Houston Rockets 115, Milwaukee Bucks 101 – Rockets Rally behind Harden and Delfino

Despite trailing by 18 in the second quarter, the Houston Rockets flipped the script on the Milwaukee Bucks to end the game on top by 14. James Harden had yet another scorching game, but the Rockets also got a big game out of ex-Buck Carlos Delfino, who buried three after three to put his old team away in Milwaukee. The Rockets continue to show growth and grit, and are finding new ways to win.

Early in the game, the Rockets and Bucks seemed to have traded places somewhere in Milwaukee, with the Bucks leading the way with fast breaks and quick cuts to the basket, including some impressive finishes by Monta Ellis. The Rockets looked out of sorts and couldn’t seem to get into their offensive groove, falling behind by 18 points in the second quarter. The Bucks’ defense, while not up to the heights of the Bogut era, looked solid and cut off the easy path to the basket for Houston. Jeremy Lin went scoreless in the first half, and only Harden, Asik and Douglas seemed to show signs of life.

After halftime, the Rockets looked refreshed and reinvigorated, much to the credit of Kevin McHale and the coaching staff. McHale’s rotations and defensive schemes have looked increasingly solid as the season has progressed, and the Bucks found their easy avenues to the basket drying up. After his hot first half, Ellis ended the night with only 12 points on 5-19 shooting, while his rival James Harden simply detonated. Behind a flurry of Rockets steals, Bucks turnovers, and a hastened pace, Harden and the Rockets quickly sliced into the Bucks’ 11 point halftime lead and never looked back.

Harden ended the evening with 29 points on 11-18 shooting, continuing his streak of brutal efficiency. He was also one of three players to lead the team with 7 assists, the others being Parsons and Lin. Harden wasn’t going it alone, however; Carlos Delfino woke up in the second half and rained threes on his old team, racking up 22 points in the process. Delfino hit 6 of his 7 threes, including a late turnaround dagger that looked nearly impossible. He also pulled off a spinning, one-handed dunk to quiet the crowd.

Jeremy Lin led the team tonight in stitches applied, after knocking heads with Larry Sanders while trying for a loose ball. Lin left the court in the third to get his head repaired and returned to start the fourth quarter. Despite a nasty bump on the side of his head, Lin finished the game with gusto, cutting to the rim for 8 points in the second half.

Patrick Patterson and Toney Douglas came off the bench to anchor the reserve unit that Delfino was leading and looked very effective while doing it. Douglas continued to score with aplomb, picking up 18 points on 8-14 shooting. His numbers were boosted by his attention to fast break opportunities, which he ran out on early and often. Patterson, for his part, got his own 18 points on precision shooting (6-7 overall, 3-4 from deep). He may not relish the idea of Marcus Morris starting ahead of him, but if his sixth-man position is driving him to play well, it shows. His shot is looking smooth and he’s happy to make the defense pay when they collapse off of him.

Parsons had another poor shooting night, picking up only 5 points, but notching 7 rebounds and 7 assists in the process. It’s unclear what’s bothering his shot lately, but he remains able to contribute wherever a need arises on any given night. Morris also grabbed 7 boards, but shot an oh-fer to go scoreless on the night. He played capable defense in his 24 minutes, though, and his energy and intensity seems to go a long way to keep him out of McHale’s doghouse.  Greg smith played for only 2 minutes and somehow recorded no stats whatsoever.

The Rockets now move to 13-2 against the east and 19-14 overall. The Houston squad’s continued growth and chemistry is resulting in a team that looks like a threat to win any game, even ones where they trail big. Whether this kind of tiring, hustle play can continue all season long has yet to be seen, much less whether teams will begin building effective defenses to blunt it. For the moment, however, the Rockets are one of the hottest teams in the league, and fans of exciting basketball should pay attention.

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Houston Rockets @ Milwaukee Bucks on 01/05/13