Too close for comfort
The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets beat Cavaliers in Cleveland 116-110
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).
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.
Up next: The Rockets travel to Orlando at 6:00 p.m. on Friday to take on the Magic.