Good road win

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets bounce back from bad loss with solid victory over Raptors 119-109

Coming off a brutal and embarrassing double-overtime loss in San Antonio two nights before, the Rockets were in need of a statement victory. The 15-5 Raptors provided just that opportunity Thursday night in Toronto and head coach Nick Nurse made his team's defensive intentions clear before the game.

To his credit, he wasn't bluffing. Nurse stuck to his word and the Raptors began doubling James Harden at mid-court. Harden would see this insane defense the entire game and as a result, stayed deferential and only scored 6 points at halftime. The Rockets would go on and a ton of open looks from beyond the three-point line as a result.

Danuel House played well in his return game (16 points on 5 of 11 shooting from the field and 3 of 8 shooting from three-point range), but was still really sick and head coach Mike D'Antoni elected to bring him off the bench as a result

The Rockets were pretty sloppy with the basketball (22 turnovers), but they rebounded the basketball well (out-rebounded Toronto 54-45), moved the ball, and got open looks and that will end up being the story for this game (22 of 55 from three-point range).

Star of the game: With the constant double teams thrown at James Harden in this game, there was room for everybody on the roster to get there's, specifically Ben McLemore. McLemore had his best game of the season for the Rockets, scoring 28 points on 8 of 17 three-point shooting. It's getting tougher and tougher to ignore the wide-gap between McLemore's performances as a starter versus as a bench player and he even addressed it after the game.

"Just being out there with the veteran guys like Russ and James and being comfortable and them guys building my confidence at a high level," said McLemore. "Russ does a good job and Harden does a good job as well of letting me play my game."

Honorable mention: Despite the focused coverage against him, James Harden was surprisingly efficient tallying 23 points, 7 rebounds, 6 steals, and 3 assists on 11 shots. Harden let the offense flow through his teammates and it paid off as the 29 of the Rockets 40 field goals were assisted. Effectively, Harden was acting as a vacuum to suck in defenses and get teammates like Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House open looks all game (combined for 16-35 from three-point range).

Key moment: The Raptors briefly caught up and took a 86-83 lead over the Rockets in the 3rd quarter, but through ball movement and hot shooting, Houston was able to quash the run. Houston would go on a 11-2 run to close the quarter. Ben McLemore scored or assisted on 8 of these 11 points.

Up next: The Rockets return to Toyota Center on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. to take on the Phoenix Suns.

When the Rockets acquired Russell Westbrook in July, they knew what they were getting. There would be nights where he would score 28 points on 30 shots, turn the ball over 4 times, and look like an insane person. There would also be nights where he tallies 45 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and a steal on good efficiency and absolutely carry Houston over the finish line. This is the Westbrook experience in a bottle and there's really no negotiating with it. It's a hell of a visual either way.

On a night where James Harden looked injured and miserable (12 points on 3 of 13 shooting from the field, 3 turnovers, and a plus-minus of -7), Westbrook took completely control of the offense and put on a clinic. Westbrook was keeping Clint Capela (18 points on 9 of 12 shooting) and shooters engaged (Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers combined for 43 points on 8 of 16 shooting from beyond the arc) while also scoring the ball with relative ease. It was as good as he looked in a regular season game all year and one of his better performances since his MVP season in 2016-17.

The Rockets are still well behind where they need to be defensively, but after the losing streak they had, a win like this matters a whole lot more than how it was carried out. Defensive ratings and point differentials be damned as they currently sit as the 6th seed in the Western Conference. At the moment, Houston needs to bag more of these victories before they refine the way they go about collecting them.

Star of the game: You won't find a stronger argument for what would be Russell Westbrook's ninth All-Star appearance than tonight. Westbrook was sensational, tallying a season-high 45 points, dishing out 10 assists, and grabbing 6 rebounds in the process on 16 of 27 shooting from the field and 13 for 13 shooting from the free throw line. In a game where James Harden was clearly battling a lower leg injury, Westbrook carried Houston over the finish line with easily his best game of the season. For all the rough games Westbrook will give you, it's important to remember that he has the capability to give you a night like this.

Honorable mention: There are a couple of candidates for second place tonight, but it'll ultimately have to go to Eric Gordon who scored 27 points on 8 of 19 shooting from the field, 6 of 13 shooting from three-point range, and 5 of 7 shooting from the free throw line. After scoring a season-high 25 points on Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets, Gordon's been on a little bit of a roll from beyond the arc. It could be a random hot stretch, but it's more likely the case that Gordon is rounding into season shape after returning from his right knee arthroscopy. He won't always give Houston nights like this, but it's nice to know that it's in his capabilities.

Key moment: The Rockets came out of the gates in the third quarter a bit slow defensively, giving up a 13-4 run to give the Timberwolves a 73-67 lead. After that, the Rockets came out of the timeout and went on a 9-3 run of their own to tie the game up at 76-76. Houston ended up building on their halftime lead by outscoring Minnesota 31-24 in the third quarter and Russell Westbrook scored or assisted 19 of those 31 points.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Denver on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. to take on the Nuggets.

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