By: Eric Nielsen
Houston fell back into the model they toyed with the first half of the season; that being the Jekyll and Hyde variety. You remember, down one quarter with an effort that was extremely lacking, then they would mercurially shoot the lights out, run and look like an elite team. The Rockets in the first half of the season could not put a whole game together, and they would have lost tonight’s game. They haven’t lost a game that they should have won in a long time and that’s why this game was so depressing...until there were about 4 minutes left to play. Of course the second quarter was amazing, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take it from the top.
The Rockets came out in the first quarter and tanked it. Yes, they have the excuse of Howard and Beverley not playing, and it looked like T Jones was anything but 100%, but come on. Houston shot 25% from the field in the first and were lucky to only be down by 5 at the end of the frame. No one could hit. They looked lethargic and Harden had a very slow start. Good thing the Rockets got to the line so much or this would have been a blow out (more on that later).
In the second quarter, the Rockets took off and scored an amazing and franchise record 47 points! Everyone was scoring with Lin filling it up for 7 points in the last 41 seconds of the quarter. They outscored the Nuggets by 22 in the quarter alone. It was looking good, the Rockets were on a roll.
Halftime came and the Rockets alter ego appeared. All the energy left the room and when the door slammed, it felt like the Rockets were trapped in a vacuum. The third quarter was a repeat of the first for Houston (but worse) and they were outscored 36 to 19. Kenneth Faried, Aaron Brooks and Evan Fournier were making the Rockets look old. Faried’s energy fed the whole Nuggets squad as they looked like the more athletic team.
“OK,” Rockets fans thought, “it’s a tie game and we play one quarter to determine the winner.” But, this continued on into the 4th quarter, until there were only 4 minutes left. At this point, the Rockets were down by 13 and had no momentum. Harden was struggling from the field and it looked like it was going to be one of those early season losses to a team we should beat. Then the mercury rose again. The Rockets held the Nuggets to 3 points in the last 4 minutes while managing 16 of their own. The biggest being with 10 seconds left and down by three, Harden hits a three-pointer a couple of feet off the line at the top of the key to tie. With 7 seconds left for the Nuggets, Harden again came up big on D.
In overtime, the Rockets momentum carried the day with big three-pointers from Garcia and two from Parsons to seal the deal. This game was critical in maintaining the edge for home court advantage and that’s why it was so difficult to watch the Rockets unable to muster the energy and mojo for most of the game. But when it came to crunch time, they had just enough to get it done.
The Rockets had a huge advantage from the line shooting 40 free throws to the visiting team’s 13. Had the Rockets shot better than 67.5% from the line, overtime would have been unnecessary. Harden ended up with 32 points on only 9 of 23, shooting primarily because of his work at getting to the stripe, where he hit 11 of 12.
Asik had an amazing game and played 43 minutes (I guess he’s getting his wind now). He had 23 boards and 18 points and looked very impressive in the paint on defense. He even had a driving slam down the middle, what?! Too bad the pick and roll is basically dead with Asik. It’s such a staple with Howard, and the Rockets are getting so good at it, it’s painful to watch Asik get the ball two feet from the basket and have so much trouble finishing.
Canaan had his best game as a Rocket with 15 points including 4 three-pointers. It will be fun to watch as he gets that three-point shot going. He kept the Rockets in the game early and though he didn’t play in crunch time, he’s earning his stripes and looking more comfortable.
Hopefully we can get our full component of players healthy and back on the court a few games before the playoffs, to knock the rust off. The Rockets were on such a dynamite roll the past month that I hope tonight’s game was somewhat of an aberration (even though they pulled it out). This team does not give up as easy as they did in the first half of the year, so kudos to everyone for getting it done. Even if it was at the last possible moment.