ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets just keep rolling toward best record in the league

James Harden and Chris Paul are riding the wave to the best record in basketball. Houston Rockets/Facebook

I’ve tried to stay grounded watching this Rockets squad all season.

I’ve continuously attempted to provide objective weekly win predictions, yet as the season has progressed this team has turned more and more into some video game version of a basketball team that no one has figured out the answer to. Somewhere along the line James Harden became a near shoe-in for the league MVP award. Somewhere along the line the entire team adopted bought in to Head Coach Mike D’Antoni’s so wholeheartedly that even when Houston’s superstars are out, opposing teams are crushed and their fans are left asking “Who scored on us?”

The Rockets survived a Tuesday night thriller versus Portland followed by a Thursday night mud fight against the Pistons, before cruising to victories Saturday night and Sunday night. Sunday night’s victory was their ninth straight and since last week Houston has increased its Western Conference lead on the Golden State Warriors (YET AGAIN) to 5.5 games. The Rockets maintain the best record in the league, and Saturday night they set a franchise record for most wins in a single season ever. That includes both championship seasons.

If you aren’t already, it is officially time to get excited for the playoffs. This team is special.

Game 71: Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers (W, 115-111)

Tuesday's matchup pitted the Rockets against a white-hot Trail Blazers team riding a 13-game win streak, and the result was far from disappointing. In one of what has become a rare opportunity for another NBA team to prove itself an actual threat, the No. 3-seeded Portland Trail Blazers unloaded everything they had against Rockets, maintaining a close game throughout.

The problem, however, is that James Harden was also interested in winning this matchup.

Harden poured in 42 points on the way to a very tightly contested victory against the third best team in the western conference, including two absolutely vicious step back daggers late in the fourth to seal it. Chris Paul added 22 points, but pulled up injured in the very last few seconds of the game with a tweaked hamstring

Game 72: Rockets vs Detroit Pistons (W (OT), 100-96)

Gross.

Houston was without Chris Paul in its attempt to close out the season series versus Detroit with a win, and thanks to an abysmal shooting night from behind the arc it took an extra quarter of basketball to deliver. The Rockets went 12-51 from beyond the arc, and looked sloppy throughout. Yet, in one of their sloppiest games, they were still never out of it thanks in part to an even worse night from three-point land from the Pistons. Detroit struggled at a 6-38 clip from three, and despite out rebounding the Rockets 72-60, Harden once again staged some late game heroics (this time defensively) to force an overtime that would inevitably pave the way to a Rockets victory. Eric Gordon would lead the team with 22 points, while Harden followed with 21 thanks largely in part to some late game fouling. The win tied Houston for the most franchise wins in a single season ever.

Game 73: Houston vs New Orleans Pelicans (W, 114-91)

The Rockets/Pelicans series prior to Saturday night had been a season’s worth of fantastic, closely contested matchups that were decided by an average of 5 points or less. Saturday night, however, the Rockets showed no interest in another such game. A 29-16 first, followed by a 35-21 second quarter fueled a statement victory, with Harden scoring 27 points in three quarters. Eric Gordon followed with 19 points, on 4-9 from three-point range. Clint Capela--with his best Anthony Davis impression--added 18 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 blocks. The win set a new franchise record for wins in a single season.

Game 74: Houston vs Atlanta Hawks (W, 118-99)

For a third straight night Chris Paul sat due to injury as the Rockets closed out the week against an unimposing Atlanta Hawks team. It was a contest that was put away very early by the home team, thanks in part to contributions from the bench while Paul continued to nurse his hamstring. Gerald Green led the team with 25 points in a matchup that saw Houston’s lead as high as 26 at one point. Gordon followed with 22 points, while Harden added an 18 point, 10 rebound, and 15 assist triple-double; because of course he did. The seemingly effortless victory was Houston’s ninth in a row and their 60th win on the season.

Looking ahead

The Rockets return to the court with home games Tuesday and Friday against the Chicago Bulls and the Phoenix Suns respectively before a Sunday away game against the San Antonio Spurs ends the week.

This is probably one of the easiest weeks Houston has had in months as Chicago has dropped the past five in a row, and Phoenix the past eleven. San Antonio, while typically a perennial contender has proven to be completely outmatched against Houston all season, and I don’t see anything changing this week. I normally don’t expect a team to win all of its matchups in a week, but if there was a week to bank on it, this would be the one.

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Yordan Alvarez provided the offense to back up more stellar pitching by the Astros as they took ALCS game 6 to advance to the 2021 World Series. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of this series in Houston then falling behind in the series 2-1 by dropping the first of three games in Boston, the Astros took over the ALCS in Games 4 and 5, sending them back to their home crowd with a chance to finish things off in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park. After another stellar performance by their pitching staff and more timely hitting, they would accomplish that mission, winning the series and moving on to the 2021 World Series.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 0

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston wins 4-2

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Losing Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Houston strikes first to start tightly-contested Game 6

After a scoreless top of the first inning by Boston's offense, the Astros capitalized on a chance to be first to score in the bottom of the frame. Alex Bregman started the two-out rally, reaching base on a single against Nathan Eovaldi for the first hit of the night. Yordan Alvarez followed, delivering his sixth RBI of the series with a double to put Houston on top 1-0.

That did not spark further immediate scoring, as the one-run score held while both starting pitchers provided solid outings for their team. For Eovaldi, he was able to limit Houston to just that single run through four frames. He returned in the bottom of the fifth, facing two batters, allowing a single, and getting a strikeout to end his night.

Garcia impresses in big start

For the home team, they were recipients of another expectation-exceeding performance from one of their young arms. Only anticipated to go a handful of innings, Luis Garcia worked efficiently and effectively against Boston, keeping them scoreless and hitless through five innings. He continued in the sixth, getting two more outs before allowing a two-out triple, ending his night as Phil Maton would enter to strand the tying run. Garcia's final line: 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 76 P.

With both teams dipping into their bullpens, the Astros took advantage of Boston's as Yordan Alvarez's dominance went on display once again. He led the inning off with a triple, then scored on a double-play ball to extend Houston's lead to 2-0. Kendall Graveman took over on the mound in the top of the seventh and worked himself into a big moment. He gave up a one-out walk, followed by a single, which put runners on the corners for Boston. He continued to struggle with the zone, falling behind the next batter 3-1, but was able to battle back to get the strikeout paired with a terrific throw by Martin Maldonado to cut down the runner from first trying to steal second, ending the inning and maintaining the two-run advantage.

Astros headed to the World Series

Ryne Stake was Houston's next reliever, and he put Houston three outs away by getting a 1-2-3 eighth. With Ryan Pressly warming, he watched and hoped that his offense could give him some more insurance to work with when he went to the mound in the top of the ninth. His wish would be granted, as after getting two on base, Kyle Tucker would put a major exclamation point on the night's offense, hitting a three-run opposite-field homer to the Crawford Boxes to push the lead to 5-0.

Pressly, now with the five-run lead, came on to try and start the celebration by getting the final three outs. Against the tougher part of Boston's order, he would get a 1-2-3 inning, giving the Astros the American League pennant, which along with those won in 2017 and 2019, puts them back in the World Series for the third time in five years.

Up Next: The Astros will have three days off before The Fall Classic kicks off. While Game 1 will be on Tuesday, October 26th, nothing else has yet been determined as Houston awaits to see which of the Dodgers and Braves will advance out of the NL, which will also dictate if the Astros will host or travel to World Series Game 1.

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