Rockets 123, Grizzlies 108 - Stretch Run



In the third quarter of tonight's game, the Houston Rockets, and more specifically James Harden, imposed their wills and played like the better team. After a shaky middle, the Rockets put their demons to bed, took a twenty point lead, and weathered the storms on the way to a convincing win over the Memphis Grizzlies. With this win, they add onto a nice run in the third quarter of the season, setting themselves up well for the playoffs. The Rockets are making their stretch run.



Do you want to talk about James Harden? Let's talk about James Harden. His line was normal for him: 33 points, 9-15 shooting, a blistering 6-10 from deep, 7 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals and the requisite 5 turnovers. This would be an eye-popping outing for anyone else, but for James, this is a poor first half followed by a furious third quarter. He scored only 10 in the first half, then led the Rockets to win the third 38-27. The "MVP" chants began in earnest after he had given the Rockets the room they needed, and they were well-deserved. He's the engine that makes the team run, and when the rest of the system has trouble, he can force the issue on his own.

Having Eric Gordon to hit every three doesn't hurt, either. Gordon shot 6-9 from behind the arc tonight, and he was instrumental in that big third quarter. With Harden unguardable one on one and Eric Gordon seeking and destroying three point shots, the Grizzlies had few answers to this withering barrage. Gordon scored 18 points, which if you do the math tells you that he didn't score at all outside those nine attempted threes. To his infinite credit, he also didn't take any other shots. Eric Gordon is the off guard the Rockets need, and when he's on, they're unstoppable.

Clint Capela, meanwhile, is looking better. He got a real amount of burn tonight, just under 29 minutes. He seems to be getting his legs back, which is going to be mission critical down the stretch. He still plays young, but he plays the role with aplomb and is well-rewarded for it.He shot 8-14 and dunked, I think, six hundred times. He was also the victim of some late-game hacking as Grizzlies head coach Dave Fizdale tried one last desperate gambit to get back in a 16 point game late in the fourth. It was unsuccessful as Capela 8-10 from the stripe in the evening and ended with a career high 24 points.

Other heroes include Nene for some excellent and key finishes at the rim, including through Grit and Grind brand contact, and Sam Dekker, for just being who he is and making infinite hustle. He seems to be learning from Patrick Beverley, which is extremely good. Beverley remains the spiritual center of the team and a source of infinite effort, for better and for worse. Tonight, it was better as he scrapped out loose balls, tipped passes and generally made life hard on the Grizzlies.

BEWARE. A GAME BALL APPROACHES.

It wasn't clear who would take this home until James Harden went nova in the third quarter and almost single-handedly pushed it to a lead that capped out at 20. He's a capricious genius, and tonight he went through the doldrums to get to the storm. In this stretch run, the Rockets will go as far as his powers take them, and he looks ready to use them liberally. This will not be his last game ball.

This was a very good game, and it was better defensively than the final score indicates, mostly due to the pile of extra possessions from hacking. The Rockets turned it on when it mattered, and fought through some surprising officiating early on (the less said about that, the better. I don't want to discuss it.) to dominate the second half. If this game is a microcosm for the NBA season, the portents are good. The Rockets have a tough schedule ahead, but they seem ready to power through. That's what the stretch run is all about.

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