Rockets 101, Wizards 91 - Rockets Overcome New Year's Hangover

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This was an ugly game from the start as the Wizards opened on a 15-6 run, making seven of their eleven shot attempts and forcing three turnovers from James Harden. The Wizards maintained their hot streak for the rest of the quarter as they shot 59% from the field, and their talented backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 15 points (Markieff Morris added another 8).

Making things worse for the Rockets, they started the game ice cold – shooting just 33% in the first quarter and missing all eight of their three-point attempts. Houston was held to its lowest first quarter output and exited the period in a steep hold; they were down 29-14.

The second period opened with a burst of energy from the Rockets’ second unit; particularly from Eric Gordon and Corey Brewer. Houston went on a 9-2 run in the first minute and a half of the period, punctuated by Corey Brewer’s second thunderous transition dunk of the game.

Unfortunately for Houston, the Wizards went on a big run to push their lead up to 15. Houston ratcheted up its defense and energy in the last two minutes of the period and made five consecutive stops. However, they couldn’t capitalize offensively (Harrell provided the only made basket – a free throw) and went into halftime down 53-41.

James Harden decided to be more aggressive offensively in the third period, kicking off a 13-4 run with an and-one layup conversion. Harden scored seven points in the first four minutes of the period (he only had 6 points in the entire first half), Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson chipped in a three-pointer each, and Washington’s lead was cut to just three points.

Nene put in some really solid minutes in the third quarter, scoring on three straight baskets late in the third, giving the Rockets their first lead of the game. He also had an excellent block on a dunk attempt from Otto Porter.

Despite shooting a dismal 12% from beyond the arc in the first half, the Rockets opened the floodgates in the third quarter and hit seven of their ten attempts. Eric Gordon hit three of them (he scored 12 points in the quarter) and Harden finally swished one through after missing his first seven attempts. Houston outscored Washington 37-17 in the third quarter, including a 19-6 run to close out the period and give Houston a 78-70 lead.

The fourth quarter was an absolute slog as Houston only hit one field goal in the first seven minutes of the game (missing all nine of their attempts from three). Washington went on a 12-4 run in those seven minutes and tied the game at 82. Then, in the next minute of action, Eric Gordon (who leads the NBA in made threes) finally hit a three pointer, Houston made a stop, and Harden found Harrell down low for a dunk.

Eric Gordon and James Harden took over offensively in the closing moments of the game. They hit back-to-back dagger threes, and Gordon hit a lay-up to give himself season-high 31 points (he had 22 in the second half) and Houston it’s biggest lead of the game (99-89)

Harden did not have a good game shooting just 25% from the field (6/24), including only two of his eleven attempts from beyond the arc. He also committed six turnovers, which isn’t horrible given his usage rate (33.5% gives him the fifth highest usage rate in the NBA), but it was indicative of just how off he was in this game. Still, he managed to record his third straight triple-double (23-10-10) after finding Montrezl Harrell for an alley-oop that would be the last basket of the game.

To illustrate just how stagnant the Rockets offense was in this game, they committed two shot clock violations – the first two of the season (this was the 36th game of the 2016-2017 season). Houston is a team that averages just shy of 115 points per game, so scoring 101 ties the sixth lowest scoring output of this season. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many points you score so long as the opposing team scores less.

Houston’s next game is on Thursday against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets will have to play much better to get the best of this matchup – the second matchup of the two front-runners for Most Valuable Player this season.

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 Eric Gordon.

When James Harden has a subpar night (the new NBA, where a guy with a triple-double actually had a pretty bad game), the Rockets absolutely need either Eric Gordon or Ryan Anderson to shoulder the scoring load. Given that Anderson is primarily a sharpshooter, Gordon will be relied on much more heavily to score in a variety of ways and create shot opportunities for teammates.

Eric Gordon is proving to be the second-best free agent signing this past offseason and a much more important cog for the Rockets than most people would have guessed.

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