Rockets 115, Sixers 88 - The Process of Taking Care of Business

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On November 27, 2015, the Houston Rockets needed a 50-point game from James Harden to beat the Philadelphia 76ers… THE SIXERS!

That game was indicative of the nightmare season the Rockets had; in addition to terrible chemistry, Houston consistently played down to inferior opponents. A much better Sixers team (thanks to exciting play from a finally-healthy Joel Embiid) visited the Toyota Center on Monday, but this is a new Rockets team and they did what they were supposed to do – take care of business.

The first quarter belonged to none other than James Harden, who was just named the Western Conference Player of the Week. He scored 23 points in the first 12 minutes by making every single shot he took, including five free throws and a couple of threes. Normally, Harden looks to defer to his teammates early in the game, but the flow of this one allowed for Harden to score in transition. At the end of the first, the Rockets were up 38-29.

Within the first five minutes of the second period the Rockets had expanded the lead up to 21, thanks to phenomenal defense that led to easy transition buckets and wide open three-point attempts. Clint Capela, in particular, was excellent in the quarter as he played some of the best defense he’s played all season. He plugged up the middle by repeatedly altering shots at the rim, and by completely shutting down the offensively gifted Jahlil Okafor. In fact, Capela blocked three of Okafor’s shots in the quarter (Brewer also swatted away an Okafor lay-up) on his way to a career-best five blocks total. Capela also posted season highs in rebounds (13) and plus/minus (+21).

If Capela was the defensive anchor down low, then Trevor Ariza was the blanket on the perimeter. With Patrick Beverley recovering from knee surgery (he’s set to return to the floor at some point this week), Ariza has been thrust into the role of defensive leader. He’s always been a very good defender - even after losing a step in recent years - and he’s been vocal about making sure the team works to correct any defensive lapses that they are prone to make. Trevor had three steals, making this the third game in a row that he has had at least three steals. He also added five three-pointers, eight rebounds, three assists, and a block.

The Rockets opened the second half on a 13-4 run and never looked back. By the end of the third quarter, the Rockets were up 93-68. The rout was on, but that didn’t mean that Head Coach Mike D’Antoni was done playing his best players. The entire starting lineup got some run in the fourth quarter, presumably to keep a rhythm to the game and put the Sixers away for good.

This was an encouraging outing for the Rockets. They took care of business, played spectacular defense, got their transition game going, and got some rest for a starting lineup that is depended upon entirely too much. Granted, the Rockets were playing against a franchise that has been one of the worst teams in sports the last several years.

The Rockets’ next game is in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, where Pat Beverley could potentially be reunited with his very best friend – Russell Westbrook.

Game Ball 

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Monday’s game ball goes to Clint Capela.

What, you thought James Harden was getting ANOTHER one? He only had 33 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds… It wasn’t even a triple double!

In all seriousness, Capela had his best all-around game of the season and perhaps the best defensive game of his career. Red Nation has been clamoring for Clint to take the next step in his career and become a defensive force akin to a certain big man he replaced in the Rockets’ starting lineup. Now, it’s not likely he’ll ever reach those heights, but he’s got so much more potential than what he’s shown this season.

You might say Capela’s development is, ahem, a process the Rockets need to work on in order to be championship contenders.

This game was also very important towards earning Coach D’Antoni’s trust. This game got out of hand quick and there was no ‘crunch time’ Clint could have played in, but you have to think D’Antoni loved what he saw from the Swiss youngster. If Clint can be this impactful defensively and on the glass (in addition to improving his free throw percentage), he should be able to take away some minutes from Nene, who isn’t a good defender.

You also have to love how he approaches the game of basketball. He knows his role on the team (protect the paint, set picks for James Harden, finish off alley-oops) and works hard every day to improve. He even got a workout in AFTER having a career game.

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