Rockets 127, Boston 113 - Hat Trick

By Forrest Walker on December 27, 2018

For the third time in as many games, the Houston Rockets have walked away from a surging team with a win under their belts.Just when a Chris Paul injury seemed ready to make an already trying season go from bad to lost, The Rockets rallied behind the all-time play of James Harden and an unexpected contribution from new Houston player Austin Rivers. Whether this latest bout of the Rockets being back is the real deal or not, they've delivered some truly impressive wins, and the trend lines are moving in the right direction.

One of the few perks of being the Rockets this season is that nobody can claim health as an excuse against them. They've won three in a row without their (generally) second-best player in Chris Paul and have been surviving without James Ennis as well. It's been a season-long struggle to stay healthy and not-suspended, with the results being precisely as mixed as Houston's record. Tonight, that record sits at 19-15, four games above .500 for the first time all season, and the most promising the Rockets have looked, despite their injury woes.

James Harden looked like a world-beater in the first quarter, surging to 17 points before failing to score at all in the second quarter and taking until under five minutes left in the third to hit another field goal. During his scoring drought, the Celtics pulled even and in fact took a one-point lead. This seemed to be all it took for Harden to enter the Avatar State, scoring 22 points over the last seventeen minutes of the game. He ended the night with 45 points on 11 of 26 shooting including an unbelievable 9-18 from three-point range. While briefly stymied by Boston's defense, he remained everything for a Houston Rockets team that needed everything he had.

In what looks like a fairly open and shut game from the final score and the massive early lead, the Rockets actually spent a large part of the game looking hapless. Boston's defense disrupted Harden and when nobody else could shoot well enough to scare them off their double teams, the offense bogged. Thankfully, Harden managed to sink a few and the bench crew asserted themselves enough to extend some leads with Harden sitting. Gerald Green and Eric Gordon, for instance, were feast-or-famine throughout the contest, with the feast of threes at the end settling the game quite nicely.

Austin Rivers has been a standout, and his presence has been a shockingly calming presence considering his checkered past with the team. While he once was enough of a pest to tempt the Rockets into using a tunnel to assail the Los Angeles Clippers, he's now a steadying influence on a bench which badly need steadying. He played over 30 minutes again, and this time his 10 points on 8 shots included a truly unlikely banked three at the buzzer as well as a three point shot that can at least command the respect of the defense, even when he only hits 2-6 on the evening. He has a willingness and ability to simply run an offense that takes a lot of pressure off of Eric Gordon (and in truly dark times, point guard Gerald Green) to go along with his astonishing perimeter defense.

It may be strange to hear, and even stranger to say, but Austin Rivers has so far been a critical and valuable pickup for the Houston Rockets.

Of course, nothing could be more fitting with the truly bizarre 2018 the Houston Rockets are having (as though the rest of us aren't having a truly bizarre 2018 as well) than for Austin Rivers to save the team while Chris Paul sits. The Rockets are on a roll, yet again, and look fairly credible, yet again. As always, the hope has to be that this time the wheels will stay on the bus, and the Rockets can get back to if not dominance, at least credibility and home-court in the first round of the playoffs.

And in this season, there's still no telling what might happen.

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