Houston Rockets 103, Orlando Magic 98: It wasn’t pretty, but they all count

Despite trailing for the entirety of the first 44 minutes, the Houston Rockets used a late surge to take down the Orlando Magic 103-98 on Sunday night.

Chris Paul made his return tonight after missing 17 straight games with a strained left hamstring; however, his return did not appear to give the Rockets a boost in the first quarter. Houston looked lost on both ends of the floor to start the game.

James Harden scored 15 points in the first period of the game, but every other Rocket combined for only three. On top of the offensive struggles, the Rockets had no answers on the defensive end of the ball. The Magic piled on 34 points in the first quarter behind Nikola Vucevic’s 11.

Houston had slightly better luck in the second quarter, closing the gap to eight points. This was largely thanks to strong play from new signing Kenneth Faried, who has been impressive since signing with Houston last week. He scored all of his 12 points in the first half and finished the game with his second straight double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds). Faried also provides the Rockets with some invaluable energy and hustle, and has filled in nicely during Clint Capela’s absence.

“[Faried]’s already been worth his money that’s for sure,” head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “When him and PJ [Tucker] get that energy going then it spreads to everybody.”

One place the Rockets have clearly missed Capela is on the boards. Orlando out-rebounded Houston 30-20 in the first half and the trend continued throughout the rest of the game. Houston finished the game with only 39 rebounds compared to Orlando’s 56.

The Magic held on to the momentum in the third quarter, as they took their biggest lead of the game mid-way through the period. The Rockets again had to go on a little run to get back within single digits going into the fourth quarter.

Through most of the game, it felt like every time the Rockets were finally getting themselves back into the game, Orlando would go on a run that would knock Houston back to square one. In the fourth quarter, Houston finally found the breakthrough when Tucker’s lay-up with 4:15 to play gave the Rockets their first lead of the game.

A late scoring surge from James Harden (who would’ve guessed that?) closed out the game, but it was Houston’s second half defense that really did the job. The Rockets held Orlando to only 37 points in the second half.

Beyond James Harden continuing to play at all-time great level, their were a couple other things we can take away from this game:

  • The Manimal is here to stay. Even when Clint comes back, Faried’s energy and gravity rolling to the rim will be a welcome addition to Houston’s rotation.
  • Austin Rivers has froze over. Despite a strong start to his Rockets career, the polarizing guard has hit a nasty shooting slump. He only had four points Sunday night, missing all four of his threes.
  • Chris Paul is still Chris Paul. Paul played limited minutes in his return to action but still showed flashes of why he’s so vital to Houston’s success. He had some nice chemistry with Faried right out of the gate, and finished with a respectable 12 points, six assists, and five rebounds.
  • Did I mention that James Harden is still REALLY good at basketball?

Sunday night’s game won’t be fondly remembered, but great teams need to find wins where other teams might not. The Rockets did that Sunday night. The win over Orlando was Houston’s third in a row, bringing them to 29-20 on the season. The Rockets are next in action Tuesday night, when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Toyota Center.

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