Rockets 122, Nets 118 - Houston (barely) Extends Winning Streak to Seven

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On Monday, the Houston Rockets managed to extend their winning streak to seven by facing one of the worst teams in the NBA – the Brooklyn Nets – at home. However, instead of blowing them out, the Rockets struggled to execute on both ends of the floor and

The Rockets got off to a slow start, going down 9-4 in the early going of this game. However, they did turn on the jets and propel themselves to a double-digit lead following a 16-4 run. During this run, Ryan Anderson scored seven points during this stretch and James Harden facilitated the offense with the greatest of ease. Despite Houston not executing at the highest level that they’re capable of (they missed eight threes), Harden got whatever he wanted offensively and recorded eight points, five rebounds, and five assists in the first quarter alone. Houston won the opening period 29-24.

Eric Gordon struggled to find his shot early in this game – hitting on only one of his five field goal attempts in the first half and committing four turnovers. Despite this, his made basket (a three) was immediately followed by a Patrick Beverley three and the Rockets found themselves on another big run (10-1).

The Rockets could not capitalize on the big run and let the Nets hang around, thanks to committing nine turnovers in the half and letting Brooklyn convert in transition. The Rockets went into halftime with a ten-point lead (53-43), but it felt like the Rockets should have blown this game away. The execution just wasn’t there.

The Nets gained five points on the Rockets in the third quarter as Houston gave up 42 points to Brooklyn (they gave up only 43 in the first two periods combined). Brooklyn was getting very easy looks at the rim (and converting free throws) and, to this point, were dominating the points in the paint with 50 to Houston’s 28. Neither team played well in the period, but Harden and Anderson seemed to be the only guys who could get things going offensively, scoring 15 and eight, respectively.

Clint Capela, who has played very well against some of the premiere centers in the NBA this season, really struggled to defend Brook Lopez. This earned Nene more playing time than he’s been given as of late (he played 24 minutes), and he responded well on both ends of the floor. The Brazilian scored eight points on 100% shooting in his first nine minutes of action, and proved to be a much better post defender on Lopez. In fact, there were two instances in the second half that saw Lopez bully Capela down low and score a basket while getting fouled. On both occasions, Mike D’Antoni was quick to sub Nene in for the youngster.

The fourth quarter looked like it was going to be promising for the Rockets as Gordon finally found his shot (he scored 18 points in the period and finished with six made threes in ten attempts) and Harden continued to carve up the Nets defense to create scoring opportunities. However, the Nets have shown they can be feisty this season, and they really were quite the nuisance in the final period.

Brooklyn took their first lead since early in the first quarter with three minutes left and Rockets fans were understandably uneasy. Down 116-113, it was time for Houston’s closers to buckle down and execute on both ends of the floor (a struggle up to this point). Eric Gordon responded with a game-tying three and Harden followed with a swish from 18-feet away. The Nets tied the game up at 118 with a basket of their own, and what followed was the free throw game – not exactly something the Rockets excel at.

The Rockets only made 21 of their 36 free (58%) throws in the game, including two big misses that could have put Brooklyn away. Alas, Houston found themselves up 120-118 and in need of a big defensive stop. None other than Patrick Beverley would provide that final stop, breaking up an inbounds pass that fell in Eric Gordon’s lap (who sealed the game by making two free throws).

Even though the Rockets’ next few games are against some of the worst teams in the NBA (Kings, Pelicans, Wolves), they’re going to have to play much better to keep the winning streak alive. The Sacramento Kings visit Toyota Center on Wednesday.

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.

Friday’s game ball goes to Eric Gordon. 

Another game where Harden goes off (36 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds), and another game ball given to someone else on the squad. That says a lot about how this team is winning games – as a team. James Harden is putting up ridiculous numbers, but it’s pretty safe to say he hasn’t been playing at his absolute best lately. That was evident on Monday, and the Rockets needed someone else to ignite the offense.

That person was, yet again, Eric Gordon, who scored 18 points in the final period of the game (he finished with 24). It seems that when the Rockets need a crucial basket, they don’t go immediately go to James Harden; or rather, James Harden doesn’t immediately go to James Harden. More often than we’ve ever seen from the ‘Beard’ in a Rockets uniform, he seems to defer to Gordon, who has had the hot hand for the better part of this seven-game winning streak.

Feed the hot hand, and feast on victory.

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