THE ROCKETS REPORT

Win streak comes to an end, but Rockets still roll through 3-1 week

James Harden and Chris Paul said goodbye to their winning streak. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Another week down, another week of dominating performance from the Rockets. After dismantling the Thunder and Bucks, Houston’s latest winning streak met its end at 17 games against the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. The Rockets would quickly recover, rest MVP candidate James Harden, and obliterate the Mavericks on Sunday afternoon. In spite of the loss, Houston increased its conference lead against the Golden State Warriors to 1.5 games and maintains the best overall record in the NBA.

Game 63: Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder (W, 122-112)

Houston fans were looking forward to this rematch since the end of December, when the Thunder defeated a Rockets squad sans Harden. At full strength, Houston weathered a turnover-riddled first half while maintaining a healthy lead over OKC. Harden was less than polished, commiting 10 turnovers on his own. Chris Paul picked up the slack, however, leading the team with 25 points overall. Harden finished with 23, while Ariza finished with 15 of his own.

Game 64: Rockets at Milwaukee Bucks (W, 110-99)

With their winning streak reaching 16 games, the Rockets arrived in Milwaukee the following night to take on another playoff eligible squad. Much like the night before, however, a seemingly competitive matchup turned into yet another cruising victory. The Rockets looked more than anything as if they were just going through the motions while they maintained a double-digit lead for most of the game. Harden led with 26 points, and Eric Gordon followed with 18. Chris Paul chipped in 16 and 11 assists.

Game 65: Rockets at Toronto Raptors (L, 108-105)

After a day of rest, the Rockets headed north of the border to extend try and even the season series against the Raptors, while keeping their streak intact. From the outset, Houston found itself in what has lately become unfamiliar territory: trailing in a game. Not only were the Rockets trailing, they were basically being run out of building. With Toronto’s lead ballooning all the way to 19 at one point, Houston knew it needed to get to work. The second half of the game saw a much more focused Rockets squad, and Harden set to work chipping away at the Raptors’ lead. Clutch shot after clutch shot drew Houston to within one point with 10 seconds left in regulation, but a pair of key free throws from Toronto sent the Rockets home with a broken streak. Harden finished the night with 40 points, while no other Rocket scored higher than 14.

Game 66: Rockets at Dallas Mavericks (W, 105-82)

The Mavericks didn’t deserve to be the Rockets’ next opponent, following their first defeat since late January. Whoever Houston played was going to bear the brunt of a frustrated and refocused Houston squad, and even with Harden resting Sunday afternoon Dallas was easily outmatched. Gordon covered for Harden’s absence, leading the team with 26 points, while Paul added 24 points and 12 assists. This was the fourth and final matchup against Dallas this season and the win made this the second year in a row that Houston has swept the Mavericks regular season matchups.

Looking Ahead:

Monday the Rockets will see the Spurs at home for the third matchup of the season between the two teams. Following that, Houston hosts the Clippers on Thursday before heading out on the road next weekend against the Pelicans and the Timberwolves.

The Spurs have proven to be an easy out this season, but I’ve seen too much of Gregg Popovich's sorcery over the years to ever feel 100% confident with any San Antonio matchup. The Clippers should be an easy win, unlike Saturday’s contest against New Orleans--provided Anthony Davis plays. The Timberwolves have been outclassed by the Rockets all season, and this season series finally should prove no different. In all, I expect Houston to continue churning through their schedule to close out the last few weeks of the regular season.


 

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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