The Houston Rockets 132-126 come from behind victory against the Atlanta Hawks was the game of the season. Atlanta took the lead with four and a half minutes in the first quarter and then proceeded to build and maintain a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter.
The game appeared to be done and dusted. Atlanta, powered by Trae Young’s 41 points, was the better team with the better players, and they would cruise to the finish line. However, looks can be deceiving. The Rockets would go on to erase a 19 point deficit thanks to the boldest of decisions from Stephen Silas.
With two and a half minutes left in the third quarter, Silas subbed in Alperen Sengun and D.J. Augustin for Christian Wood and Eric Gordon. Down 15 points at the time, the substitutions were part of the Rockets' normal rotation. A minute later, still down 15, David Nwaba came in for Armoni Brooks, and, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, the comeback was on.
When Nwaba came on with a minute and 44 seconds, the Rockets were trailing 97-82. Over the final 13 minutes and 44 seconds, the Rockets would outscore the Hawks 50-29, with the three bench amigos starting and finishing the comeback.
Silas’ decision to ride with three bench players, as Chrisitan Wood sat on the bench, in the fourth quarter was as bold a decision as there is for a head coach. While it should be obvious to stick with what’s working, the allure of playing your “best players” is awfully seducing.
In that marvelous fourth quarter, the only starters to play were Eric Gordon and Jae’Sean Tate. Gordon coming in was an easy decision, he dropped 32 points on 10 of 16 shooting, but only playing your starters a combined nine minutes and nine seconds, with zero minutes for Wood, Garrison Mathews, and Brooks, in the fourth quarter of a close game, was not.
Silas sticking with the guns that got him there was the right move and paid off handsomely. The bench quartet of Kenyon Martin Jr, Nwaba, Sengun, and Augustin absolutely battered the Hawks.
Augustin turned back the clock to when he was a star recruit in high school. He dropped 16 points on four of five shooting from three in the fourth quarter. Alperen Sengun flashed his elite offensive potential, scoring four points and dishing three assists. And Nwaba scored seven points, dished three assists, and reminded all of Houston that he is one of the best defensive players on the roster.
Sometimes doing nothing is the hardest thing to do. Stephen Silas didn’t win the game for the Rockets, Eric Gordon, D.J. Augustin, Alperen Sengun, and David Nwaba did, but if it wasn’t for Silas, they never would have had the chance. There will be games where leaving the bench in too long will backfire, but this decision could prove pivotal.
Stephen Silas let it be known, if you ball out, you won’t be subbed out. Not all coaches have that level of trust in their players. Silas pushed all the right buttons against the Hawks, and the Rockets won because of it. Fortune favors the bold, and sometimes doing nothing is the boldest decision of all.