IN THE MOMENT

From start to finish, Rockets showing they are indeed Houston Strong

The Rockets honored the Santa Fe victims, then went on to win the game. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The ten thousand Houston Strong shirts draped across the chests and chairs of Toyota Center's lower bowl during Game 5 ironically ended up being the smallest showing of strength from Houston on Thursday night.

First and foremost the Houston Strong mantra doesn't come from a shirt or a patch or a sign, it comes from our city's, our region's response in the face of devastating adversity. Like many of you I find myself just a couple of degrees removed from the terrible events that took place in Santa Fe last week. Some of you undoubtedly have a much closer connection to the tragedy and no amount of words I, or anyone else, could string together can come close to adequately addressing your grief and your grievances. Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said more than on his mind, the events were in his heart as the team fought to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals. He wasn't alone. From owner to player, the organization handled their response with genuine class, empathy, and a desire to help the victims recover.

However, D'Antoni also quite poignantly addressed the unfortunate limitations of their position, "What Mr. Fertitta did was a great gesture, but we all should be kind of tired of gestures and moments of silence. So let's get some action -- And let's try to change and to do a better job for the kids." There you have it. While the team and even the fans in attendance did a tremendous job of rallying around the survivors, like the rebuilding phase of Harvey, the real work is only just beginning.

Nevertheless, as the Santa Fe High School Choir gave a beautifully bittersweet rendition of this nation's anthem and the packed house showed their love to the victims in attendance, the ten thousand shirts weren't necessary to convey the message: Houston is Strong.

The Rockets have taken it upon themselves to show the Warriors, and the rest of the basketball world, their own strength. Coach D'Antoni likened the series to, "heavyweight fighters punching it out." An incredibly apt analogy especially considering when two fighters at the pinnacle of boxing get together it can sometimes produce an unexpected, if not unentertaining stalemate. Two fighters at the peak of their profession know exactly what the other fighter is going to do and they understand they have to both limit the damage of their opponent's repertoire and find new means of subverting their own reputation. D'Antoni went on, "They're not gonna let you win on points, you've gotta knock 'em out."

Well, after back to back defensive gems, consecutively holding the Warriors' truly unprecedented attack to under 100 points, the Rockets stand flexing their muscle over their stunned opponent and the count is almost up. 

The traditional expression of Houston Strong represents a kind of resiliency and that's just the kind of strength the Rockets are showing right now. The Rockets have found a way to transform from offensive juggernaut to defensive stalwart, and while a lot of us who follow them closely may have seen the pieces in place, it's still a marvel to see them put together so damn well. 

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, shortly after addressing his team, following their loss, "I feel great about where we are right now. That may sound crazy, but I feel it. I know exactly what I'm seeing out there." Going on to summarize, he said, "If we settle down a little bit, we're going to be in really good shape." In addition to revealing that the Rockets have his team unsettled, Kerr's comments felt as though he may be trying to convince even himself. Despite the silver linings he tried to preach, each Warrior that followed him to the podium just made the clouds that much darker.

Kevin Durant was up first after Kerr and he almost sounded convinced, saying he and the team were, "Still confident." About Game 6 he insisted, "We'll be ready to play."

Draymond Green was next to make his way to the mic, and he did so with the pained grimaces of a fighter who's been repeatedly beaten down. "You've got to live with the results."

Lastly, Steph Curry addressed the media and he perhaps had the most trouble hiding the gnawing feeling that Houston's strength might just be insurmountable. "Not all is lost. We played well tonight, just not well enough." Another telling comment... The Warriors think they have played well and are just a couple of plays away from turning it all around. They seem to be ignoring that the Rockets have only had the briefest of flirtations with their true offensive capabilities in this series and even without Chris Paul in Game 6, they have quite a few players due for a positive stat correction.

The Rockets have Golden State so dazed that they've either forgotten or they're choosing to ignore how lucky they've been to avoid the right handful of Rockets' all firing together on the right night. For the most part the Warriors have gotten the expected production from their players; you can't say the same about Houston.

Something else you can't say about Houston, something even I myself have said very recently, is that our crowd is weak. No, last night, when it truly mattered, Houston stood up and showed its strength in yet another way. Hometown hero Gerald Green, "Ah man, fans were great. ...They were really really good today. I mean, this is what we need from them here on out. We need them to bring that energy, because we feed off that, it helps us. It sure helps me, so I'm pretty sure it helps everyone else as well."

Here on out. You heard the man. Whether it's Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, Game 1 of the NBA Finals, or Game 1 of the 2018-19 NBA Season -- From here on out, you know what this team needs, Houston. It needs your strength. Lucky for us, from our true fans, to our community, to its biggest ambassadors, Houston has strength in steady supply.

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Another win for the Coogs! Photo by Getty Images.

The Cougars were supposed to play a game in Tampa against The University of South Florida on Jan. 14th, but this contest was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing within the USF program. Houston was able to take advantage of the extra time off to rest their players and prepare for their next game against UCF.

Their previous game against the Knights in Orlando on December 26th was a close matchup which saw UCF and the Cougars tied at halftime. The second half was a back-and-fourth contest between the two teams, but Houston was able to come away with a nine point victory.

This game however was nowhere near as close and their previous meeting.

Houston immediately got off to a 12-0 start thanks to four straight 3-pointers from DeJon Jarreau (2x), Marcus Sasser & Quentin Grimes.

The Cougars continued to surge past the knights and at one point led 38-9 with 3:43 left to go in the contest.

Houston led 45-19 at halftime, their largest first half lead of the season.

The Cougars were able to maintain their commanding lead with both efficient scoring early on and elite level defense. Houston forced UCF to commit 20 turnovers that resulted in 22 points for the Cougars.

The Cougars won most of their games this season with commanding defense, dominating the boards and superior guard play. All three boxes were checked as Houston was able to secure a 75-58 victory.

UCF did outscore Houston in the second half 39-30, but the Cougars' lead proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to overcome for the Knights. Essentially, Houston was on cruse control the second half of the game and never saw their lead drop below double digits.

Grimes scored in double figures for his 11th straight game after opening the season with eight points against Lamar. Senior forward Justin Gorham scored a season high 15 points as well.

Houston has now won its fourth straight game since its loss to Tulsa and now remain in sole position of 1st place in the AAC.

The Cougars moved up from No.11 to the 8th ranked team in the country as multiple top-ranked teams suffered losses over the week.

Kelvin Sampson passed former Houston coach Tom Penders as he earned his 650th career win. This also moves him into sole possession of 41st place on the NCAA wins list. He is also the second winningest coach in Houston Cougars Men's Basketball history behind only the great Guy Lewis.

UP NEXT: Houston looks to exact revenge against the only team to defeat them this season as they host Tulsa at the Fertitta Center on Wednesday at 7pm.

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