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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Rockets' balanced attack overcomes Joker's big night

POSTED: November 24, 2023 -- 11:25 p.m. CT

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- Jalen Green (25), Alperen Sengun (21), Fred VanVleet (17) and Jabari Smith Jr (16) combined 79 points in Houston's 105-86 win over the Denver Nuggets Friday night. The Rockets improved to 2-1 in the NBA's Inaugural In-Season Tournament and 8-6 overall.

The Rockets' balanced scoring attack overcame another stellar performance by Denver big man Nikola Jokic. Joker finished the game with 38 points, 19 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals.

Three of Joker's 14 baskets were three-point field goals; therefore, his stat line is the second time a player has posted those number in a single game in NBA history (DeMarcus Cousins with 44 points, 23 boards, 10 assists and 3FGM in double overtime for New Orleans vs. Chicago on 1/22/18).

Denver's road record falls to 3-6 and, after the game, Jokic said, "We cannot make shots. WE don't get good shots. We struggle defensively of course. We are not playing good right now, which is obvious."

Houston has won two in a row after losing its previous three games while Denver has lost four of its past five after starting the season 9-2.

With the win Friday night, the Rockets secure their first season series win against the Nuggets since going 3-1 in 2018-19.

The Rockets led the Nuggets 29-19 at the end of the first quarter. Houston shot 52.4 fg% (11 for 21) in the opening 12 minutes while Denver missed 21 of 26 field goal attempts (19.2%). With 2:59 left in the quarter, Jokic completed a three-point play to tie the game at 19. The Rockets finished the quarter with a 10-0 run.

Houston (8-6) scored the first 7 points in the second quarter before Jokic made a jump shot to end Denver's drought. However, the Rockets responded with 11 straight points to lead 47-21 with 6:30 remaining in the opening half.

The Rockets led 60-43 at halftime. Jokic made 9 of 18 field goal attempts in the first half. His teammates made 6 of 30 attempts.

Houston led 84-61 with 2:45 remaining in the third quarter. The Rockets didn't score the rest of the quarter while the Nuggets scored 8 consecutive points to cut Houston's lead to 84-69 after three quarters.

Denver's Christian Braun completed a three-point play to begin the scoring in the fourth. Houston's offense bogged down; and, when Denver guard Kentavious Caldwell Pope sank a three-point shot, the Rockets lead had dwindled to just 9 (84-75) with 9 minutes remaining.

Alperen Sengun scored a driving layup to end Houston's scoring drought; then, Jalen Green scored a layup and made the free throw to finish the And 1. Next, Jalen caught an alley-oop pass for 2 to boost Houston's lead to 91-77. Smith added a tip-in; and, Green got another dunk before swishing a jumper to increase the Rockets' lead to 97-79 with 4:43 left in the game.

Sengun finished the game with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists in a career-high 43 minutes of play. It is his third double-double over the past four games after he recorded two the first 10 games of the season.

Jalen Green scored his 25 points on 10 for 18 field goal shooting. Over the past two games, he is averaging 29.5 ppg on 52.3% shooting after averaging 13.5 ppg on 27.8% shooting the four games prior.

Fred VanVleet finished with 17 points and 11 assists with one turnover. It is his seventh double-double of the season and the sixth time he has recorded 10+ assists with 2 or fewer turnovers.

Jabari Smith Jr. had 16 points and a career-high tying 15 rebounds while shooting 6-of-9 from the floor. It is his second double-double of the season. Over the past four games, Smith is averaging 16.3 ppg (58.5% FGs) and 9.0 rpg, up from 12.0 ppg (46.7% FGs) and 7.0 rpg the first 10 games of the season.

The 86 points in an opponent season low and a season low for Denver. Houston has held opponents below 90 points twice this season after doing so twice the previous two seasons.

Rockets Head Coach Ime Udoka said, "I think our guys have done a great job defending isolations and keeping guys out of the paint; and, when they do come, our guys have done a good job making plays and crowding the paing there and scrambling.

"We've improved in that area; but, like I said, that's kind of the foundation of our defense: to take away all of those options and make teams beat us one-on-one."


The Rockets' next game is Tuesday, November 28, on the road, against the Dallas Mavericks. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m. Central Time.

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