Rockets 113, Raptors 129 - Sudden but Inevitable

The Houston Rockets were always going to fall back to earth eventually. Given how many minutes they've played and how vulnerable they are without Chris Paul, there was no way they would simply roll every team. Every team loses games, and every team looks terrible occasionally, and the Rockets are especially susceptible to those factors right now. It was ugly and disappointing and also just game number 15 of 82. This was always going to happen. All the Rockets can do after this brutal loss to the Toronto Raptors is to move on to game 16.

The story of the game was that nobody was good at anything. Harden may have scored 38 points and dished 11 dimes, but it came on 8-25 shooting and 3-11 three point shooting, both of which are, put kindly, dumpster trash. Trevor Ariza was 5-8 from deep and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was 2-4. If you need to look at stats, just look at those. Looking at anything else is an exercise in futility and disappointment. Nobody could hit threes (12-39) and the turnovers piled up (19). It was a mess.

The defense was even worse. The Rockets have given up 101.9 points per 100 possessions so far in this season, good for the 8th best defensive rating in the league. This was not an example of that effort or quality. It takes a lot to give up 129 points in a game, even to an offense as potent as the Raptors. The team looked out of sorts and generally terrible on that end of the court. With a little bit more effort or hustle, they had a real shot to win the game. They even cut the lead to 5 points with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, but it was not to be. There was nothing left.

This was ultimately the story of the game. After having to play heavy minutes to cover up the lack of guard depth, Eric Gordon and James Harden simply looked tapped out. Harden was able to sustain on the offensive end, but as ever he defaulted to conserving energy on defense. Gordon intermittently forgot how to basketball. There is a price to be paid for their extra effort and time spent lately, and payment was extracted by the Raptors, an actually good team.

Much of this will be mitigated when Chris Paul returns to the lineup, and this could be as soon as Thursday against the Phoenix Suns. When Chris Paul returns, the Rockets will begin the process of finding their true form. That form will, if nothing else, include lower minute loads for the players who power the team's offense, and that's key. That helps you avoid sudden but inevitable collapses like tonight.

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