Rockets 107, Hornets 95 - Defense Closes Out The Hornets

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The Hornets got out to an early lead after hitting eight of their first twelve shot attempts from the field (66.67%). Charlotte's field goal percentage came down a tad bit (52.2%) after the Rockets settled into a slightly more effective defense. However, the Rockets couldn’t totally capitalize as they only shot 44% from the field and James Harden failed to see a field goal actually go through the net. After missing his first five field goal attempts, Harden was finally credited with a field goal when a layup was goaltended, and Charlotte ended the first quarter with a 29-23 lead.

The second quarter started with a much needed energy and desire to attack the basket and not settle for outside shots – necessary since Eric Gordon was missing yet another game with a sore back. Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell brought the energy up with a couple of hellacious dunks.

Midway through the second quarter, the Rockets managed to tie the game at 42 after Patrick Beverley’s trademark defense created a steal and led to a transition layup. Houston, however, could not take the lead and Charlotte regained control thanks to Kemba Walker - who nailed a deep three to regain the lead for Charlotte and drew two charges (one of which was an awful call) to stop the Rockets’ momentum. A Harden three (his first of the game) cut Charlotte’s lead to 54-50 just before the end of the half.

Early in the third quarter Houston again tied the game off of a Beverley three, and took its first lead of the game (66-63) a couple of possessions later with a corner three from Ryan Anderson. This sequence happened amid a 17-3 run that was capped off by this insane running three by Harden to beat the shot clock.

Houston’s offense really got it going in the third quarter, led by none other than James Harden. Harden, who only shot 20% in the first half, added 14 points on 66.67% shooting in the quarter. Houston’s three-point shooting also started to catch on, improving that shooting percentage from 23.5% in the first half to 37.9%. The Rockets outscored Charlotte 32-26 in the period to give Houston an 86-76 lead.

With Harden on the bench, the second unit did an excellent job staving off any runs Charlotte could have made – holding a 95-86 lead when the ‘Beard’ checked back into the game with seven minutes left. Despite Harden nailing a deep three (which was immediately answered with a three from Nicolas Batum), the Rockets offense didn’t take off as it had with Harden in the third period. The Rockets actually took to its defense to close this one out and, for the sixteenth time this season, the Rockets held their opponent to under 100 points – they’ve won every single one of those games.

A major key to the Rockets winning this game in spite of a rough first half was winning the turnover battle. Now, Houston wasn’t great in terms of holding onto the ball themselves (they committed 17, slightly above their average), but they forced the Hornets to commit 21 – nearly double their per-game average of 11.7.

The Rockets look to make it four wins in a row on Saturday when they take on the visiting Phoenix Suns.

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.

Thursday’s game ball goes to James Harden.

In games where Eric Gordon is absent and can’t be the second playmaker the Rockets need, James Harden needs to step up (and there’s no doubt he will). Despite getting nice scoring contributions from teammates like Patrick Beverley (17 points) and Montrezl Harrell (14 points), Harden was really going to need to handle the scoring load. His third quarter alone probably earned him this game ball, but 30 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists is nothing to scoff at.

Despite not being able to find his scoring groove until the third quarter, he was excellent on both defense and on the glass. After Clint Capela failed to successfully box out his man a few times in the first quarter, Harden notably made it a mission to get after the glass. Also, Harden was quick to close out on shooters when defensive rotations were a little slow – something Harden isn’t known for (and is often ridiculed for not doing).

Defense wins games, sure, but it helps to have an MVP-caliber player every night.

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