Too much Fred: Three takeaways from Friday’s 117-111 loss to the Raptors

Feb 3, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) drives with the ball as Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) defends during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Too much Fred: Three takeaways from Friday’s 117-111 loss to the Raptors

The Rockets came up short in their bid for their first three-game winning streak of the season by losing to the Toronto Raptors 117-111. Toronto failed to score on their first nine possessions of the game, but the Rockets couldn’t sustain that level, allowing 65 points in the second and third quarters combined. Eric Gordon scored a season-high 28 points, while K.J. Martin scored 20 on 8-of-9 shooting.

Bad third quarter started in the second

Friday’s game was lost in the third quarter, but it started to go bad in the second. Toronto closed the last minute of the first half on a 6-0 run to take a six-point lead into the locker room, and upon leaving it, they scored the first eight points of the second half.

“It’s been a couple games in a row that we’ve started the third quarter, and I’ve had to call an early timeout,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said.

The Raptors started the third quarter on a 14-2 run to push their lead to as many as 19. They started the period shooting 11-of-17 and outscored the Rockets 30-24. The Rockets only committed two turnovers in the quarter, but they shot below 40% from the field. The big difference between the two teams in the quarter came from behind the 3-point arc, where the Raptors made five, compared to the Rockets’ one.

“It was a 4-point game, we gave up the 3 at the end of the first half, so it went to seven and then they went 8-0 (to start the second half) to make it 15 like right away,” Silas said. “That’s unacceptable. We’ve got to start second half much better.”

Entering the game, only the Hornets shot worse from long distance, but the Raptors outscored the Rockets by 24 from deep.

Raptors guards dominate

The Rockets were again without Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, and while Eric Gordon did his best to pick up the slack, the Rockets’ backcourt was no match for Toronto’s. Gordon finished with a season-high 28, his third straight 20-point game, on 10-of-15 shooting, but Daishen Nix finished with just 7 points while shooting 3-of-13. The Raptors starting guards, Fred Van Vleet and Gary Trent Jr., combined for 61 points on 20-of-37 shooting.

Van Vleet helped get the Raptors back in the game after the Rockets jumped out to an early 13-point lead by scoring eight points in the first quarter to bring the Raptors within one. He scored seven points in the second quarter, but Trent erupted for 15, and then Van Vleet lit up the Rockets for 16 points in the decisive third quarter. Van Vleet finished with 32 points, while Trent scored 29.

The Rockets defended Shai Gilgeous-Alexander well when they beat the Thunder on Wednesday, limiting him to 24 points on 7-of-23 shooting, but they couldn’t match that effort on Friday.

An offensive wrinkle

A little more than four minutes into the game, K.J. Martin set a screen for Alperen Sengun at the top of the key. Sengun took two dribbles to his right before tossing a lob up to Martin, who had rolled left for a one-handed slam. The Rockets got the same result when they ran it again in the fourth quarter. Per Synergy the Rockets had only used Sengun as the ball handler in the pick in roll four times entering Friday’s game, but with his ability to pass and handle the ball, expect to see it incorporated more over the last 30 games of the season.

“Alpe’s able to make those plays,” Silas said. “We’re gonna explore it a little more.”

When the Rockets made the Western Conference Finals, they utilized the four-five pick-and-roll between Josh Smith and Dwight Howard with great success, and there’s no reason they can’t steal easy points with Sengun as the trigger man instead of the roll man.

Next up

The Rockets will host the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

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