A winning streak: Three takeaways from Friday’s 114–112 win over the Pelicans

Mar 17, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) celebrates after his game-winning three point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans in the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

A winning streak: Three takeaways from Friday’s 114–112 win over the Pelicans

The Rockets have won three in a row for the first time all season after Jabari Smith Jr. drilled a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining to boost the Rockets to a 114-112 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Smith had been quiet, scoring just eight points on seven shots before that point, but he helped the Rockets complete a 16-point second-half comeback. Jalen Green’s 25 points led the Rockets, while Brandon Ingram led all scorers with 31.

Jabari Smith Jr. with the dagger

The Rockets had the ball down 112-111 with four seconds left on the clock. Jae’Sean Tate inbounded the ball to Smith, he took two dribbles to his right, pulled up, and drained a 29-foot 3 to put the Rockets on top for the first time since the second quarter. Smith wasn’t the first option on the play, but the Pelicans left him open, and the Rockets took advantage.

“We were running in a little action for either Jalen (Green) or (Kevin Porter Jr.) to come off (a screen),” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said. “(Tate) saw that they weren’t guarding Jabari in the backcourt, so he looked at me, and I was like, ‘yeah,’ so he threw it to him, and he made the shot.”

Jonas Valanciunas goes quiet

Valanciunas finished the first quarter with only two points on 1-of-3 shooting, but he took off the next two quarters and ended the third with 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Then, the Rockets locked him down in the fourth. The Pelicans center didn’t miss a shot in the fourth quarter, and he was only able to get one off.

“ (Valanciunas) was just going at us and posting us up and putting us in the basket, and we were trying to do different things,” Silas said.

Silas threw Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba, and even Boban Marjanovic at Valanciunas. Ultimately, it was Sengun who went nose-to-nose with Valanciunas during a third-quarter timeout and found a way to slow him down.

“I’m really proud of the way he played defense,” Silas said. “I’ve been proud of the ways he’s been playing defense for a few games now. He’s done a good job.”

22-0 run changes the game early

The Pelicans made their first six 3-pointers as they jumped out to an early 26-12 lead before seven minutes had elapsed off the clock, but the Rockets responded by scoring the final 19 points of the first quarter. Tari Eason started the second quarter with a 3 before a Jonas Valanciunas hook-shot ended the run.

“We knew that they were going to come out and really try to knock us out early,” Silas said. “We sustained it and just stayed with the game, and then the second unit came in, and Tari I thought was really good, and in that moment when we made a good run and played with a bunch of energy that we needed because that’s a good team over there.”

Big runs are often buoyed by one or two guys, but five different players contributed to the Rockets’ 22-0 run in a balanced fashion. Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Eason scored five points, Alperen Sengun scored four, and Jae’Sean Tate added three.

Next up

The Rockets will play the fifth game of their six-game homestand when the New Orleans Pelicans return for a rematch on Sunday night.

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