James Harden: 31 Pts, 5 Rebs, 5 Asts, 1 Stl
DeMar DeRozan: 42 Pts, 11 Rebs, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk
In a playoff atmosphere, DeMar DeRozan had the night of his life. DeRozan burned the Rockets for a new career-high 42 points in a win over the Houston Rockets. When DeRozan gets to the line 10 or more time, the Raptors are 14-3 this year. He undoubtedly made getting to the stripe a high priority versus the Rockets (12-17 FTs).
The unsung hero of the game happened to be Amir Johnson though. He owned the paint by snatching 16 rebounds (six offensive). Houston was simply out manned. Harden made it to the line 12 times too but his shooting woes (9-22 FGs) clipped his efficiency.
- In the words of Aaron Rodgers, “R-E-L-A-X”. This loss to the Raptors is not the be-all, end-all for Houston. Consider the variables. Toronto were without their starting point guard Kyle Lowry. Houston were without their starting point guard Patrick Beverley… oh and their starting center Dwight Howard… can’t forget their starting forward(s) Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas…and also reserve Kostas Papanikolaou. Not to mention, they were on the second game of a back-to-back on the road. The Raptors had a two-day rest before tonight’s showdown.
- The Rockets have a day to rest their tired legs before hosting the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. Howard should be available to play by then.
- Clint Capela displayed glimpses of 2010-11 Blake Griffin. In the five games he played before, he went scoreless (0-10 FGs) in a total of 19 minutes. Tonight, he played 19 minutes off the bench and scored eight points while grabbing nine boards. There is definitely promise focusing around this young man’s athletic ability. Once he develops a post game, he can pose a serious problem.
- Houston finally took care of the basketball. They only turned it over 13 times (compared to their 16 TO average) and in return, they took six more shots than Toronto.
- Houston’s loss and the Grizzlies’ win (given by the Kings on a silver platter) demotes the Rockets back to the third seed. Now, Houston is matched up against the Spurs in the playoffs if the standings remain the same. I’m sure the Kings won’t bless the Rockets as they did the Grizzlies by sitting DeMarcus Cousins out too. Houston is only behind Memphis by half a game but with only eight games left (two against San Antonio) they’re all crucial.
- With Beverley out for the season, the defensive effort by Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni must improve. Prigioni played well defensively in Toronto but still managed to allow Lou Williams to score eight quick points in the opening period. Looking in the future, Tony Parker would shred him apart in the postseason. One of two things are going to happen: the Rockets are going to claim that second seed to avoid San Antonio or they’re going to just have to roll with the punches. We’ve seen what Parker did to Mario Chalmers and Prigioni is a much worse defender.
- They shot a gruesome 58 percent from the line. Those 13 missed free throws shattered their chances at winning this game. As I said before, they improved sheltering the ball but if they continue to miss free throws, it’s just as bad as turning it over. Empty trips at the line can’t be afforded, especially with the injuries they’ve accrued.
The Rockets jumped to a 14-6 lead midway through the first led by Trevor Ariza‘s playmaking. He continually threatened the defense with his jumper and took advantage by making some smart drive and dishes. Houston was persistent in attacking Toronto’s poor pick and roll defense which developed a few Capela monster dunks.
The Raptors were not willing to lay down though. Lou Williams checked in the game and made his presence felt early making a few tough jumpers. His efforts knotted the game at 27 at the end of the first.
In the second period, Houston’s pick and roll connection proceeded to prevail. Capela threw down another crowd-gasping jam to thrust the momentum back in the Rockets’ favor. Corey Brewer‘s one-man fastbreak deeds kept Toronto on their heels and gave Houston a 38-31 advantage.
Although the game was held in the Air Canada Centre, the Raptors were not getting the whistle blown in their favor. An abundance of frustration led to Toronto sticking their stakes in the ground and clamping down on defense. DeRozan was the primary beneficiary. He took the Rockets’ missed shots and drove coast-to-coast for free throws or a layup. His heroics helped cut the lead to four at halftime.
DeRozan started exactly where he left off to begin the second half and when I say that, I mean where he was before his injury. He was getting to the line, hitting his jumpers and had a swagger to him to insisted no one could guard him. The Rockets looked sluggish as if their back-to-back had set in and their legs were running out of juice. But, as expected, Harden accepted the challenge and scored the last seven points for the Rockets to put them ahead to end the third frame.
The fourth quarter was basically a sword fight between both teams. They constantly swapped leads and no one intended on backing down. Harden broke down the defense and made timely assists but there was no answer for DeRozan. An Ariza dribble-hand off set him up for a wide open three to put to Rockets up 96-95 with 1:44 remaining.
Those would be the last points the Rockets scored. DeRozan slashed to the rim and converted an acrobatic layup to put the Raptors ahead by one. After an Ariza miss, DeRozan sized Harden up for a 18-foot jumper to send the lead to three with 18 seconds left. On the final play, Harden surprisingly relinquished the last shot. Ariza had two cracks at a shot to tie the game but came up short.
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