game tough for Harrison [Barnes] and Buddy [Hield]. It’s good to see everyone click on the same page, and we can build off this.” — Wood
After recording wins against the Spurs and Kings, the Rockets are 2-1 amid their current five-game road trip. To the average spectator, recording a pair of wins against two inferior teams may not suggest anything when measuring Houston’s development. But for Silas, the win against the Kings shows progression and growth for his young Rockets.
“It’s everything. You can see we played a more educated game because of our experience the night before. That’s our group. We have to learn from every experience to grow and improve. We are seeing some improvements.
To win two out of three on the road for us is a big step. We are proud of ourselves, and we can enjoy this one. But we have to understand, what it takes to get to this. The way we started the game was great. And the way we finished the game was great. We just have to continue to do stuff like that.” — Silas