Had things stayed the course early in the fourth quarter, this would be a very different and darker recap for the Rockets. However, a win is a win and Houston showed impressive resolve down the stretch, specifically James Harden.
Aside from Harden's heroics, the biggest takeaway from this game is the growing rhythm of Russell Westbrook with this Rockets group. It's very possible that this is just a good three-game stand for Westbrook where he happens to be playing a bunch of bad defenses, but it's definitely worth noting how he's adapted to teams trapping Harden.
Now, the Cavs didn't really trap Harden tonight, but when they did, it was in the midst of their 24-0 run. When the tide started to change however, you saw much of what Westbrook has been doing the past two games - driving almost immediately off the catch. It may not be cutting to the basket, but it's effectively the next best thing Westbrook could do. There are few players in the NBA more dangerous driving to the rim with a head of steam than Westbrook. Against the Kings, Westbrook was making layup after layup after drives on catches. Tonight, you saw more of the secondary playmaking Westbrook could provide as teams collapsed and he found open shooters.
With Eric Gordon (knee), Austin Rivers (illness), and Tyson Chandler (illness) still out tonight, the Rockets effectively played a 6-man rotation. Nobody outside of Harden, Westbrook, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, Ben McLemore, and Danuel House played more than 11 minutes tonight. Houston still looks shaky defensively (116.6 Defensive Rating), but it'll be interesting to see if that ticks up when they shake the bug that's plagued the team the past couple weeks and have some semblance of a healthy roster.
Star of the game: Clint Capela was fa... I'm just kidding. James Harden put the team on his back tonight and carved up this Cavalier's defense like tender steak. Harden finished the game with 55 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks on 20 of 34 shooting from the field, 10 of 18 shooting from three-point range, and 5 of 5 shooting from the free throw line. He scored 20 of his 55 points in the 4th quarter when the Rockets desperately needed it and played admirable defense down the stretch. This is Harden's 7th career game with 55 points and 8 assists. Everybody else in NBA history has a combined 15 of those (credit to Kelly Scaletta for this stat).
James Harden: 55 points, 20-34 FG, 10-18 3s, 5-5 FT. Rick Barry is the only player in NBA history to score more poi… https://t.co/yD5hRNtE0o— Tim MacMahon (@Tim MacMahon) 1576117186.0
Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook has really started to find his rhythm with the Rockets these past few games. Part of this is because of Houston's concerted effort to get Westbrook involved early in games, but he deserves full credit for capitalizing on it and carrying his momentum over the rest of the game. Westbrook had 23 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals on 52.8% true shooting (higher than his season average of 49.8%). Over the past three games, Westbrook is averaging 27.0 points, 8.3 assists, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 steals on 65.7% true shooting.
Key moment: After giving up a 24-0 run the Cavaliers (you read that right), the Rockets ended the game on a 28-11 run which included multiple impossible step-back jumpers, layups, and floaters from James Harden and the game clinching three from P.J. Tucker assisted by Harden.
James Harden now with 51 points. Rockets re-take the lead 107-105. https://t.co/Q3Xqe87tix— Salman Ali (@Salman Ali) 1576116408.0
Up next: The Rockets travel to Orlando at 6:00 p.m. on Friday to take on the Magic.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.