Rockets capture first season win over Pelicans

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets capture first win of the season over Pelicans 126-123

In a game thought to be uneventful, as shown by the Vegas spread (Houston -12.0), the Rockets hung on to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans in a close one, 126-123. Despite missing Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday and coming off a back-to-back, the Pelicans pushed Houston to the brink and came very close to coming out on top. For the Rockets, it's become increasingly clear that their defense is a point of concern that needs to be corrected as quickly as possible. Even head coach Mike D'Antoni, who said Thursday that he felt good about where Houston was defensively, changed his tune Saturday night.

"Things have changed," said D'Antoni, chuckling. "We just weren't into them again. I mean we have that tendency, but they were superfast, they kept coming at us. We would go up 10, and then we would relax, but you can't do that. You know, we're not real sharp right now and you have to gut these things out."

The Rockets allowed Brandon Ingram to log one of his best games of his career, chipping in 35 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists for the Pelicans on a ridiculous 72.3% true shooting. Houston just didn't have an answer for the 22 year old, nor did they have one for Josh Hart, who scored 23 points of his own on 64.3% true shooting (5 of 12 from three-point range).

What turned it around for the Rockets is the same man who nearly stole them their first win on Thursday, Russell Westbrook. Westbrook's fingerprints were all over Houston's second half turnaround as he pulled in 18 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds all in the second half alone.

"It's something I think my team needed from me at the time," Westbrook said after the game. "I was there to be aggressive and find ways to better make an impact on the game."

A storyline that continued on from Thursday's loss is James Harden's poor shooting. Although he scored 28 points, Harden shot 8 for 29 from the field and 2 for 18 from three-point range. Harden is now 3 for 27 for the season from behind the arc.

"He's lost his rhythm a little bit," said D'Antoni. "Nothing to worry about. There's no way it's going to last this way."

Harden expressed a similar lack of concern.

"I'm going to take as many shots as they give me," said Harden. "I was in [the gym] yesterday working on that same shot and this morning on that same shot. Tonight, it just didn't fall."

Star of the game: For the second straight game, Russell Westbrook will take home these honors. Tonight, Westbrook pulled in 28 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, and 1 steal on great efficiency (65.4% true shooting). His timing is now there with all of his teammates, including Clint Capela, his pace has dictated what the Rockets are doing offensively, and he has willed Houston through all of their dull moments so far this (short) season.

Honorable mention: Danuel House's development is one of the more under the radar storylines of Houston's season. Not only is he hitting his three-pointers at over a 40% clip - something he carried over from last season - his ball-handling and decision making is really starting to come together. House scored 15 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and was 4 of 5 from three-point range.

Key moment: Westbrook's dunk in transition capped off what was one hellacious stretch for the 30-year-old point guard.

Up next: Chris Paul returns to the Toyota Center to face his former team on Monday, 7:00 p.m.

Few things are darker in sports than a 21-point fourth quarter collapse after losing three straight prior to the game. Every game from this point forward becomes progressively more 'win-now'.

Chris Paul absolutely demolished the Rockets in the first half, scoring 27 points on 9 of 12 shooting from the field and 4 of 5 shooting from three-point range. Houston couldn't manage to slow him down until they started trapping Paul more and more in the second half and forcing other Thunder players to beat them. What the Rockets weren't counting on was for it to actually happen. Danilo Gallinari absolutely torched the Rockets in the fourth quarter (12 points on 3 of 4 shooting from three-point range and 3 of 3 shooting from the free throw line).

The Rockets were rolling in this game when they went small with P.J. Tucker at center (41 minutes played). Clint Capela was also in foul trouble all night so it was the more convenient strategy. The problem was their defense absolutely cratered without Clint Capela in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter due to lack of rim protection. At that point, Oklahoma City took the lead and never looked back. It also didn't help that James Harden was off as he was tonight (1 of 17 from three-point range) and Houston missed a lot of quality looks from beyond the arc as a unit (9 of 45 from three-point range).

Russell Westbrook was fantastic, but the Rockets are at their best when James Harden is humming and tonight marked the continuation of the struggles he's had for six games now. Harden is shooting 34.8% from the field and 23.9% from three-point range in this span. It's also not a coincidence that the Rockets are 1-5 in these games.

Star of the game: As with a lot of Houston's losses these past two weeks, Russell Westbrook was clearly the best player on the player on the floor tonight and it wasn't particularly close. Westbrook logged 32 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, and 2 steals on 16 of 24 shooting from the field. Although they lost, when things started to get rocky for the Rockets in the fourth quarter, Westbrook was the steady hand for this team. It'll be interesting to see how long his streak of efficient scoring keeps up, but the Rockets would be getting blown out of the building if not for Westbrook.

Honorable mention: James Harden wasn't nearly efficient enough (9 of 29 from the field) or careful enough with the basketball (5 turnovers) to earn second place honors tonight. Danuel House, however, was excellent (on the whole) after struggling to find a rhythm these past couple weeks. House logged 13 points on 5 of 11 shooting from the field and 3 of 7 shooting from three-point range. He was really rough in the fourth quarter (-25), but on the whole, this is an encouraging sign for House.

Key moment: The Rockets went into the fourth quarter with a 17-point lead and lost the game by 5 - that tells you all you need to know about this game. Houston played three really good quarters of basketball and lost focus in the fourth. James Harden missed step-back three after step-back three (0 for 3 from three-point range) and Houston couldn't buy a stop if it was given to them for free (41 points allowed).

Up next: The Rockets play the Denver Nuggets at 7:00 p.m. in Houston on Wednesday.

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