Houston Rockets 118, Charlotte Hornets 113: A fly in the ointment

This game was closer than it should have been, but, then again, how many times have we said that as Rockets fans this season? This game had an incredible amount of volatility, beyond the typical standards of a modern NBA game where no 20-point lead is safe and a flurry of 3s can get you back in the game. This was a game that had 12 lead changes and where the Rockets and Hornets each had their leads be as large as 15 and 12, respectively. In the end, though, the Rockets were on the right side of this volatility and ultimately put Kemba Walker and Hornets away in the closing minutes of the 4th.

The game started out like a lot of Rockets games this season, with the team gaining a comfortable lead. Chris Paul had a fantastic first quarter and finally is rounding out into the CP3 we knew and loved from last season. In the last minute or so of the 1st, CP went on a personal 8-point run, racking up a Harden-esque 11 points in the quarter. He would ultimately finish shooting a respectable 53.8% from the field with 17 points, 10 assists and a +15.

Harden was surprisingly quiet, still trying to shake off the lingering effects of a bad bug and cervical neck strain. He would continue to shoot poorly from three-point range (1 of 11 for the game and 3-31 over the last 3 games). Thankfully, Harden finally has a healthy enough squad to back him to allow him to suffer a “pedestrian” 30-point, 7-assist, 2-steal night. He came up big in the 4th – more on that in a bit.

In the second quarter, the Rockets decided to go on one of their patented cold-shooting slumps, allowing the Hornets to go on a 28-6 run. Kemba Walker simply couldn’t miss, logging 27 points by the end of the 1st half. Kenneth Faried, unfortunately, left the game in the 2nd with a sore hip abductor. Iman Shumpert, too, would end up leaving with a strained calf. Alas, the Rockets-at-full-health dream was as short-lived as the life of a real-life hornet. With Faried out, Rockets fans were blessed (and ultimately cursed) by a Terrence Jones sighting. Once thought of as a cornerstone player for the McHale-era Rockets, Jones was ultimately shipped to New Orleans in 2016, only to eventually see his NBA career dwindle to nothing shortly thereafter. With a new lease on life in the form of a 10-day contract from Rockets GM Daryl Morey, Jones checked in at the 6:24 mark and subsequently checked out at the 5:06 mark, logging a -8. The bleeding continued as Charlotte out-rebounded a Faried-less Rockets and scored with ease in transition. At the half, it was 69 Charlotte, 62 Houston.

The third quarter saw the Hornets grow their lead to as much as 12. Defensive rebounding continued to be an issue and every time the Rockets made a run the Hornets were able to answer. However, the team started making a push towards the end of the quarter, with Austin Rivers making a timely 3 and James Harden being, well, James Harden. The Hornets’ lead was ultimately cut to 4 heading into the 4th quarter.

In the 4th, the Rockets continued their push, lead by Clint Capela, who is starting to look more like the pre-thumb fracture Swiss Roll that has grown as a player leaps and bounds with each passing season. Capela was a monster on the boards, ultimately logging 17 rebounds to go with his 23 points. There were some key steals from Gerald Green and Eric Gordon (though one of Eric’s steals resulted in a simply unacceptable missed layup in the open court). Harden came in later than usual at the 5:12 mark – Mike D’Antoni bought him a few minutes of rest to allow him to find his “sea legs” for the final push. Harden logged six points in the remaining 3:43 and grabbed a critical defensive rebound in the closing seconds to seal the win. PJ Tucker also had one of his better shooting nights, connecting on 5 of 5 three-pointers. With the squad healthy, hopefully the team can get his minutes down, which should translate into better offense. The Rockets have now won 23 of the last 26 matchups against the Hornets.

The team will play the Miami Heat tomorrow in Houston and then the Boston Celtics in a marquee matinee on Sunday. The team is now a season-best 11 games over .500 at 36-25.

Side note: Chris Paul’s taunts are the most gifable by far! The SAVAGERY! This is definitely on par with his famed “shimmy” on Steph last season.

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