Too little too late

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets fall to Knicks in New York 125-123

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets fall to Knicks in New York 125-123

If the first three quarters of a basketball game didn't count, you'd think the Rockets played pretty well tonight. Unfortunately for Houston, they do and their lackadaisical effort was too much to overcome late in this one. Through three quarters, the Rockets were out-rebounded 47 to 25, gave up 56 points in the paint, and also forfeited 16 second chance points. This is indicative of the larger effort issues the Rockets had tonight and despite fourth quarter heroics from Russell Westbrook (10 points, 4 of 6 shooting from the field, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists), Houston dug themselves in a hole even they couldn't claw themselves out of.

"It's good that we have fight, that we never hang up," said Westbrook after the game. "But like I said, we should've never put ourselves in that position because it takes a lot of energy to fight back, especially on the road. You just put yourself in a tough position to come back."

The Rockets had absolutely no answer for the Knicks frontcourt who feasted on the offensive glass (20 offensive rebounds and 21 second chance points). Julius Randle and bobby Portis had a combined 31 points, 21 rebounds, and 3 blocks on 11 of 24 shooting from the field. Rookie RJ Barrett also exploded for one of his best nights of the season, logging 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists on 10 of 18 shooting from the field and 3 of 8 shooting from three-point range. The Knicks as a whole shot 12 of 20 from three-point range (40% - well above their average). It was just an onslaught of uncontested looks and the Rockets just got buried because of it.

Star of the game: Although James Harden was technically the more efficient player tonight, Russell Westbrook just felt much more impactful, on a night where he was a -9 in the box score, ironically. Westbrook only tallied 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists on 54.3% true shooting, but his relentless attack kept Houston in the game until the bitter end and nearly got Houston to overtime in the final possession of the game.

Honorable mention: If you just looked at the box score, you'd think James Harden would be a shoe-in for star of the game, but his defensive intensity to start the game and his late-game execution likely cost Houston the game. The blown layup was indicative of a larger malaise that followed Harden tonight. He did tally 35 points, 8 assists, 4 steals, and 2 rebounds on 19 shots which gets you an automatic honorable mention a the very least. Westbrook just felt more impactful in a way that's hard to quantify if you weren't watching this game.

Key moment: You never want to isolate this down to a single moment, because there are several reasons that teams lose basketball games, but James Harden missed a point-blank layup that would have given Houston the lead with 30 seconds remaining. Houston didn't lose this game because of this blown layup - they lost in in the first three quarters. After Westbrook courageously kept Houston in the game in the final two minutes, it's just an image that will stick with many for this game.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday to take on the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Who's really calling the shots? Composite Getty Image.

Who is actually determining how much Jose Abreu is playing right now? Is it Joe Espada or is someone telling him from the top of the organization to play Abreu and not take him out of clutch moments?

Also, could Espada be sending a message to the front office by giving them a good look at how bad he is, and how much he's hurting the team with regular playing time?

ESPN Houston's Jeremy Branham makes that case in the video above, but his radio partner Joel Blank isn't quite buying it.

Don't miss the video above for the full conversation!

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