Houston Rockets Keep Second-Seed Hopes Alive With Win Over Pelicans
By Lee Golden
Anthony Davis: 27 Pts, 4 Asts, 7 Rebs, 2 Stls, 1Blk
James Harden: 30 Pts, 7 Asts, 1 Reb, 1 Stl, 1 Blk
It’s rare for James Harden NOT to score in the fourth quarter of a tight game AND for the Houston Rockets to win simultaneously. But, in a must-win matchup against the Pelicans, the Rockets came out on top. Josh Smith and Dwight Howard helped anchor the late-game heroics but the real hero wore number 33 for the Rockets. Corey Brewer led the bench with 20 points in 29 minutes. His 13-point fourth quarter spurt shouldered Houston to outscore New Orleans by seven and to keep them in the race for the second seed of the Western Conference.
- Pablo Prigioni and Jason Terry combined for 24 points in the backcourt. Houston is not relying on their defense to keep them afloat but rather their offensive abilities. They united for six three-pointers as well. The Rockets are just an average team in terms of shooting from long range but if Terry and Prigioni can continue to hit from downtown, Houston can become really dangerous. They’re already the fifth highest scoring team (103.8 PPG) in the league.
- Houston averages 29 points from the bench per game but were able to annihilate the Pelicans for 49 points from their reserves. Producing an aggressive habit will support their efforts in achieving those types of numbers on a consistent basis. Brewer’s one-man fastbreak has always been his anthem but Prigioni and Josh Smith must find their tune and efficiently contribute.
- The “Hack-a” shifted momentum in Houston’s favor as Howard and Smith converted seven of their 13 free throws in the final minutes of the fourth. The team should realize (if they haven’t already) that despite their poor free throw season-averages, it should not be enough to hinder their route to victory. They only loss by one point to the Spurs despite missing 21 free throws and they defeated the Pelicans after only making 70 percent of their attempts. The hacking tactic will most likely be a tested antidote in the playoffs against the Rockets so these nail-biting situations are great fueling tools for the team to know they can beat anyone.
- With the second fastest pace in the league, it’s a difficult task to limit mistakes but Houston played keep-away well enough. They only turned the ball over 11 times.
- Houston remains in contention for the second seed but still need a bit of luck to make that happen as the teams they are competing with own the tiebreaks except the Clippers and only if Houston win the division.
- Houston did not allow any fastbreak points which may sound like good news but New Orleans (27th in pace) also scored 114 points. Of that, 54 of those points were scored in the paint. It looks like Houston is going to strictly rely on their offensive motor to speed ahead of opponents. If the motto “defense wins championships” holds any weight this postseason, the Rockets are going to be in trouble.
- Personally, I understand Harden’s decision to allow his teammates to get going on their own in the opening period but I’m not a fan of it. Houston was outscored 28-22 in the first quarter and Harden only attempted three field goals (missed all three). I feel he should be in attack mode from the tip. If Houston happens to not conquer home-court advantage, coming from behind will be much easier said than done. Especially if Harden’s routine to rest in the beginning of the second quarter continues. The game may be over before halftime.
A passive James Harden searched for his teammates to kick off the game on the right foot but the plan was not executed. Missed jumpers and miscues allowed New Orleans to hover in striking territory. They proceeded to attack the Rockets’ most recent achillies heel which was the paint. Houston allowed 16 early inside points. Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday came off the bench to steer the Pelicans to a six point lead to end the period.
Harden would not take the backseat in the second quarter though. He fed off Brewer’s attacking mentality and scored 12 points. Anderson could not be stopped though as he tallied 15 points in 16 minutes at the half.
In the second half, the Rockets played as if they finally realized what was on the line. Harden put in 14 points in the third quarter, Brewer scored 15 second half points and they protected the ball by only turning it over three times. Both teams started the final quarter with a score of 86 but Howard and Brewer propelled Houston to an insurmountable 14-5 run. Monty Williams tried to imitate Gregg Popovich’s strategy to send Josh Smith to the line but he did not receive the same outcome.
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