Quality win

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Grizzlies in Memphis 107-100

While not the most exciting or noteworthy game, the Houston Rockets entered the FedEx Forum on Monday after an embarrassing blowout loss to Miami the night before and redeemed themselves with a quality win. Behind a strong James Harden performance (44 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals) and without Russell Westbrook, the Rockets finally put a few things together defensively and had the good fortune of their three-pointers fall at an average rate of 34% (17/50) after struggling so mightily from behind the arc the first 6 games of the season.

The biggest thing Houston could draw from this game is the defense they played in the second half. Houston allowed a combined 410 points over their past three games and were finally able to put together some stops, particularly in the third quarter. In defense of the Rockets, they've had a pretty staggering shooting disparity with their opponents to start the season, specifically from three-point range. Houston was shooting 30.7% from three-point range (27th in the NBA) in their first 6 games and their opponents were shooting at an unsustainable 40.4% (highest in the league). Some of that mellowed out on Monday as the Grizzlies shot a putrid 12% (3 of 25) from three-point range.

Eric Gordon and Clint Capela both showed signs of life, which is a development the Rockets have sorely needed. While Gordon didn't shoot the ball exceptionally well, he relentlessly attacked the basket, scoring 16 points and grabbing 5 rebounds in the process. Capela, while not great, was present on defense and tallied double digit rebounds (13) for the first time since October 30th in Washington. Houston needs both Gordon and Capela to build off of the energy they brought tonight if they want any chance of attaining a top seed in the Western Conference.

The Rockets still have a lot to work on as they try and climb out of the hole they've created for themselves early on defense. Their transition defense still needs a lot of work, they're still allowing entirely too many back cuts, leading to wide open layups, and their energy to start games hasn't been up to par. Make no mistake though, this was a good win for Houston, especially when you consider they are coming off a back to back and lacked their second best player. Ideally, the Rockets can build off of this and try and string together similar wins in the weeks ahead.

Star of the game: While James Harden looked miserable defensively in the first half, he more than made up for it in the second half and was a consistent offensive performance throughout the game. Harden logged 44 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals on 61.2% true shooting. The notable development though is that he excelled from three-point range tonight (7 of 16 from deep) and that's been a point of struggle for him early on this season. Nobody was expecting Harden to continue shooting so poorly, but the Rockets badly needed him to bounce out of it soon.

Honorable mention: Danuel House shot the ball poorly, but his energy was there for the Rockets all night. House scored 15 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, blocked 3 shots, was active in transition, and maintained his impressive steadiness from the first 6 games of the season. It's really become cliche to talk about how good he's been for the Rockets early on.

Key moment: Houston's third quarter stretch may be the best defense they've played all season. They limited the Grizzlies to 16 points on 8 of 23 shooting and only allowed 6 three-point attempts (no makes). The Rockets would be really well served if they can play two quarters of every game like they played in this third quarter. The energy and effort was present from start to finish.

Up next: The Rockets will return home on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. to play the depleted Golden State Warriors.

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.

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