Houston Rockets starters excelled Wednesday night in the teams’ 115-111 overtime win against the Denver Nuggets. It’s been a trend all season as the Rockets have their starters play heavy minutes due to a lack of depth on the bench. Some of the heavy minutes are due to injuries plaguing the team leading to Head Coach Kevin McHale having a short bench. Starters Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones have headlined the list that seems to grow after every game.
Howard was questionable for Wednesday night’s game in Denver till the team announced just over an hour before tip-off that their big man would be available to play. The all-star center got off to a slow start as did the rest of his teammates. After leading for most of the opening quarter the Rockets fell off the rails allowing the Nuggets to take a 29-25 lead after 12-minutes of play.
Giving credit where due, the defense of the Rockets held their opponents under 10-points for almost half the first quarter before the cards changed hands. One Rocket that showed up from the get go was James Harden, who has been as hot as they come over the past week. Harden had 14 of his team’s 25-points to begin the game. Getting it done at the charity line, Harden shot a perfect 8-8 in the opening quarter. With 10-seconds left in the first, the beard was fouled shooting a three, leading to Nuggets Head Coach Brian Shaw picking up a technical foul. Harden made all three free throws and the technical.
The second quarter wasn’t any better for the Rockets as the Nuggets came out shooting. Danilo Gallinari, who missed Denver’s last two games hit back-to-back three’s – one of which was a four-point play. The Nuggets were able to build their lead as high as 16 before the Rockets woke up. Shooting 56.25% from the field in the second, the Rockets cut the lead to five heading to the locker-room. Howard who started the game shooting 1-8 scored 11 of his 13 first half points in the second quarter.
In the second half the Rockets showed up defensively, holding the Nuggets to 39 points for the half. Still struggling to find their shot as well, both teams went back and forth all night. Multiple ties and lead changes took place throughout the game. A Harden jumper with 6:02 left in the third was when the Rockets retook the lead, only for Wilson Chandler to come back the other way, knocking down a three to regain the lead for the Nuggets. The Rockets did get away from Howard in the third as the big man was scoreless for the quarter, only to then score 11 in the fourth.
It seemed the game was taking a turn late in the fourth-quarter when Kenneth Faried had a more than impressive put back dunk to make it 96-93 Nuggets. The Rockets then cut the lead to two, and after getting the ball back, down one they had a shot at ending the game on the final possession. Harden wasted no time, as he knocked down a three to make it 98-96 with 10.4-seconds left. The Nuggets then turned it over, giving Harden a chance to ice it at the line. Only making 1 of 2, the Nuggets were still alive down three. Missing that one free throw was not the only mistake Harden made, as he lost Arron Afflalo on the defensive end, leaving Afflalo wide open for a game tying three – sending the game to overtime.
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To begin the extra 5-minutes the Rockets were finding Donatas Motiejunas down in the post – leading to Faried fouling out with 3:41 left. This is when Harden took over, scoring 8 in the extra time to lead the Rockets to the win. Finishing the game shooting 41% from the field, the Rockets defense was the main reason they came away with their second win over the Nuggets in five days. In the first half the Nuggets shot 47%, but in the final two quarters and overtime they were held to 35.5% shooting.
Most Valuable Player
James Harden: It was another great performance from the Western Conference Player of the Week. Harden was the reason the Rockets were even part of the game in the first half. He was attacking the rim and it opened up play for his teammates later on. Harden was held scoreless in the fourth till his late heroic three, but his 10-assists for the game covered-up for that. It was Harden’s fifth double-double on the year as he also had a game-high 41-points on 11/21 shooting and 18/21 from the free throw line. The 18 free throws tied an NBA season-high.
Dwight Howard: He did get off to a slow start, but Howard found a way to bully the Nuggets for the second straight game. Only 2-points in the first and going scoreless in the third, Howard still came away with 24-points, 16-rebounds and 4-blocks. The 16-rebounds ties a season-high for Howard, it being the third time he’s done so. Howard who’s missed almost half the season with an injury has recorded nine double-doubles in his 12-games played.
Donatas Motiejunas: It was a worry that when Howard came back that Motiejunas would not be the player he was as the go-to big man on the floor. With Howard’s presence in the paint offensively, Motiejunas was predicted to lose a lot of touches. That hasn’t been the case at all in the last two games since Howard’s return. Tonight the Lithuanian scored 18-points, along with 6-rebounds. Motiejunas has a career-long eight straight 10-plus point games and tied his career high with three-pointers made in a game with three.
Patrick Beverley: Playing with 5-fouls is not easy, but Beverley did so. He seemed to be in foul trouble for a majority of the fourth and all of overtime, but found a way to stay in the game and still be solid defensively. As mentioned in the pre-game, the Rockets needed Beverley to get the ball out of Ty Lawson’s hands to throw off the Nuggets offence. Lawson dished out 16-assists tonight, but was held to 12-points on 4/12 shooting. Defensively Beverley got it done, and on the boards as well. The point guard grabbed a career high 12-boards, and added 12-points for his second double-double in 3-games.
Denver’s Top Performers
- Arron Afflalo was big again for the Nuggets. Coming off a 31-point performance versus the San Antonio Spurs, Afflalo was hitting big shots late in the game. Along with his buzzer-beater in the fourth to send the game to overtime, he hit another one late in overtime to cut the Rockets lead to two. He finished the game with 22-points.
- Wilson Chandler was getting it done quietly dropping a team-high 23-points. He shot 8-17 from the field, and he tied a season-high with 5-three pointers. Chandler also played through an illness that’s been bothering him for a couple days.
- Danilo Gallinari, who’s coming back from an injury hit big three’s for an impressive 16-points. Also Kenneth Faried, who played Saturday versus Houston coming off the bench, missed the Nuggets game versus the Spurs. So, tonight was his first game inserted back into the starting lineup since coming back from an ankle injury. He scored 11-points with 11-rebounds.
- When the two teams met on Saturday Kevin McHale turned to Joey Dorsey as the first big off the bench. Tarik Black, who started in the absence of Howard was limited to 7-mintues. However, tonight McHale turned to Black off the bench. He played 19-minutes, while Dorsey only saw action for the final 40-seconds of the first half. It’ll be interesting to see who McHale turns to more as Howard and Motiejunas have been remarkable.
- Isaiah Canaan, who returned from an ankle injury only appeared for 7-minutes tonight. He missed his only two shots, but it might just be the Rockets bringing him back into play slowly.
- All five Rocket starters played 40-plus minutes as they prepare for the back end of a back-to-back Thursday at home versus New Orleans. The bench only saw 35-minutes against Denver, so McHale may be forced to turn to his bench against the Pelicans if his starters show signs of exhaustion.