Rockets 105, Grizzlies 110 - Memphis hands Houston first losing streak of the season

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The Rockets were handed their first losing streak of the season on Friday, which is impressive given that we’re already in the second half of the 2016-2017 campaign. Houston couldn’t hit water if it fell out of a boat in this game (shot only 24.4% from three) and Memphis’ physicality and lights out shooting (54% from the field) proved to be too much for Houston to get back on the winning track.

Unlike the last several games, the Rockets got out to a hot start thanks to 60% shooting. The Grizzlies interior defense was nonexistent to start the game as the Rockets got three unbelievably wide-open backdoor layups underneath the basket. Memphis hit six of their first eight shot attempts and Marc Gasol proved to be a major problem in the post for Ryan Anderson, who was whistled for three fouls in just nine minutes. Behind James Harden’s 11 points and a 16-5 run to end the period, the Rockets held a 31-25 lead.

Despite Houston’s second unit struggling to get going (and the refs getting trigger happy with the whistles), the Rockets managed to extend their lead to 15. Houston kept up its hot shooting, improving the team’s shooting percentage to 58.3% and adding four made three-pointers in the quarter. The game grew to be quite frustrating for the players as the Rockets and Grizzlies were whistled for nine and 14 fouls by halftime, respectively. Mike D’Antoni was called for a technical foul in the early moments of the period for arguing one of those foul calls. Nonetheless, the Rockets held onto a 64-51 lead going into halftime.

Houston’s outside shot really wasn’t falling in the third quarter as the Rockets missed their first seven shot attempts. This poor shooting allowed Memphis to go on a 9-1 run and cut the lead to seven points (71-64). Eric Gordon checked back into the game and, in classic ‘Splash Gordon’ fashion, ended Houston’s three-point woes by hitting back-to-back shots from beyond the arc. Despite this flash from Gordon, the Rockets couldn’t hit good looks and Memphis shot a very high percentage for the majority of the period. After missing two late threes Memphis still shot 65% (13/20) in the third and finished the quarter on a 12-4 run. Houston only shot 25% (6/24) and barely held an 85-83 lead.

Memphis opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 92-85 lead. Memphis ratcheted up the physicality on both ends of the floor, which included Nene eating an inadvertent elbow from Zach Randolph (there was no foul call). Houston responded with a 7-0 run that was punctuated by a rare Corey Brewer three, and the game was tied.

With a six point lead and 3:35 left in the game Tony Allen fouled out of the game and, weirdly, Memphis lost its best offensive player in the game. Allen has built a career on his defensive reputation, but he absolutely torched the Rockets for 22 points on 90% shooting from the field (9/10; he made his first 8 baskets).

After the Rockets found themselves down 105-99 with about two minutes left, they managed to cobble together a couple of stops in a row. On the other end, Nene hit two layups to give Houston a chance to help Houston close the gap. In the end, Houston just could not buy a basket from downtown (they were just 10/41 for 24.4%) and former Rocket Troy Daniels nailed a three to drive the nail home on this game.

The last three games have seen Houston blow big leads and miss a ton of open looks, which doesn’t bode well given that they will see this Grizzlies team again, along with the Warriors visiting Houston next weekend. The Rockets have a good chance of ending the first losing streak of the season against a very bad Nets team this Sunday in Brooklyn.

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, begrudgingly, to James Harden.

For the second straight game, James Harden gets this game ball by default. Despite Eric Gordon’s return to the lineup, Harden was the only Rocket to have more than 13 points (27) and more than five in either rebounds or assists (he recorded nine assists). He didn’t have the flashy triple (or even come close with only three rebounds), but he’s the only player who could actually get anything going.

Let’s hope the last three games are merely an aberration and not signs of a slump.

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