For any game against the Houston Rockets, the question of three-point makes is a matter of when, not if. The Raptors knew this going into Sunday’s game against the Rockets, and probably considered themselves lucky to see their opponent shoot 2-for-17 from deep in the first half. But for a Houston, a team that takes a league-record number of threes, it was still a matter of when.
As the score tipped further and further away from the Raptors, a 13-point lead turning into a deficit as big as 12, it was fairer to wonder if Toronto could even keep up. The answer came at the final buzzer with Houston up 129-122: No.
The threes for the Rockets were not the entire story, amazingly. They only shot 11-for-38; I say “only” as if to imply this is normal. It is not. Houston shoots a gargantuan number of threes, and shooting 29 percent from that range won’t stop them from taking those shots. So then how did the Rockets eventually seize control of this game from Toronto? We begin of course with James Harden, who put up a 40-10-10 triple-double (with 10 turnovers, the rare quad-double), and remains preternaturally unperturbed in all things. Then came Eric Gordon, who shot 1-of-9 from deep, but finished with 19 points anyway, largely on drives to the basket. And finally, Montrezl Harrell put down 28 points on 12-of-13 (!!) shooting and, by my count, 73 and-1 chances. (The math checks out.) The Rockets finished the game with 66 points in the paint. Yikes.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Raptors played a strong first half. I’ll go even further to suggest that for most of the second half the game felt imminently winnable. But the fourth quarter proved to be the Raps’ undoing, as a 15-0 run (with Harden on the bench) blew things wide open for the Rockets.
For his part, DeMar DeRozan almost single-handedly kept Toronto in it. He finished the game with 36 points (on 13-for-21 shooting), six rebounds, and five assists. When the Rockets had driven their lead up to 12 points, it was DeRozan’s personal pride (and shotmaking ability) that got it back down to five. That was as close as the Raptors got again though. There would be no heroics from DeRozan’s backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, who finished the game with 12 points on an unremarkable 2-for-7 night, along with five rebounds and six assists. Lowry was looking at double-teams all night and just could not turn the corner to get anything cooking. Here’s hoping he was just tired from trying to undo the Bulls last night.
Now we reach for some bright spots for Toronto. First, Patrick Patterson returned! He was on a minutes restriction and looked a bit creaky. But he did put in eight points, and hit two 3s. Good to see him back. Patterson’s presence allowed the Raptors to go small with him at centre, a look required against “small” teams like Houston. (Aside: Norman Powell’s start in this one was also predicated on the Rockets’ style of play. The second-year man had a decent bounce back game with 10 points and a pair of made threes.)
Second, DeMarre Carroll shrugged off his disastrous second half against the Bulls last night for one of his best games of the season. Carroll finished with 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting (and 6-of-10 from three), to go with eight rebounds. We have to grade defense against Houston and Harden on something of a curve, but on that count Carroll did a decent job. Now let’s see if it carries over to the next game.
Third, it was vaguely inspiring to watch DeRozan try to lead the Raptors out of the darkness. With Lowry looking totally out of it, and no production coming from any of the Raps’ bigs (Jonas Valanciunas had eight points, five rebounds and was mostly run off the floor; Lucas Nogueira has lost his mojo), DeRozan took it on himself to go for the win. And it almost worked.
At least they have tomorrow off before, gulp, a big home game against the Boston Celtics. What did you guys make of this performance?