Houston Rockets 102, Charlotte Hornets 95: Ugly and good

Sometimes a game is a hideous hellscape of missed shots, horrible calls and egregious turnovers. Sometimes you cough up 20 turnovers, miss 75% of your threes and 30% of your free throws. Sometimes two teams work together with the referees to create an putrid final run that makes a game close in a way which is somehow unwatchable. And sometimes this glimpse into Belial’s realm is also a signature win over the Charlotte Hornets that you can hang your hat on. It’s been that kind of season for the Houston Rockets.

Jeremy Lin’s hair is magnificent, if you ask me. It’s well-kept, extremely tall, and super shiny. This mohawk has all the charm of James Harden’s beard, and I hope he continues to wear it that way. Some might find his hair ugly and stupid, but for him and his fans, it’s beautiful. Warning: the above was an allegory for this Rockets game, which was watchable solely because the Rockets actually played like an NBA basketball team. If you aren’t devoted to the Rockets or the Hornets, you had no business even flipping to it out of curiosity. But for Houston diehards, it was a breath of fresh air and a sign of hope, like the acrid smell of household cleaner in a mildew-ridden bathroom.

The Rockets led for most of the game, and only encountered trouble during a couple of embarrassing scoring droughts. Their defense wasn’t embarrassing, however, and that’s probably the only thing that’s mattered this season. They still look like they’re scrambling at times, and the coordination could be a lot better, but by and large the lapses were out of confusion, not apathy. If they’re going to work on their team defense, their team defense can be good. This is basic and dumb and shouldn’t need to be said but yet here we are, excited the car is finally in first gear.

On the offensive end, there are still many Concerns. The Hornets frankly outclassed the Rockets all night on that end of the floor, which is largely a compliment to Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford’s gorgeous scheme on that end. Even without Al Jefferson (don’t get me started on that suspension), the Hornets move the ball with purpose and deliberation, and they find open shooters. Unfortunately for them, they happened to be in some kind of probability vortex which prevented anyone from hitting anything for most of the game.

James Harden played a “mere” 35 minutes and logged an efficient 36 points on 16 shots to go with 5 rebounds and 7 assists. He even got some “MVP” chants from the crowd late in the game, and for the first time in a while, they felt warranted. The Hornets had closed up an 11 point lead at the end of the game and Harden had multiple opportunities to ice the game at the line, which he did. The team in general was working hard to bumble their way out of that win, but they were at least working hard, and they came away with the win after all.

Clint Capela, Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin must have called the referees’ children ugly or something, because all three were in heavy foul trouble all night long for seemingly no reason. Dwight Howard in particular had reason for umbrage, and fouled out with a mere 9 points and 9 rebounds.The officiating throughout left a lot to be desired, and both teams rightly felt slighted. I don’t know which team benefited more from the bizarre whistle, but I know that the viewers paid the price.

The was the perfect environment for Patrick Beverley, however, who led with energy and rebounded like a maniac to grab 7 boards. He might have been a little too energetic on defense from time to time, picking up some fouls he shouldn’t have. Most egregious was a silly foul on Jeremy Lin on an inbounds, giving Lin the chance to put the game in danger late. Lin agreeably missed both free throws.

Marcus Thornton also distinguished himself by shooting like his job depended on it, which it maybe does. He went 4-7 overall for 13 points and a whopping +17 in +/-. Patrick Beverley’s +20 was the only higher number on the night, and it’s no coincidence that they were on the floor during all of Houston’s hustle-based success.

Sometimes a team needs to suffer through some ugly wins to get back on track. The hope for the Rockets is that these last wins have begun to make headway into their thinking, and that the rewards of grit and hustle will be apparent to them. If the Rockets continue on this trajectory, climbing above .500 for just the second time all season will seem like small potatoes.

And just think, all this is happening without Ty Lawson. Or maybe, don’t think about that.

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