By: Forrest Walker
The circle is unbroken. It doesn't seem possible to beat a team coming off a bad loss the day before, and Houston paid the pain forward from Dallas to Toronto. It was as ugly a game as you're likely to see between two games on the second night of respective back to backs, but in the end it became a Houston blowout, paving the way for unlikely minutes played by new Rockets Pablo Prigioni and KJ McDaniels. Both teams spent the first half fumbling and stumbling, but the Rockets came out with energy in the second half, inspired by Corey Brewer, who apparently bought some VC and raised his stats at halftime.
How good was Corey Brewer tonight? He leg the team in scoring (26), field goals (12), field goals attempted (19), minutes (35) and steals (5!!!) and was one short of a team high in rebounds with 10. He was everywhere, knew everything and did everything. Sure, he had three turnovers, but each team had a revolting 23 turnovers each, and with the sheer amount of awesome basketball Brewer was playing, that's a small price to play. He took advantage of a tired team and he brought the Rockets that spark and that tenacity that Houston expects from their new, high-power bench. The Raptors are a good team, and a deep team, and they were obliterated by Houston's bench unit.
Speaking of the bench unit, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones continued their recent trend with very good games in the circumstance. Nobody could hit anything, but Smith and Jones managed 8 points on 7 shots and 11 points on 9 shots respectively, with Smith grabbing 5 boards and Jones pulling down 9. They had three blocks... each. They're not Dwight Howard, but they're both athletic, fast, and big enough to switch and help in most situations. If one of them isn't coming for your shot, the other is. Terrence Jones should get an honorary headband, because he's joining in the party and his reserve contributions are going to be critical for Houston's playoff run.
The bench wasn't the only group getting it done tonight, however. In the third quarter the Rockets came alive and snuffed out the Raptors hopes to close the period up 15 after starting with a mere 4 point lead. The third quarter was keyed by James Harden's offensive explosion, scoring 16 of his 20 points in that quarter alone. He earned a lot of rest by effectively closing the game in the third, and by facilitating others. His 7 assists have become just another Saturday for Harden, as with his 5 rebounds. Even his two steals don't move the needle any more, and without this level of easy excellence, Houston would be sunk.
The Rockets couldn't hit their open threes again this game, but at least they had the excuse of dead legs. When they did finally hit a few to climb to 20.7% on the night, it put the game away because they'd made up for their ugly offense on the defensive end. 23 turnovers is simply horrible, but it's a lot less horrible if you force the other team into matching that number. Houston's defense was aggressive and on-point all night, and quite simply it kept them in the game long enough for the offense to come around.
After a bad loss against a good team, it's always heartening to see a gutty win against a good team, and that's just what the Rockets brought us tonight. Corey Brewer remains a genius pickup for Houston, and if he can have more games like this, the Rockets might just make it somewhere. It's good to know that even if Harden is having a so-so evening, sometimes you can just leave it to Brewer.