Ugly, but a win is a win

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets escape with narrow victory over Wizards 159-158

In a game that made the history books for several different reasons, the Houston Rockets held on to barely defeat the Washington Wizards 159-158. The game will go down in the record books for having the third-most points scored in regulation in NBA history. From the start of this helter-skelter matchup, it became apparent that defense was optional and scoring was not. Neither team could seemingly string together two stops in a row which made for some exciting, but chaotic basketball.

For the Rockets, it was James Harden leading the charge, 59 points in all. Harden had struggled with his shooting through the first three games, but caught his rhythm tonight, hitting 6 of his 14 attempted three-pointers. For the Wizards, Bradley Beal could not seem to buy a miss even after Houston threw multiple looks and bodies at him. Beal managed to finish the game with 46 points on a staggering 91.0% true shooting.

The Rockets have a lot to clean up defensively, but through 4 games, it's clear they have an offensive identity that has works. For the fourth straight game, Houston also outrebounded their opponent - something they struggled mightily to do last season. This was ugly, but as the Rockets learned last season, a win is a win and this one counts just as much. Houston will be grateful they got this one later in the season as they joky for positioning in the unforgiving Western Conference.

Star of the game: James Harden seemed to shake away his shooting struggles Wednesday night with a 59-point performance on a scorching 73.9% true shooting. Though his defense left much to be desired, Harden refused to let the game get out of reach for Houston and ultimately won it by getting fouled on the last possession. He also seemingly intentionally missed his last free throw of the game in order to let the clock run out and secure the victory for the Rockets.

Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook. Westbrook started the game dishing the ball to his teammates at a ridiculous rate, snagging 10 assists through the first quarter and a half of basketball. His consistent rim penetration was also a huge factor in the Rockets reclaiming the lead in the 4th quarter. Westbrook ended the game with 17 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds 2 steals, and 2 block. He was forceful, consistent, and has thus far proved to be every bit the valued addition he was lauded to be this offseason.

Key moment: While it may have been a play brushed off by many, Russell Westbrook finding James Harden cutting backdoor for the dunk is a sign of significant progress for the two. Harden, not known for cutting baseline, did so willingly in this instant and a few other instances this season and the same has been true for Westbrook. The glimmers of chemistry between Harden and Westbrook are becoming smoother and more frequent and for many who worried about Houston's floor spacing this summer, this is an encouraging sign.

Up next: Houston travels to Brooklyn on Friday, November 1st at 6:00 p.m. to face off against the Nets.

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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