Not pretty, but it counts
The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Nets in Houston 108-98
If you were looking for the Rockets to dissect a .500 team with a buzzer-to-buzzer blowout, this wasn't the game. However, if you were looking for Houston to bounce back from their ugly loss against Golden State on Christmas, at the very least, you got that.
"It wasn't pretty," said Mike D'Antoni after the game. "We got some things we definitely got to get better at."
It wasn't that Houston was bad tonight, but their effort was inconsistent to say the least. The Rockets began the game on fire on both ends, taking a 42-20 lead to end the first quarter. However, as they continued to miss shots, their effort started to taper off.
Westbrook had a lot to do with Houston's early lead, but unfortunately for Houston, he was also responsible for a lot of the missed shots. In the first quarter, Westbrook scored 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting, 6 of those 7 field goals coming from mid-range. However, those same shots didn't fall for the rest of the game as Westbrook was 4 of 19 from the field for the rest of the game.
As the Nets got creative against Harden, shooters like P.J. Tucker (0 for 5 from three-point range), Danuel House (2 of 10 from three-point range), and Ben McLemore (1 of 6 from three-point range) could not take advantage of the open looks they were receiving, leaving an opening for the Nets to climb back into the game.
"We had a lot of open opportunities that we just didn't make," said Harden. "Tuck had some, D-House had some, Ben had some. If we make those shots, it's a different ball game earlier."
In Houston's defense, they were also without Clint Capela (right heel contusion) and Eric Gordon (right knee arthroscopy) which disrupted their floor spacing tonight. Although the Rockets will be without Russell Westbrook (scheduled to miss the second half of this back-to-back), Gordon will return to the rotation and give Houston a fresh body and floor spacing element that they've been lacking.
"It's another shooter and another ball handler," said Harden on Gordon's pending return. "A guy that can be aggressive and make plays. It's a little of what we're missing."
Star of the game: The Nets threw various defenses at James Harden including single man-to-man coverage, a trap, and box and one. However, it was ultimately fruitless as Harden ended the game with 44 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, and a steal on 17 of 27 shooting from the field and 6 of 10 shooting from three-point range. Coming off a game in which he was limited to 24 points, Harden was quite simply, brilliant.
Honorable mention: After being fairly quiet for a week, Austin Rivers had one of his better games of the year, scoring 14 points on 5 of 12 shooting from the field and 4 of 9 shooting from three-point range. Rivers hit a couple of key shots when the Rockets allowed the Nets to get back into the game and was good defensively tonight.
Key moment: After the Nets took a 90-89 lead with 8:55 remaining in the 4th quarter, Houston battled back with an 18-8 run of their own to end the 4th quarter with James Harden scoring or assisting on 9 of those points.
Up next: The Rockets travel to New Orleans at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow to play the Pelicans.