Defense wins the day: Three takeaways from Rockets 97-92 win over Milwaukee

2M1BXHJ Houston, United States. 11th Dec, 2022. Jalen Green (4 Houston Rockets) attacking towards the basket while being defended by Javon Carter (5 Milwaukee Bucks) during the Houston Rockets versus Milwaukee Bucks game at Toyota Center in Houston Texas. (Foto: Gia Quilap/Sports Press Photo/C – ONE HOUR DEADLINE – ONLY ACTIVATE FTP IF IMAGES LESS THAN ONE HOUR OLD – Alamy) Credit: SPP Sport Press Photo. /Alamy Live News

Defense wins the day: Three takeaways from Rockets 97-92 win over Milwaukee

The Rockets continued their run of beating the NBA’s best with their 97-92 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night. They have now won eight games this season, with six of those victories coming against opponents with records of .500 or better.

Playing with heavy hearts

The Rockets played Sunday without head coach Stephen Silas, who missed the game after the passing of his father Paul on Saturday in Charlotte.

“From the team, the coaching staff, all the basketball personnel that all our prayers and thoughts are with coach and his family right now,” Rockets lead assistant John Lucas said before the game.

Lucas will serve as acting head coach while Silas is away from the team, and he reflected on the man he played and coached against.

“I used to argue with Moses Malone because (Paul Silas) was the first guy that knocked me out on a pick and roll when I was playing, and he was in Seattle. I told Stephen this all the time. I woke up from being knocked out looking for (Paul) the whole next day, so that’s how we became friends.”

Lucas preceded Silas as the Cavaliers head coach in 2003 and explained why he was so respected across the league.

“Accountability in this league, from a coaching standpoint, is something that is very much respected. Every generation talks about a new wave coach; Paul held you accountable. He was honest. Back in the old days, he’d fight you.”

Offense finds a way

Milwaukee entered tonight’s game with the league’s second-best defense, so scoring was going to be a challenge. The Rockets were held to a season-low 19 points in the first quarter and managed to score just 97 for the night. Despite averaging a league-high 26 free throw attempts per game, they did not take their first trip to the line until the third quarter and attempted just 12 on the night, half of which came in the game’s final minute. They also knocked down just six 3-pointers, six less than their season average.

“It was really hard,” Lucas said. I wanted to gripe at the referees, but nobody was getting any real calls. Milwaukee is a team that doesn’t follow a lot. They’re in the gaps and they want you to shoot threes, and they don’t want to foul, and they have rim protection.”

It wasn’t going to be easy to score in the half-court, so getting out in transition was paramount. The Rockets managed just two fast break points in the first quarter but scored 10 in a 31-point second period. They scored 16 points in transition for the game, way up from the 10.9 they average for the season.

“Offensively, we didn’t have an ordinary night,” Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr said. “I don’t think we scored 100 points. I didn’t make any threes; we didn’t make many threes. It was our defense, and with our defense being how good it was tonight, we can consistently do that, and we have an ordinary night on offense; you can’t really beat us.”

Jabari Smith Jr plays better than the box score says

If you judged solely on the box score, Smith played a lousy game. He finished with six points on 1-of-9, 10 rebounds, two assists, and two turnovers, but if you watched the game, you saw his impact.

“Jabari Smith’s defense: Unbelievable,” Lucas said.

Smith was tasked with defending two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo who torched the Rockets for 44 points on 17-of-21 shooting on October 22, but on Sunday, the Rockets, led by Smith, limited the Bucks star to 16 points, almost half his season average, on 7-of-17 from the field, and he was held to 10 points after the first quarter.

“That’s almost near a perfect game for Jabari,” Porter said. “That’s a big assignment, especially for a rookie, but we trusted Jabari to handle it, and he handled it well.”

Smith said he was prepared for the challenge posed by Antetokounmpo after having played against him once, but that didn’t make the assignment any easier.

“It’s never easy, but I felt like I was a little bit more prepared going into it.”

Next up

The Rockets will play the second game of their season-long seven-game homestand on Tuesday night when Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and the Phoenix Suns visit Toyota Center.

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