The starting lineup for the Houston Rockets was James Harden, Daniel House Jr., PJ Tucker, Christian Wood, and JOHN WALL! On the Rocket annual New Years Eve game, and the first home game of the season, we saw a mostly-fully activated roster for the first time all seasons. Eric Gordon, John Wall, and Boogie Cousins were all active after missing the first 2 games due to being in the covid protocol. It's difficult to put into words how excited I was to see what this team was going to look like. This game did not disappoint, even though the blue uniforms did.
Since this the first time we're seeing Wall or Cousins in a Rockets uniform, I want to take some time to react. Both Wall and Cousins were clearly rusty to start the game, it's Wall's first meaningful game in 2 years, and about as long for Cousins too. Aside from a drive that led to a dunk, Wall missed his first 3 shots. Cousins' first shot was a made 3, but then he air-balled his second 3-point attempt. That being said, Wall looks completely back to form. He's quick, has a nasty crossover, and can finish anywhere on the court. He looks back to perennial All-Star form. As for Cousins, it's unclear where he fits into the offense. He's happy to take an open 3 or try to take his man off the dribble, but he's not good enough at either. He's got the size, strength, and experience to play like a more traditional center, and that would fill a hole in the roster, but it doesn't look like he's willing to play that role. As the year plays out, I'm hoping to be proved wrong.
1st quarter - Rockets -1
As I mentioned above, Wall looked rusty coming out of the gate. He had a few turnovers and missed a few shots but it's clear he's going to be a difference-marker for the Rockets. Early on in the game, everybody was involved in the offense. House started the game with a monster dunk, and hit a 3 a few plays later. Wood scored a bucket down low, Gordon came in hot - hitting a quick 3, and Sterling Brown hit a 3 as his first shot off the bench. Harden was a bit absent from the quarter, but with all the new offensive fire-power, it wasn't that noticeable (weird right??). But the Rockets still lost the quarter, and that's because the Kings play fast. The Kings are young and aren't afraid to run. For the first 9 minutes of the game the Kings didn't let their shot-clock get under 14 seconds. In practice, that meant every Rockets miss was Kings fastbreak opportunity. De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Harrison Barnes played well. Oh and, Fox is perhaps the quickest player I've ever seen.
2nd quarter - Rockets +5
Harden and Wood started the 2nd quarter on the bench, allowing Wall, Cousins, and Gordon to work, and work they did. Wall had an early steal which led to an easy fast-break layup. Cousins had a nice post-move that led to a bucket. And Jae'Sean Tate made a few big plays, collecting what I think is the team's first charge of the season. By the time Harden, the team went on a 10-5 run. With Harden and Wood back in the game the offense started to move. Good ball movement led to a Wall dunk and a Wall three. Wood followed that up with a big block on Marvin Bagley and then took Bagley off the dribble for an and-one score down low. Harden made his first shot with 2:40 left in the 2nd, but scored 9 points in those 3 minutes to finish out the quarter. For the Kings, the offense continued to run through Hield and Fox, and rely on mostly transition offense. Last game Harden and Wood had scored 48 of 60 points at the half. This game, Harden and Wood scored only 17 of the teams 63 half-time points, and 22 came from the bench.
3rd quarter - Rockets -3
The Kings won the quarter because they finished the quarter on a 9-0 run. Aside from that, it was more of the same for both teams. Wall started the quarter strong, he was active on both sides of the court. Harden, who's shooting 50% from the three so far this season, hit a three. Gordon checked in and scored 7 quick points. And more of the same for the Kings. A bad pass by Wall led to a transition three from Hield. Fox blew by PJ for an easy layup. Hield with another transition three after a long rebound. The Rockets out played the Kings this quarter. The score would agree if not for sloppy passing, a few missed threes, and a missed layup to close the quarter.
4th quarter - Rockets +2
The Rockets started the 4th quarter as flat as they ended the 3rd. Gordon made a quick 3 but then the Kings scored the next 8 points. All told the Kings when on a 17-3 run, spanning 2 quarters. The Rockets started the quarter but the Kings finished the quarter flat. At 4:28 left in the 4th the Rockets were down 108-104. 2 1/2 minutes later Harden led the Rockets on a 11-2 run, taking the lead at 3:05 mark and never giving it back. In that span Harden had 9 points and 1 assists. To make sure the Kings weren't going to come back, Harden hit a cold-blooded three with 0:50 left to the Rockets up 6. Game over.
- Richaun Holmes with a quiet 22 points 13 rebounds
- Harrison Barnes with an even quieter 24 points
- Christian Wood was the "Frost Player of the Game"
|PG||John Wall||De'Aaron Fox|
|SG||James Harden||Buddy Hield|
|SF||Daniel House Jr.||Harden Barnes|
|PF||PJ Tucker||Richaun Holmes|
|C||Christian Wood||Marvin Bagley III|