Tremendous. That would be the word I would use to describe Tari Eason’s performance tonight. The Swiss army knife certainly made his presence felt in the Houston Rockets 117-104 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday evening.
In fact, it wasn’t just Tari’s heroics off of the bench that helped guide the Rockets to a fourth straight win. Jae’Sean Tate formed a terrific tandem with Tari early on that spurred a 11-3 run in the second quarter, pushing the Rockets to a sizable first half lead. Jock Landale and Reggie Bulllock Jr. also looked serviceable in their limited stints, a huge boost for a Rockets team that is still tinkering with rotations.
However, it was Eason and Jeff Green that made a difference down the stretch, stepping in and stepping up for a struggling Alperen Sengun and Jalen Green throughout the entirety of the fourth quarter. Coach Udoka leaned on Uncle Jeff in the second half over the aforementioned Sengun and Landale, and he rewarded his coach with a meaningful 9 points.
While Tari was the biggest star tonight, I’d be remiss to not applaud the 20 and 10 effort from Jabari Smith Jr. Bari showed flashes of aggression on offense and was instrumental in the Rockets outrebounding the visitors by 19.
He also showed up on defense for what it’s worth. Consider that the Bari, Tari, Jeff Green, Dillon Brooks and Fred VanVleet lineup held the Grizzlies to only 23 points in the last frame after the lead was cut to one going into the final quarter.
It looked shaky for a second though. Memphis got another huge outing from Jaren Jackson Jr. as he poured in 44 points in his second consecutive forty point game. JJJ looked incredible once again, but this became another loss in vain for the depleted Grizzlies as Jackson Jr. didn't have much of a supporting cast for this one.
Like Amen Thompson — out with an illness — Memphis was also missing a sick Desmond Bane. That left the remnants of Derrick Rose as JJJ’s second option. Yikes.
Other than Jabari, the Rockets starters were rather lackluster on offense in this one. Sengun and Green only combined for 17 points on 4-of-20 from the field. VanVleet didn’t hit a shot until the fourth quarter, but he was able to connect on a pair of attempts in the fourth that helped stabilize the lead and push it back to double digits.
A win is a win, but I’ll still have my worries about the turnovers after Houston recorded 19 of them tonight. It played a major role in allowing Memphis to hang in this one unnecessarily longer than they should have.
On a positive note, I’m pleased that Udoka rewarded the players who were playing well by allowing them to get the crucial minutes. In years past, I think we would have saw Jalen and Alpy in the fourth quarter, even if they were struggling. That’s something that would have likely resulted in a blown game as previously seen.
However, making the adjustments to stick with Eason and utilize Jeff Green over the other Center options in the second half allowed the team to feed off of the momentum. It emphasizes the team over the individual, and for this Rockets team that’s still figuring things out, I think that’s the right decision.