The Rockets opened their season with a crushing 117-111 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets fall in opener to Bucks 117-111

It was exciting, it was promising, but ultimately it was unfruitful as James Harden and the Houston Rockets fell to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks for the third straight time in two seasons Thursday night in their home opener. What was particularly disappointing on Houston's part is they held a commanding near-double digit lead over the Bucks for most of the night before being outscored 39-24 in the fourth quarter. The Bucks' unique defensive strategy managed to stifle James Harden again, limiting him to 19 points on 2 of 13 shooting from the field.

"I didn't play well offensively tonight," Harden said after the game. "This one's on me. I wasn't aggressive enough."

The Rockets as a whole, struggled mightily from behind the arc, only making 5 of their second half 27 three-point attempts. Eric Gordon had a particularly poor night, missing all six of his fourth quarter three-point attempts.

"You got to make shots to beat teams like that," head coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They made the big ones. We didn't."

Star of the game: Russell Westbrook, despite the loss, showed the kind of energy and athleticism he could provide to Houston, pulling in 24 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals on 54.9% true shooting. Whether it was a fast break, and-one-layup or dish outs to Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker in the corners after out-running Giannis Antetokounmpo on the break, Westbrook was an absolute blur. His true command of the game came through with the second unit, where Westbrook ran rough-shot on the Bucks at seemingly a million miles per hour. It's completely antithetical to the slow, calculated way James Harden and the Rockets have run things in recent years, but Westbrook showed tonight the kind of unnerving chaos and variance he can bring to Houston's offense.

Honorable mention: P.J. Tucker, steady as always, provided some quality shooting for Houston on a night where they badly needed it, scoring 17 points on 5 of 8 three-point shooting. Tucker also grabbed seven rebounds and was asked to guard everything from Giannis Antetokounmpo on the break to Brook Lopez in the post.

Key moment: In the midst of fighting off Milwaukee's second half run, James Harden and Russell Westbrook showed a flash of their potential possibilities as a duo, in an exciting transition lob sequence. This pairing is still very much clunky, but in this moment (and a select few other ones tonight), Harden and Westbrook showed the kind of dynamism they could be with some sacrifice from both players.

Houston plays their second game of the season Saturday, October 26th against the New Orleans Pelicans.

There are nights in the NBA where you just get completely outplayed and for Houston, this was one of them. The Nuggets came into the game with a simple, but effective gameplan: double team James Harden and let his teammates beat you. On most nights, they will, but tonight, the Rockets shot a putrid 31.6% (12-38) from three-point range. Houston also turned the ball over 20 times - really poor for a team that was averaging just 15.2 turnovers per game (12th).

The Rockets had opportunities midway through and late in this game to capitalize on Denver mistakes, but they were flummoxed by the swarming defensive approach, missed shots, and turned the ball over. The Nuggets are one of the few teams that can run with Houston and they took advantage of that, scoring 20 fast break points.

The Rockets may have had a fighting chance in this one had Danuel House not gotten hurt on an unfortunate play in which Nikola Jokic got called for a moving screen foul. House had to leave the game with shoulder soreness and did not return for the rest of the night. Without House and Gordon, the Rockets were lacking their two best shooters and had poor spacing against a Nuggets team that was trapping James Harden all night.

This doesn't excuse how badly the Rockets played. If Houston had limited their turnovers, played better defense, and hit just a fraction of the shots they missed, they could have won this game. They didn't and that's why they took home just their second regular season loss in three years against a Denver Nuggets squad that looks ready to contend in the Western Conference.

Star of the game: It's hard to pick a star for Houston after a loss like this, but I suppose the guy who played the least bad would probably be Clint Capela. Capela had 12 points, 21 rebounds, and a steal on 6 of 9 shooting from the field. Capela had to defend a handful in Nikola Jokic (27 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists), but managed to be a +0 in a game in which the Rockets lost by 10.

Honorable mention: The award for "second least bad" would have to go to James Harden who logged 27 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals on 63.1% true shooting. It's also worth noting that Harden wasn't particularly good defensively, turned the ball over 8 times, and was a -17. Harden did the best he could on Denver's impressive trapping, but his performance was nonetheless a mixed bag at best.

Key moment: Denver really pulled away from Houston in the third quarter, where they outscored the Rockets 28 to 22 and hit 41.7% (5 of 12) of their three-pointers while allowing the Rockets to shoot a measly 33.3% (3 of 9).

Up next: The Rockets travel to Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m. on Friday to take on the newly healthy duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome