Rockets capture 2nd win of the season

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets climb back to defeat the Thunder 116-112

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.

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.

Despite Danuel House being out with a sacral contusion, Eric Gordon being out due to his recent right knee surgery, and Clint Capela being out due to his concussion, the Rockets grinded it out defensively and beat a good Pacers team Friday night. This obviously starts and ends with James Harden's performance (44 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals), but it's also much more than that. The Rockets have figured it out defensively to an extent many observers didn't think was possible just two weeks ago.

"A lot of guys had to step up and they did," said Mike D'Antoni after the game. "Right now, like we talked about so many times, we just got to get wins and then we'll get some guys back [from injury]. I thought our defense is getting better all the time, big stops, and James [Harden] was ridiculous. It was a good win."

D'Antoni is correct in that there is a huge value in banking regular seasons early and figuring it out with a healthy roster later. These wins count the same as the ones late in the season as Houston found out last season. While they're trying to get healthy, they need contributions from guys they wouldn't normally lean on and they found that tonight from Ben McLemore. McLemore really stepped up tonight as Houston's second scorer, tallying 21 points on 67.1% true shooting.

"I continue to be a pro, and then continue to do whatever I need to do to help my teammates or help the team win games," said McLemore. "This summer, obviously I signed with them and I was just preparing myself for moments like this."

Tyson Chandler was also huge for the Rockets even though his numbers didn't pop out to you in the stat sheet (2 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal). Chandler was a team high +24 and really shined defensively with the Rockets being without Capela.

"He does everything else," said Harden. "Tip basketballs for rebounds, the contested shots, everything else, the communicating, the talking. Everything that doesn't show up on the stat sheets, he does it."

Star of the game: James Harden continued his hot streak, tallying 44 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals on 68.4% true shooting. Down Danuel House, Eric Gordon, and Clint Capela, the Rockets needed every bit of Harden's heroics and he delivered. Harden's performances are becoming so regular that they almost feel normal or pedestrian. Let me remind you that nothing about what Harden is doing is or should be considered 'normal'. This is a truly historically special player we're watching on a herculean stretch.

Honorable mention: Ben McLemore delivered his best game of the season for the Rockets scoring 21 points on 6 of 13 shooting from the field, 5 of 6 shooting from the free throw line, and 4 of 11 from three-point range. When Gerald Green went down for the Rockets before the season, there was a void to be filled for a player like McLemore and Houston is fortunate that they found McLemore when they did. He's been the definition of a pleasant surprise

Key moment: From the 8:07 mark of the 4th quarter to the 5:00 mark, James Harden went on a personal 12-0 run for the Rockets that took the Rockets from a 2-point deficit to a 10-point lead. The Rockets were badly in need of offense as Westbrook was struggling to carry the second unit and Harden showed up right when they needed him.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Minnesota at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday to play the Timberwolves.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome