Thanks for joining me in a recap of a Rockets victory. They have been all too few, but their frequency seems to be increasing.
Tonight the Rockets played their third In Season Tournament game against the Denver Nuggets. (Could someone sponsor this, or can we just call it the NBA Cup, or NBA Tourney at this point?) At the end of regulation the Rockets won their second game of the qualifying round 105-86. The score was an accurate representation of the game. The Rockets lead wire to wire, and the closest Denver brought the score after halftime was ten points.
The Rockets are now 8-1 at home, and 0-5 on the road. Home dominance is great, and usually the sign of a good, but young, team. They’re going to eventually have to win a few on the road to get where they want to be, but they’ve played most of those road games close, so I have confidence they’ll get to where they need to be.
Tonight, though, it was all about the in-season tournament. No one has to play a Tourney game back-to-back, but Denver was at the end of a long road trip, and looked tired tonight. As a team that often benefits from altitude, and scheduling (if not them, Utah), all I can say is, “aw”.
The Rockets did play with more energy throughout, and it paid off. So did their defensive intensity, and also, scheme. The Nuggets are still without Jamal Murray, and the Rockets appeared to have decided that they’d play Nikola Jokic straight up with Sengun. The rest of the Rockets might help some, but mostly seemed committed to shutting down the other Nuggets. Alperen Sengun was on the court for basically every minute Jokic played. He didn’t stop Jokic, who went for 38pts, but Sengun must have done something right, as Jokic only went 14-31, which is low efficiency for him. He also grabbed 19 rebounds, dished 8 assists, and had a steal and block. He also had six turnovers in his 42 minutes of play.
No one else on Denver did much. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 20 on 7-15 shooting, and overall was Denver’s next best player. Jabari Smith, Dillon Brooks, Tari Eason and Jeff Green can be proud of their work on Aaron “Travelin’ Man” Gordon, who went 0-12 in 39 minutes.
The Rockets bench also shut down Denver’s bench, which managed only 10 points, some of that in garbage time.
On offense the Rockets made hay attacking Michael Porter Jr. over and over. It was a rare action that didn’t include him. He may have a championship halo on his defense now, but it didn’t look good tonight.
Jalen Green had his second good game in a row, and provided the kind of difficult to stop scoring punch the Rockets needed. Green was 10-18 with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals, as well as a spectacular dunk on a perfect long range alley-oop from Fred Van Vleet.
Alperen Sengun played 43 rugged minutes against Nikola Jokic, and came off well. He scored 21 points on 8-19 shooting (which would have been better without some missed early bunnies). Also added 15 rebounds, 8 assists 2 steals and a block.
Fred Van Vleet offers another high assist, low turnover, true point guard game. He splashed a couple of threes in garbage time, possibly because Denver’s bench player was guarding like Game 7 of a playoff series, or perhaps because margin of victory matters in the NBA Tourney standings. 17pts, 6rbs, 11ast, 1stl, 2blk(?), 1 turnover.
Jabari Smith had his fourth good game in a row. Tonight he notched 16ps on 6-9 shooting, grabbed 15 boards, got an assist, steal and block, and generally made good plays on defense against Denver’s big frontcourt. THIS is the Jabari Smith we’ve been waiting to see. Yes, he still makes some mistakes, or undertakes questionable moves, but that’s alright. All players make mistakes, and he’s still very young. This is progress, and we should be happy to see it.
Dillon Brooks had a forgettable game on offense, missing all his non-3pt shots, but going 2-3 from deep. He still played good defense, but this was probably his worst offensive output of the year, and it just didn’t matter, because Alpie, Green and Jabari did what we’ve been hoping to see them do.
Tonight’s opponent wasn’t the Grizzlies. It was the World Champion Denver Nuggets, and the Rockets didn’t win, they won pretty comfortably.
The next game is in Dallas, again in the NBA Tourney. If they beat the Mavericks, they’re on to the next round!
The Rockets are fun to watch. Tonight was fun. Houston basketball is fun again.
In Season Tournament-O-Meter
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