The Rockets Report

Team struggles without Harden, losing two games in a week

Gerald Green has been a nice signing. Rockets.com

The Rockets spent the past week adjusting to life without James Harden on the court, and there were some growing pains in the process. The adjusted roster has featured an emphasis on riding recently acquired swingman Gerald Green’s hot streak as the sixth man, as well as extended playing time for point guard Briante Weber. The transition has been less than seamless, as the Rockets dropped two out of three this past week. Houston’s overall record has them fourth overall in the league now, and while they remain second the western conference, the gap is narrowing.

Game 36: Rockets at Orlando Magic (W, 116-98)

If there was ever a team to face immediately after losing the highest scoring in the league, it would be the Magic. The Rockets tinkered with their lineup and cruised to an easy victory behind strong defense on their end and abysmal shooting on the Magic’s. More on this game can be found here.

Game 37: Rockets vs Golden State (L, 114-124)

When you play the Golden State Warriors these days, there is no room for error. A glimmer of hope was shed on the Rockets with the news that Kevin Durant would not be playing due to injury heading into the contest. The game lived up to its nationally televised billing as the two western conference heavyweights refused to give either pull away with any significant lead. At the half the Rockets led the Warriors 63-63, with Eric Gordon pacing the Rockets with 17 points. The game would remain tight until around three and a half minutes remaining, when a series of miscues and poor shots allowed a dialed in Golden State team to finally pull away. Gordon would finish with 30 points, and Gerald Green would sink a career-high 8 three-pointers on his way to 29 points off the bench. Chris Paul added 28 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds.

Game 38: Rockets at Detroit Pistons (L, 101-108)

The Rockets traveled to Detroit Saturday night looking to shake off a tough loss to Golden State, but the Pistons--even without star center Andre Drummond--apparently had other plans. It was another close game throughout, but sloppy play in the third turned a 58-57 lead at the half into a 77-88 deficit heading into the fourth. The Rockets would be unable to recover and would eventually drop their second game in a row. No Houston player broke the 20-point barrier that night. Paul led the team with 16 points, 13 assists, and 7 rebounds. Gordon, Green, and Trevor Ariza added 15 each.

Takeaways:

Picking up the slack: Gerald Green has been absolutely electric in Harden’s absence, while Ryan Anderson has been quite the opposite. Green is now averaging 16.5 points per game off the bench thanks largely in part to his .510 three-point percentage since he signed with Houston six games ago. Anderson however has shot 8-34 from beyond the arc for an unremarkable .235 percentage in that same span. The Rockets need everyone dialed in in order to maintain momentum with Harden out.

Looking ahead:

The Rockets will have a three game work week beginning tonight in Chicago with a matchup against a rebuilding Bulls team. Wednesday they’ll host a pesky Portland team and Friday they’ll finish the week in Phoenix versus the Suns. Tonight’s matchup shouldn’t pose an issue, even as the Rockets look to further acclimate to the new rotation. The Trail Blazers, as I’ve said before, are never a team you can sleep on and should be a tough matchup, while the Phoenix game can be viewed as quite the opposite. I see the Rockets bouncing back this week with only one likely loss and the possibility to go undefeated.

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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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