The Houston Rockets (50-25) fresh off their 111-107 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday look to start another winning streak before heading to the playoffs in a couple of weeks. Their opponent, the Denver Nuggets (33-42), looked to snap a 5-game road losing streak. The Rockets have been tough at home recently, winning 13 of their last 14 at home and Vegas had the Rockets favored by 11 at the tip.
The Nuggets riddled by injury, started a lineup that was led by former Rocket and Houston favorite Aaron Brooks at point guard. The Rockets, missing both defensive juggernauts Patrick Beverly and Dwight Howard, started with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik in their place. For the Rockets the question was if Terrence Jones could play as well versus the Nuggets as he did against the Thunder.
To start the game the Rockets looked disinterested and tired, going 0-5 from the three point line. Asik started off with the bad habit of trying to lay the ball in instead of slamming it home, though he did make up for his offensive woes by grabbing 9 boards in the first quarter. For all of the sloppy play by the Rockets in the first quarter, they were able to stay in the game due to Denver playing just as sloppy.
Surprisingly, the spark the Rockets need came off the bench in the form of Isaiah Canaan. He hit the first made three-pointer with 51.5 seconds left in the first and then hit another three-pointer on the next Rockets possession. Canaan played as well as you could hope for and this looks to bode well for the future of the team.
The second quarter the Rockets seemed to have woken up and started to gel taking a 10 point lead midway through and eventually outscoring the Nuggets 47-25. Interestingly, it seems that someone got into Asik’s ear and informed him that he is indeed tall enough to dunk the ball. The game seemed to be in hand heading into the half leading 69-52.
Coming out of the half, the cruise control attitude the Rockets suffer from time to time appeared to have set back in. Dominated on both ends of the floor by the Nuggets, shots weren’t going down and everyone seemed to be forcing shots. Chandler Parsons’ performance Sunday night was the most concerning. It was as if he wasn’t able to focus. Once again a three by Canaan that tied the game was the jolt the Rockets needed.
Going into the fourth quarter, the effect of a depleted bench started showing. The Rockets looked like they just wanted to go home. The Nuggets were firing on all cylinders and were looking to pull off a marquee upset against one of the giants of the Western conference. However, James Harden was able to keep his head down and just kept driving the lane, even as the referees’ whistles stayed silent.
Down by 8 points with seven minutes to go, Harden went full beard and for the first time in the game looked focused on winning. The Rockets have started to show the championship mentality to be down late in the game and not panic but play Rockets ball. The Rockets were also aided by terrible play by Denver down the stretch. A clutch steal and foul on Lin with under a minute to go finally pushed it to a one possession game. Harden was able to send the game to over time with a nasty crossover that led to a three with 7 seconds on the clock.
Overtime was dominated by the Rockets and Chandler Bang finally made an appearance, knocking down back-to-back threes. The Nuggets played sluggish and looked deflated after the Rockets streak to end the half. Houston won 130-125 in overtime in a game that the Rockets were supposed to win and that was way too close.
The Good: Isaiah Canaan’s play.
The Bad: Is Jordan Hamilton still on this team? Where is he?
The Ugly: Free throws; shooting 67% from the charity strip in the playoffs will doom the team to a first round exit.
The Rockets now head on the road for another trip to Staples Center on Tuesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 9:30 PM and the game can be seen on TNT.