The Rockets fought tooth and nail. They hung tight against the defending champion Denver Nuggets. There’s no shame in...wait a minute, let me edit my first draft.
...Rockets win, baby!
This was a war of attrition. Both offenses stalled at moments throughout the game. In the end, bench production was a significant advantage for the Rockets in their 107-104 victory.
That’s not something we’ve been used to seeing throughout the season. The Nuggets couldn’t get much from their second unit. Collin Gillespie contributed six points on three-for-nine shooting from the field. Zeke Nnaji chipped in a bucket - a far-too-easy offensive rebound followed by an uncontested putback. Otherwise, the Nuggets couldn’t get any production from their bench.
Jeff Green outscored that duo on his own. He had 15 points, including some gutsy shots down the stretch. In fact, Green’s big night against his former squad was just one subplot in a game that had no shortage of narrative value. Nikola Jokic (36 points, 21 rebounds, 11 assists) bested his protege Alperen Sengun (23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists), but Sengun didn’t slouch.
How did this happen? How did the Rockets beat the defending champions? I’ll offer a few explanations. Ime Udoka’s defensive schemes are designed to win the transition game. The Rockets force opponents to play five-on-five, and the Nuggets prefer to feast on Jokic look-ahead passing whenever they can.
It’s also worth noting that Jamal Murray was absent. It’s safe to assume that Nuggets head coach Mike Malone would have staggered him and Jokic to an extent to ensure that he was keeping a primary playmaker on the floor.
One last night: Jalen Green is finding ways to impact the game when he isn’t scoring. He only had nine points, but he chipped in eight rebounds and five assists as well. In the business, we call that an “Andre Iguodala”. Still, he’ll need to contribute offensively on a more consistent basis when the Rockets eventually make a playoff run.
At this rate, that may be sooner than we thought.