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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Lowe's Senior CLASS, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.
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Rockets defeat Pelicans 117-109 as small ball line up wins again
Posted: February 2, 2020 -- 9:27 p.m. CT
HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- Small Ball won again. The Houston Rockets topped the New Orleans Pelicans 117-109 Sunday afternoon; and, similar to Friday's win over the Dallas Mavericks, No Houston Rockets player taller than 6'6" played for the Rockets in the win.
Clint Capela missed today's game due to his bruised right heel. Therefore, with Capela out of action, Rockets Head Coach Mike D'Antoni went small and stayed small. No Tyson Chandler. No Isaiah Hartenstein.
With the win today, the Rockets take the season series against the Pelicans for the seventh time over the past nine seasons. Houston has won three straight at home after losing three in a row prior at Toyota Center.
The Rockets won despite being outrebounded 63-43 and outscored 18-10 in second-chance points. However, the Rockets won the battle of the boards 21-12 and limited the Pelicans to zero second-chance in the fourth quarter.
James Harden said the difference in the rebounding in the fourth quarter compared to the first 3 quarters was being physical boxing out.
"Find a body. Make a conscious effort," Harden remarked. "When a shot goes up, hit somebody and collectively get the rebound. I think we're so comfortable, especially when Clint (Capela) is out there that he'd going to get the majority of the rebounds. When we're small we have to actually find a body and team rebound."
"There's a point where if you want to win," Mike D'Antoni commented after the game. "That's what you got to do. You're going to have to box out and go get out; and, we did that."
The Pelicans outrebounded the Rockets 17-7 in the first quarter and shot 55.0% (11 for 20) from the floor compared to 39.3% (11 for 28) by the Rockets. However, Houston picked up 6 steals in the first period. The Pelicans turned over the ball 10 times in the opening quarter which were converted into 13 of the Rockets' 30 first quarter points.
Houston led 30-28 after the first quarter. Harden scored 14 in the quarter.
Zion Williamson scored 11 points in the second quarter. Pelicans' guard Josh Hart added 9 points. Harden scored 12 points in the quarter; and, Russell Westbrook and Ben McLemore each scored 9 points.
Houston led 65-60 at halftime.
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After committing 4 turnovers in the second quarter, the Pelicans fumbled the ball away 7 times in the third quarter which the Rockets turned into 9 points. The Rockets did not shoot well (40.0%, 10 for 25) in the third and were outscored 33-27. The Pelicans shot 52.0% (13 for 25) in the third.
Houston trailed 93-92 after three periods.
Williamson scored a layup after E'Twaun Moore knocked down a 13-foot pull up jumper for a 97-92 Pelicans' lead. Harden knocked down a 28-foot step back three-point shot; then, Westbrook scored a layup to tie the game at 97.
Houston trailed 101-99 when Danuel House Jr made a three-point shot (assist from Eric Gordon) for a 102-101 lead. House scored a putback from an offensive rebound to boost the lead to 104-101. Harden increased the margin to 5 (106-101) with a driving layup for two.
Houston led 110-103 after Pelicans' guard Jrue Holiday scored a layup then, seconds later, Holiday was fouled by Westbrook while attempting a three-point shot. Holiday missed the first 2 free throws and made the third attempt.
Eric Gordon scored a 10-foot floater in the paint; and, after Westbrook rebounded a missed three-point shot by Brandon Ingram, Westbrook raced up the court and passed to Danuel House for a corner 3. House made the shot to put the Rockets up 115-107 with 58.7 seconds remaining in the game. New Orleans did not get closer than 6 after House's clutch basket.
"It always feels good to hit a shot," House said after the game. "But it's an even better feeling when you win. I'm more excited about winning as a team and as a whole collectively."
House finished the game with 12 points and a career-high 12 rebounds for the second double-double of his NBA career.
The Pelicans shot 22.7% (5 for 22) in the fourth quarter and were 0 for 9 on three-point shots in the quarter.
"I thought we did a good job of getting stops on demand, which is key in the fourth quarter, Westbrook commented. "You defend your best in close games when it's crunch time – it shows that you're locked in and paying attention to details."
Harden had 40 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists. Westbrook had 2 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists.
The Rockets next game is Tuesday, February 4, at home, versus the Charlotte Hornets. Tip is set for 7 p.m.
The Rockets won despite being outshot 44.7% to 39.0% and being outrebounded 63-43. Dating back to 2001-02, it's just the second time a team has won a game in which it was outshot while shooting below 40.0% while also being outrebounded by 20 or more (Indiana vs. Oklahoma City on Feb. 6, 2017).
The Rockets improve to 15-2 when James Harden scores 40 or more points this season. Harden scored below 40 points in each of his previous seven games played, tying for his second-longest streak since the start of 2018-19. Over the past two games, he is averaging 37.5 points per game, 13.0 rebounds per game and 7.5 assists per game while shooting 44.8% from 3-point range after averaging 22.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 5.7 apg while shooting 15.4% from behind-the-arc over his previous six games played.
New Orleans rookie forward Zion Williamson had 21 points and 10 rebounds in his sixth career game, marking his second double-double (21 and 11 vs. Boston on 1/26) and his fourth time scoring 20+. The last rookie to have scored 20 or more points at least four times within the first 6 games of a career was Damian Lillard with four in 2012-13; prior to that it was Kevin Durant with four in 2007-08.
Ben McLemore scored 22 points today while shooting 4-of-9 from 3-point range. The Rockets improve to 6-0 when he scores 20+ points.
Houston had a season-high 14 steals while recording 8 turnovers. The Rockets had 11 steals with a season-low 7 turnovers vs. Dallas two days ago on 1/31. Houston has recorded 10 or more steals in five of the past seven games after doing so twice the 20 games prior. The Rockets are 13-3 when having 10 or more steals this season.
New Orleans had an opponent season-high 23 turnovers. The last time Houston forced 20 plus turnovers was at San Antonio on December 3.
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