The sputtering Rockets met the cruising Nets on the second night of a back to back for both teams, and despite a heroic performance from Nets star point guard Deron Williams, the Rockets looked sharper, faster, and fresher all game long. James Harden and Omer Asik attacked the Nets at the basket to put together a two game win streak and level off a Rockets team fresh out of a nose-dive.
The Nets may have led by one point at the end of the first quarter, but the signs were already there for a convincing Houston win. The Nets shot over 70% from the field in that quarter, including 5 of from behind the arc. Deron Williams had already contributed 10 points in the first frame, but regression to the mean and Deron’s ankle injury combined to let the Rockets jump out to a double digit lead less than five minutes into the quarter.
After the Rockets led by 11 early in the second, the Nets trailed by as much as 20 and never shaved the lead to fewer than 9. Despite several runs, solid effort by Brook Lopez, and some big shots from three point land, The Rockets maintained control the entire game and looked more like the humming December team than the stumbling January team.
While Deron Williams may have had the best shooting line of the night (27 points, 5-9 threes, 10-15 overall, and 11 assists), he hit 20 points early and then took three quarters to pick up the remaining 7 points. He looked frustrated as his team was unable to close the gap, and was ejected from the game with just over a minute left for arguing with the referees.
Harden may not have shot as efficiently from the field (a slightly sub-50% 7-15), but his 13 free throws on 14 tried pulled his line to 29 points, and his 7 assists and 0 turnovers on the night lead to one of his more effective outings. With the lead seemingly glued at 10 points, Harden was able to rest between the third and fourth quarters before returning with a vengeance in the fourth. He was happy to attack the basket all night, and he picked up some beautiful and-one plays for his efforts.
The rest of the Rockets followed suit, pushing the tempo and going straight at Brook Lopez repeatedly. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin both looked to score their points at the basket, and the team was better for it. Parsons had a career high in assists (11) and shot a phenomenal 7-11 from the field (16 points). Lin, for his part, started slow, but took off late in the game to end with 14 points on 14 shots. He racked up 9 assists, but also picked up a game-high 6 turnovers in the process. He accounted for half of the team’s turnovers (12, thankfully below Houston’s league-leading average of 15), but he made progress on his confidence and aggressiveness.
Omer Asik was the recipient of a great number of those turnovers, and he put together a staggering line as the Nets seemed to forget him every other possession. While Harden, Lin and Parsons may command more attention from the defense, Asik proved he can finish around the rim when left alone, and even showed some strange but effective post moves on the way to 20 points (9-12!) and 16 rebounds. After a few quiet games, Asik found a situation to exploit and did so all game.
The Rockets are clearly bouncing back on both ends of the court after a truly grim stretch. Their shooting has picked back up, leading to more space and more aggression on the floor. While the Nets don’t hang their hat on defense, the Rockets look to be getting their confidence back, and with it their ability to play the fast-paced style of basketball they need to.