An evening that began with an at-the-time mysterious benching of Christian Wood would only grow worse throughout the night as the Houston Rockets got pummeled by Denver 124-111 and then made national headlines shortly after.
Those headlines of course being the reports that what head coach Stephen Silas described as a spirited debate during the half was more of a heated exchange. A disagreement that was so tension-filled that it left Kevin Porter Jr. taking to his car and leaving the arena, while Wood refused to check-in for the second half of action.
Dating back to when the rebuild began, it’s been easy to describe a lopsided Rockets loss by saying it was “just that type of night”. But Saturday night was different. This time it seems as if the mental burden that comes with losing caused an eruption so big that it caught the national media's attention.
Right before the midway point’s discussion that left the team without two players for the final two quarters, the Rockets had just finished getting torched to a tune of 47 second-quarter points. As a result, they trailed 77-55, but eventually were able to use a red-hot scoring effort in the final frame to steer themselves from further embarrassment.
Both Nikola Jokic (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Facundo Campazzo (22 points, 12 assists) played a key part in picking apart Houston, but they weren’t the only ones. In total, there were seven Nuggets that reached double-figures while only four Rockets were able to achieve that feat; one of them being Jalen Green, who was the game’s leading scorer with 29 points and who shot 12-14 from the free-throw line.
When asked about his frequent visits to the charity stripe, Green eluded to reporters that adjusting to the speed of the game was a reason for it.
“The game’s starting to slow down a little bit for me... making better reads, seeing things that’s open... I’m just being more patient.” - Green
But the rookie’s big night wasn’t the main talking point and that likely has to do with the defensive miscues that reportedly caused the halftime tension. Green stated that the Rockets just “weren’t playing hard enough” and were too focused on the offensive end.
That same sentiment about the lack of effort was echoed by Silas, who opened up on the halftime happenings when asked about their delayed return from the locker room.
“We were angry... that we had just given up 47 points, so we watched the film, we... had a spirited debate” Silas continued, “ I have certain demands of this group as far as playing hard, making mistakes is different than giving the effort... so halftime took a bit longer”. - Silas
Now having lost seven straight, Houston is in danger of falling victim to another double-digit loss streak - a plague that has struck them twice within the last two seasons. They’ll also have to figure out how to move forward. According to Kelly Iko of the Athletic, Porter Jr. has been in touch with the Rockets and is apologetic, which leaves all eyes on Wood, who recorded a -17 plus-minus in just eight minutes of action.
Throughout the season, the 26-year old forward has been a common talking point. He originally left the Detroit Pistons and signed with Rockets with the intention of being paired with the MVP duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Now he finds himself as a seemingly frustrated member of a team that’s building towards the future.
While it’s unclear what exactly went down in the catacombs of the Toyota Center or what will happen in the immediate future, the Houston Rockets have just one day that sits between them and a battle on the road against the Joel Embiid led Philadelphia 76ers.