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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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Tari Eason and Jabari Smith Jr combine for 45 and 24 in win over Memphis

POSTED: December 13, 2023 -- 11:25 p.m. CT

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- The Houston Rockets improved to 12-9 this season with a 117-104 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night. The Rockets have won 11 straight at home.

The Rockets seemingly went through the motions in the first half but still led 57-43 at halftime over the banged up Grizzlies. In the third quarter, however, the lack of energy and effort on defense helped Grizzlies' big man Jaren Jackson Jr erupt for 16 points in the third quarter.

Jackson Jr's offensive performance helped Memphis outscore Houston 38-25 in the third period and trail by just 1 (82-81) heading to the fourth quarter.

Rockets's starters Jalen Green (2 for 12); Alperen Sengun (2 for 8) and Fred VanVleet (0 for 3) combined to make just 4 of 23 field goal tries in the first three quarters. Jalen and Sengun's poor shooting had a negative impact on their defense. As a result, Rockets Head Coach Ime Udoka didn't go to them in the fourth quarter.

Udoka used five players (Dillon Brooks, Tari Eason, Jeff Green, Jabari Smith Jr and VanVleet) the entire fourth quarter. Those five players played with energy and combined to limit Memphis to 23 points in the fourth quarter. Houston outscored Memphis 35-23 in the final period to pick up win number 12 this season.

"With three minutes left in the third quarter, we weren't playing well, obviously," Coach Udoka said. "We have this three minutes and another quarter to wake up and play; and, I think that group did that."

Initially, Jeff Green was listed as out due to personal reasons; but, Uncle Jeff arrived in the second quarter ready to play. When Coach Udoka put Green into the game late in the third quarter, the Rockets led 76-74.

Uncle Jeff scored 9 points in the fourth quarter.

Tari Eason matched Jeff's 9 fourth quarter points while VanVleet scored 10 of his 11 in the fourth and Jabari Smith Jr added 7 fourth quarter points.

Eason finished the game with a career-high 25 points and a career-high tying 14 rebounds in 27 minutes of play. He had 18 points and 14 boards in 27 minutes of play vs. San Antonio on 12/11. Dating back to 1975-76, Eason is the second reserve to have at least 18 points and 14 boards while playing fewer than 30 minutes in consecutive games (Domantas Sabonis for Indiana from 11/27-11/29/18).

Jabari Smith Jr. had 20 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 7-of-10 from the floor. He scored a total of 24 points on 8-of-25 shooting over the previous three games. It's Smith's second 20-point game of the season and his fourth double-double.

Jalen Green nor Alperen Sengun played in the fourth quarter. After the game, Coach Udoka told the media he went with the five players he felt gave the Rockets the best opportunity to win the game.

"It's not always a result of what they don't do. It's more so the other lineup and what they're doing; so, obviously, that five was playing extremely well."

Since allowing Denver to score an opponent season-high 134 point on Nov. 29, the Rockets have not allowed more than 107 points in any of the past five games (100.0 ppg). Over the past nine games, Houston is holding opponents to 41.5% shooting, down from 45.4% the first 12 games of the season.


The Rockets' next game is Friday, December 15, at Memphis, against the Grizzlies. Tip is set for 7 p.m. Central Time.

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