The Houston Rockets, coming off a lopsided loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, looked to get back on track vs the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night. The Rockets again were without Tari Eason and Dillon Brooks. Eason is still battling a lower leg injury, and Brooks is out with an oblique injury.
I was out at the game, and here is what I saw from press row during the Rockets.
As the game got underway, the jump ball took longer than usual as the teams had to reset several times, and on the first play, multiple players fell to the floor. That summed up the Rockets’ offense in the first four minutes as they stumbled out of the gate. Sengun started the game 1-for-7 as several shots rolled off the rim.
Despite the Rockets’ bad shooting, the game remained close in the first. The low-scoring grind-it-out contest was the type of game the Rockets wanted coming in, as they usually don't win games that turn into shootouts. Houston was playing some of their best defense in the last couple of weeks, as they were able to contain Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Rockets’ bench came in and provided a spark as the Rockets started to pull away at the end of the first. Cam Whitmore had a quick four points, and the Rockets took a 29-18 lead into the second quarter. Houston continued their strong play in the second quarter as players like Jalen Green, Aaron Holiday and Jeff Green helped the Rockets extend the lead to 20 points at the half. The Rockets played to the buzzer as Jabari Smith blocked a Giannis dunk attempt to end the half.
The Rockets were forced to make a change with Jae’Sean Tate receiving his fourth foul early in the second half, as Coach Udoka inserted Jeff Green in, and the move paid off immediately. Green was able to score eight quick points and force the Bucks to take Brook Lopez off the floor.
The Rockets took the lead into the fourth quarter despite the Bucks putting up their first 30-point quarter all night. Giannis came out strong to start the fourth as the Bucks slowly chipped away at the lead. The Rockets only scored four points in the first five minutes as the lead dwindled to under 10. Giannis lived at the free throw on his way to 48 points. The Bucks had cut the lead down to six with under a minute left, and then Sengun made the play of the game.
That was an incredible pass by Sengun to find Smith in the corner. Smith said about the pass after the game, "That's why they call him the Wizard." It sums up Sengun's great vision when making passes. The Rockets would close out the Bucks 112-108 in one of their biggest wins of the season.
After the game, I asked Sengun about his father meeting Ime Udoka for the first time, and you can tell how much of an influence his father and Ime have had on his breakout season.
After the game I asked Alperen Sengun about Ime meeting his father yesterday for the first time— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) January 7, 2024
“He loves Ime because Ime has made me really good this year he helped me a lot he made me a better player”
Full interviews up soon pic.twitter.com/i9FXMD1BPr
Coach Udoka said pregame that Sengun told him he wanted to be coached hard, and that tough lough has paid off, with Sengun having the best season of his career. I also asked Whitmore about his mindset coming into games, and his response may surprise some.
I asked Cam Whitmore his mindset coming off the bench and being able to score at a high rate but Cam is focused on defense first— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) January 7, 2024
“My first impact is defense” pic.twitter.com/I3jFkp6Qnh
Whitmore talking defense first instead of his offense will go a long way to help with his progression this season. The coaching staff has to love hearing him talk about his defense leading to offense, and that defense is his number one focus.
The Rockets next take on the Miami Heat in the first six straight on the road. This will be a huge stretch of games, considering Houston has struggled to win away from home.