It was ugly, it was unconventional, but the Rockets managed to climb out of a 62-52 halftime deficit to escape the Toyota Center Monday night with their second win of the season. It's clear the Rockets still have a lot to clean up, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, but they'll take these close wins in the meantime. As Houston continues to struggle to hit their jumpers, head coach Mike D'Antoni believes this stems from their overall defensive effort.
"If you don't have energy on defense, then you usually don't on offense," said D'Antoni after the game. "In my experience, if you don't play hard defensively, then your shot is short and you don't roll into it. To me, it's a fact that one leads to the other."
The Rockets shot 22.7% from beyond the three-point line and without the heroics of Russell Westbrook and P.J. Tucker, it's unlikely they walk out with the narrow victory that they got. James Harden and Eric Gordon could shake their early shooting slumps as they both combined to shoot 4 for 21 from beyond the arc. Harden's scoring mostly came from his ability to get to the foul line and convert (21 of 22). To try and make up for the three-point disparity, the Rockets scored 56 of their team points from the paint.
Star of the game: While Harden scored 40 points tonight, Russell Westbrook will be taking home this honor for the third straight game. Putting up 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists on 9 of 16 shooting from the field, Westbrook absolutely carried the Rockets over the finish line. His rebounding and playmaking in particular were crucial as the Rockets could not buy a basket from long-range.
"It's up to me to be able to make sure my guys are ready to go and not just ready, but to compete and play hard, because playing hard is not an option for me," Westbrook said after the game. "That's something we have to take pride in. To get to that level, we have to do that every night."
Honorable mention: P.J. Tucker was fantastic tonight, and he's been one of Houston's only reliable three-point shooter to start the season. Tucker chipped in 17 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and shot 5 of 7 from three-point range. Tucker was active defensively, asked to play small ball for much of the game, and hit a huge three pointer for the Rockets in the fourth quarter off a Westbrook assist.
"I would imagine if he didn't do what he did, we probably would've lost," D'Antoni said. "He also allows us to go small and I thought that helped us in the second quarter when [Nerlens] Noel was in there."
Key moment: The aforementioned dish to P.J. Tucker had to be the play of the game for Houston. It was just such a momentum shifter and again illuminated the kind of chaotic energy that a Westbrook can bring to this Rockets team.
This Russ dime was NASTY. https://t.co/LzJEywZCgX— Bleacher Report (@Bleacher Report) 1572316280.0
Up next: The Rockets will go on the road for the first time this season to play the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, October 30th at 7:00 p.m.
We saw big games from Will Anderson, Derek Stingley Jr., & Nico Collins on Sunday. Jimmie Ward with the game winning pick. C.J. Stroud doing C.J. Stroud things. Things are starting to come together. And Texans GM Nick Caserio deserves a lot of credit.
Check out the video above to find out more!