The Houston Rockets played exceptional defense down the stretch to pull away with a 120-116 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
A highly anticipated matchup between the James Harden-led Houston Rockets and the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks ended in dramatic fashion, as expected. The Rockets played their best defense since being in the bubble and erased an eight-point deficit with less than three minutes left in the game.
The Rockets’ active hands led to 15 steals which propelled them to a close victory over the Bucks, 120-116. Russell Westbrook led all Rockets in scoring with 31 points while adding six rebounds and eight assists. Harden ended the night with 24 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. The game-winning play was made by Rockets’ starting forward, Danuel House.
House made a clutch play on defense, stealing the ball off a bad pass with less than 20 seconds left in the game and then hit two free throws to seal the deal. Along with the game-winning play, House contributed 16 points and four rebounds.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/02/0021901248/707/ee1c508f-366d-72b3-af78-55529c6d381d_1280x720.mp4
While the Houston Rockets took a while to get it all together, what was most impressive was how the entire team played down the stretch — covering for each other’s mistakes and making positive things happen on the court.
Next: Offensive takeaways
Takeaways from the Houston Rockets vs. The Bucks
The Rockets’ offense looked great Sunday night. Harden constantly penetrated the paint, which led to the Bucks crashing on defense, leading to an open shooter. P.J. Tucker struggled shooting the ball Sunday night, but contributions from Ben McLemore and Danuel House made up for it.
The Rockets tied the NBA record for most 3-point attempts in a game with 61. A lot of those threes were open looks generated by dribble penetration from either Harden or Westbrook.
With Harden getting in foul trouble early on, the Rockets relied on Westbrook to boost the offense. Westbrook recorded his 36th straight game with at least 20 points and was very efficient, shooting 47.6 percent on 21 field goal attempts. Westbrook also contributed by hitting his free throws throughout the game, especially towards the end of the game, going 10-12 from the free throw line overall.
It may not look like a usual 30-point outing for Harden in the stat sheet, but he still had a huge game. His presence alone allowed shooters to have the opportunity to shoot wide-open shots in rhythm.
There were several plays in which Harden would be dribbling at the top of the key, call for a pick, and two defenders would try to trap him while two other defenders would be watching where he would go next. Then, Harden would make the decision of either throwing the direct pass to the shooter or a pass to another teammate who would then swing it to the open shooter.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/02/0021901248/446/6f963c40-6366-4437-bc8b-d576bf349e79_1280x720.mp4
Once again, the Rockets shot a plethora of threes and made a lot of them. If teams continue to crash the paint when Harden or Westbrook drive, shooters will always be open, and the Rockets will continue to jack up those open threes.
Next: Defensive takeaways
The narrative that the Rockets have to shoot great in order to win is completely flawed. The Rockets played much better defense Sunday night against the Bucks than they did against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday. Players like House, Tucker, Robert Covington, and Jeff Green took on the challenge to stop Giannis from getting an easy bucket in the paint.
The Bucks’ gameplan throughout the game was to get Brook Lopez in the post early on against the shorter Rockets, however, when Tucker was faced against Lopez, the Bucks realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy to score as they thought.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/02/0021901248/97/db50a9b7-1755-1aef-51c7-fa3b38f7bf39_1280x720.mp4
As Mike D’Antoni previously said, “It’s tough to back down linebackers,” and Tucker is probably the biggest linebacker on this Rockets team.
Tucker was not phased when Lopez tried to back him up. In fact, it looked like Tucker didn’t move an inch when Lopez did so. Tucker, however, couldn’t stop the taller Lopez and Giannis from scoring in the paint alone. He had a lot of help from House and Covington, as they disrupted Giannis’ drives into the paint, and didn’t allow Lopez much breathing room whenever he went up for a shot.
The communication was very solid Sunday night, and that led to the Rockets getting a lot of steals. The Rockets recorded 15 steals in their victory against the Bucks, six of them coming from James Harden. This comes from just simple basketball I.Q.
The Rockets realize that they’re rarely going to have the chance the block their taller opponents, so they put more effort in on defense by using active hands to get steals from the passing lanes and swiping the ball away from their opponents before they’re able to go up for a shot.
Great communication and extra effort on defense led to a plethora of steals, thus allowing the Rockets to propel themselves to victory.
The Rockets now look forward to facing the Portland Trailblazers on Tuesday night, where they will face another rival, Damian Lillard.