Houston Harmony

Joel Blank: Let’s hear it for the band!

The Rockets' supporting cast should not be overlooked. Houston Rockets/Facebook

The Rockets beat the Boston Celtics on Saturday night for their 15th consecutive win. This is the second time this season they have had a winning streak of 14 games or more, and are just one win shy of tying the longest streak in the NBA this year. For the average fan following this team, it would be easy to give all the credit to Chris Paul and James Harden. But if you take the time to delve a little deeper, you will find that the supporting cast has been a huge part of the team's success throughout the season and the current streak. When you get to this point in the season and have the best record in the league, you are definitely getting contributions from different players, but this team is getting them from just about everyone up and down the roster. This Rockets team is on pace to have the best regular-season record in franchise history. Let's look at the last 15 games and the key contributors not named Harden or Paul. 

The first five games featured big road wins against the Spurs and Cavaliers, along with wins over teams they should beat like Phoenix, Brooklyn, and Orlando. The common denominator in most of these wins was the contributions of Gerald Green off the bench. The Houston native has brought new meaning to the phrase "right off the street" since Daryl Morey brought him to the team. He literally was on the street, in the driveway shooting hoops with his dog, all while tending to his son who lives in Boston. Then suddenly everything changed, as the phone rang, the tryout went well, the contract was signed and the rest is history. He averaged 13.4 points over the first 5 wins of the streak. 

In games 6 through 10, Green was still a factor, but others contributed as well. Clint Capela had a 25-rebound, 23-point explosion at home against the Nuggets, while Ryan Anderson broke out of a long shooting slump with 21 against the Timberwolves. Green led the bench contribution with 12 points in the win at Miami as well as a dozen at home against Dallas. The Sacramento game was a true team effort as Capella had another double-double and Luke Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker had 11 and 10 respectively. This handful of games featured 2 blowouts and 3 grind it out victories, but overall more team basketball on both ends of the floor. Granted the games were against lesser opponents, with the exception of the Timberwolves but they were solid wins nonetheless. 

In the last 5 games, the competition got better and so did the supporting cast. Capela had 25 points and 11 boards against the Wolves in an 18-point win, while Trevor put up 14 and 6 in a road W against the Nuggets.  Luke Mbah a Moute was a catalyst on the road in Salt Lake City, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the 4th quarter to lift the Rockets to their 13th straight win in a traditionally tough place for them to play. When you factor in this was a back-to-back that involved two of the most difficult travel cities in the league and included fatigue, altitude, lack of sleep and the quality of opponents, this may have been the most successful 2 game road stretch of the season. The bench did an admirable job on the 3 game road swing, as they were forced to fill in for Gordon, Capella, Anderson, and Brandon Wright who were all out during the trip. In the last two victories against the Clippers in Los Angeles and at home against the Celtics, Eric Gordon was back to his normal self as he poured in 22 off the bench against the Clips and a game-high 29 against Boston. I would be remiss if I didn't also include Trevor Ariza's performance against the "C's," as he was huge with 21 points and key defensive stops, steals and hustle plays all over the floor late in the game to seal the victory.

As you can see, it is a true team effort this year with the Rockets roster and consistent contributions of anyone who has their number called by Mike D'Antoni. Of course Chris Paul and James Harden have been fantastic all season. That's what superstars are supposed to do and how they are supposed to lead on a championship-caliber team. The difference between being a playoff team and a title contender can be found in the contributions of the supporting cast and the key roles that they play. It is safe to say that H-Town has as deep and talented a cast of characters that contribute as any team in the NBA. After all, Michael was the main superstar, but the rest of The Jackson 5 more than carried their weight as they held down the #1 spot on the charts. This Rockets rotation may not be The Jackson 5, but they darn sure have made sweet music as they have racked up wins and helped the Beard and CP3 guide this team to the top spot in the NBA. So let's hear it for the band as they mesmerize and harmonize in pursuit of records, titles and a gold trophy.

 

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Yuli Gurriel had a monster night at the plate Friday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Although they lost the series 2-1, the Astros ended their road trip with a nice win over the Yankees to head home on a positive note. On Friday, they welcomed in the Toronto Blue Jays and former teammate George Springer, currently on the IL, to start a three-game series and long homestand. They had an excellent night at the plate, along with a strong start from Jose Urquidy, cruising past the Blue Jays to take the opener.

Final Score: Astros 10, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 17-15, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (3-2)

Losing Pitcher: Ross Stripling (0-2)

Jays strike first, then Houston responds and never looks back

It first appeared that Urquidy may be in for a long night, giving up two solo home runs early in Friday's game, one to Bo Bichette in the top of the first with one out to put Toronto up 1-0, then another to Danny Jansen in the top of the third. However, Urquidy would lock-in, and his offense would back him up strongly.

Houston ended up sending nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the second, getting two runs on a homer by Carlos Correa, then later loading the bases to set up an RBI walk by Alex Bregman. In the bottom of the fifth, with a one-run lead at 3-2, Yuli Gurriel expanded the lead to three runs on a two-run shot.

Gurriel went on to have a fantastic night, going 4-for-4 at the plate with 4 RBI. His third of those came in the bottom of the seventh, extending the lead again with an RBI single to make it 6-2. Kyle Tucker made it a five-run game that same inning with an RBI double, then more insurance came in the bottom of the eighth. They reached double-digits that inning, with Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Yuli Gurriel, his fourth of the night, all getting an RBI to make it 10-2.

Urquidy finishes seven, then Emanuel finishes it off

Those gave Urquidy plenty of support, though he would bounce back after the two early homers and have a nice night on the mound. He allowed just two other hits, working around both, en route to a seven-inning two-run performance to earn him the win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 84 P.

He likely could have gone longer, but Dusty Baker turned the ball over to Kent Emanuel to wrap things up with the significant lead. He did so, despite allowing a two-run home run to former-Astro Teoscor Hernandez in the top of the ninth to make the score 10-4. The win kept the Astros above .500 and two games back of the A's, who sit atop the AL West standings.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be a 6:10 PM start Saturday night. The pitching matchup will be Steven Matz (4-2, 4.78 ERA) for Toronto and the electric Cristian Javier (3-0, 1.75 ERA) for Houston.

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