Houston Rockets

3-pointers: Takeaways from the Rockets’ 118-97 win against the Indiana Pacers

Updated 11:01 am, Thursday, November 30, 2017

The game never seemed likely to be another blowout, not before the game or during.

The Pacers had won six of seven games since the Rockets won in Indianapolis, losing only a close game against the Celtics. Unlike previous Rockets opponents, they were largely healthy and rested. They competed with an expectation to win, as the previous opponents in the blowout streak did not.

The Pacers gave the Rockets’ their first test since Chris Paul’s return, but the results were the same. The familiar offensive burst came later, but it arrived. Once again, the game ended with the benches cleared to provide a fitting run to the most dominant November in more than 50 years.

1.    The Pacers were doing a fine job defending the 3-point line, staying tight on shooters and relying on their length inside to protect the rim in a style similar to the Jazz last season when Rudy Gobert was healthy and anchoring their defense. In the first half, the Rockets made four 3-pointers, their fewest of the season in a first half. The Pacers blocked seven shots, the most for a Rockets opponent in the first half. The Rockets’ 54 points were just five clear of the fewest they had scored in a first half this season, enough only for a six-point lead. The Rockets, however, changed nothing other than the intensity and energy in the offense. The ball moved more quickly. The Rockets shifted from defense to offense more aggressively. In the first 4 ½ minutes of the second half, the Rockets put up seven 3-pointers with Trevor Ariza hitting a pair and Ryan Anderson sinking another. Increasingly, it seemed a matter of time before the Pacers would not be able to stop them for much longer. When James Harden hit his first 3-pointer after missing his first six attempts, it was over. Harden caught a wave and rode it the rest of the way. The Rockets went from a six-point lead with four minutes left in the third quarter to an 18-point lead heading to the fourth. They went from making a season-low four 3-pointers in the first half to a season-high 14 in the second half. The Pacers did not block another shot. That lead eventually reached 26 before the benches were cleared with another rout certain, even if this one seemed far more unlikely than the previous five in the winning streak.

2.    For most of the Rockets winning streak, they had enough 3-point shooters going well because they have so many. They could usually assume they would have James Harden and someone else, or Harden and two teammates going well. On Wednesday, Harden was missing, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson were hitting and the Rockets were leading, but not by much. Harden, however, has been too dominant for too long to be stopped entirely. When he hit his first 3-pointer, he raised his hands as if to say “at last.” He nailed two more before the end of the third quarter, scoring 13 points in the final four minutes of the third quarter. When he dropped in one more 3-pointer later in the game, his night was over with 29 points and 11 assists, falling one point in November shy of becoming the third player in NBA history to average 35 points and 10 assists for a month. He became the third player since 1990 to start the season with 21-consecutive games scoring at least 20 points. With just one turnover, he has had an assist-to-turnover of 4.67 over the past three games and as many steals as turnovers. In November, his scoring or assists led to 59.2 points per game, pace that would be an NBA record for a full season. But for all the numbers, it might have been nearly as impressive to be able to take over a game after struggling with his shot as when everything came so quickly in the games before.

3.    The Rockets knew they had not faced much competition through their run, though it would be impolite to say. They also insisted they were in no hurry for the tests to come, preferring to enjoy the routs while they can. But when James Harden was asked about the 12-1 dash through November, he spoke not about how well the Rockets have played but how they must get better. They will hit the greater challenges to come on a roll. They outscored opponents by an average of 16.769 points per game, the largest point differential in the NBA in November since the 1963-64 Celtics won by an average of 16.833 points. But they played just three teams also in the top 10 offensively, losing to one of them (the Raptors). All three teams on the road trip that begins on Sunday are in the top 10 defensively. The Rockets have inched closer to the Warriors for the top spot in the offensive ratings. They are seventh defensively, just four-tenths of a point per 100 possessions from third-place Oklahoma City. They have done all they could have hoped with their team without Chris Paul and their adjustment to getting him back, other than winning close games down the stretch. They have not had any of those since his return, but they will come, offering the sort of tests the Rockets have not taken. They have not had to determine what they will run in the final minutes of a tight game, who will bring up the ball or initiate the offense. For now, they seem to having nothing but good options. The NBA has a way of changing from good to bad and bad to good rapidly. Harden said there will be “ups and downs” and lots of them. But while the Rockets are enjoying their upswing, they also seem to be preparing for the greater competition that will come next.

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