The Houston Rockets got out to a sizzling 8-3 start in March that included impressive wins over the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz. The streak helped secure a significant lead over the No. 8 seed in the West, whoever that was during the month.
However, James Harden and Jeremy Lin had back-to-back poor efforts in losses to the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies. Each team was able to utilize their superior front line defense to stymie the Rockets efforts in the paint. As a team whose offense lives and dies with the penetrating ability of their guards, any resistance is sure to slow them down.
That’s why tonight’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers was so surprising. The Clippers have incredible length inside and figure to have slowed down the Rockets’ efforts, especially when it was announced Harden would miss the game to rest his foot. The Rockets answered the call by scoring their first 16 points in the paint.
They also stepped up defensively, holding the Clippers to 81 points on 39 percent shooting. This coming after back-to-back 100 point games allowed.
Without Harden, the Rockets certainly needed Lin to step up, and step up he did. He shot just 40 percent from the field, but scored 15 points which was tied for the lead on the team. He ran the offense well early and kept the Rockets in the game until a third quarter explosion inflated the Rockets’ lead from five to 22.
Lin scored seven points in the third and held Chris Paul to just two while forcing Paul into foul trouble. It’s a good sign for the Rockets to see Lin play well. He had four straight single digit scoring efforts prior to tonight.
If the Rockets are going to have a prayer in the playoffs, they need their All-Star back court to play well and the bench has to exceed their normal production. Francisco Garcia added 15 himself and the bench racked up a whopping 39 points tonight. The Rockets go 10 deep and have a bevy of young players stepping up to carry the second unit. If they continue to play well, the Rockets will be a dangerous team come playoff time.
After the victory, the Rockets are three games ahead of the Jazz and just one game behind the Warriors with nine games remaining. This was the way to end a terrific month; hopefully they ride this wave of momentum all the way to the playoffs.