An unexpected win: Three takeaways from Saturday’s 117-114 win over the Pistons

Jan 13, 2023; Sacramento, California, USA; Houston Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr. (6) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

An unexpected win: Three takeaways from Saturday’s 117-114 win over the Pistons

Playing without Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, and Alperen Sengun, the Rockets had no business winning Saturday night. The team knew it would be without Porter and Green when it left Houston on Friday, but Sengun was a late scratch due to a non-COVID illness. The Rockets quickly fell behind by double digits, but battled back and led by as many as 12. Detroit rallied to regain the lead, but the Rockets made the plays when it mattered, finishing the game on an 8-2 run and winning 117-114. Eric Gordon led the Rockets in scoring with 24 points, and Tari Eason added 16 points and 10 rebounds.

K.J. Martin responds

With 8:28 left in the first quarter and the Rockets down 16-4, John Lucas, filling in for Stephen Silas, who was in Charlotte for his father’s memorial service, called timeout. Martin was subbed out and didn’t return for more than 17 minutes. While on the bench, the Rockets forward sat with his arms crossed and did not move while his teammates celebrated a big second-quarter run. Martin came back for the last three minutes of the first half and helped the Rockets take the lead into the locker room, and he was indispensable in the second half.

Martin played 21 minutes after halftime and scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and came away with the offensive rebound put back off his own missed free throw to give the Rockets the lead for good. He finished the game with 15 points and 13 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season and second in the last three games.

Firing blanks until the fourth

The Rockets entered the game shooting 29.1% from behind the 3-point line over their last eight games, and it didn’t get any better on Saturday, but it did help the Rockets win. Against the Pistons, the Rockets connected on just 3 of their first 21 shots from deep, starting the game 1-for-12 before Garrison Mathews and Tari Eason made back-to-backs 3’s in the second quarter, only to miss their next nine, but they made five in a row after that, with Daishen Nix and Usman Garuba hitting a pair.

The Rockets finished 8-of-28 from long distance on Saturday, and Garuba’s two fourth-quarter 3’s matched how many he had made since Thanksgiving.

Jabari Smith Jr. starts at center

With Alperen Sengun unavailable, the Rockets elected to go small by starting Smith at center. It went poorly as the Pistons jumped out to a 16-4 lead in 3:32 before John Lucas called timeout and subbed Bruno Fernando in the game. The Rockets had either Fernando or Usman Garuba on the floor for the remainder of the first half, and they outscored the Pistons 55-41 the rest of the half.

The small lineup was much more successful after halftime as the Rockets outscored the Pistons by 10 with Smith at center in the first six minutes of the third quarter. We haven’t seen a lot of Smith at center so far this season, but as he gets stronger having him defend opposing bigs might be the best plan moving forward when Sengun is on the floor. That would allow them to have the superior defender guard the rim and hide Sengun on a weaker wing.

Next up

The Rockets will return home to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.

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