Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 11/6/13
The Rockets had lost all of one game in a row, but felt like they were reeling. They were blown out in Los Angeles. They needed a big second half comeback in Utah. They had a still tough schedule ahead to finish the week. The Rockets had reached the sort of occasion that James Harden and Dwight Howard are supposed to do what they did Tuesday in the Moda center. They would not let the Rockets lose. They had their best games of the season, carrying the Rockets past the Portland Trail Blazers, 116-101, to finish a grueling four games in five nights stretch by closing out Portland each time it made a run. “It was key as a team to play well, especially coming off the loss we had last night,” Harden said. “We responded. Our defense was amazing, especially in that second half. That led to our transition and easy baskets. That shows the maturity our team has since last year, coming on the road after a tough loss. We could have made excuses. We stuck with it.” As for his own turnaround, Harden said he was unconcerned with that. “As long as I stay in the gym and stay confident with what I do with my craft, I’m going to be all right,” he said. “There’s going to be nights when I turn the ball over and I don’t make shots. Just stay consistent and locked in at what I’m great at.” His bounce-back game, even with eight turnovers, was not a surprise. But despite going from a dreadful game in Los Angeles to scoring 33 with seven rebounds in Portland, the comeback of the Rockets’ defense was at least as significant. “The defensive end was a lot better tonight,” Howard said. “We were a lot more active. We were in the paint more. Things were a lot better.” After giving up 50 points in the paint against the Clippers, the Rockets allowed 28 to the Blazers. After giving up 52.1 percent shooting, the Rockets held Portland to 41.4 percent shooting. Most of all, after giving up 78 first half points, they did not let Portland reach 78 until two minutes into the fourth quarter. “You can feel us getting some defensive confidence, getting that defensive engine revved up,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “Then guys start really believing in it. You could sense it coming.” That might not have been enough, however, if Harden and Howard continued to struggle as they had the night before. Harden had 33 points, making 11 of 18 shots. Howard finished with a season-high 29 points, making 10 of 13 shots and 9 of 12 free throws. From the start, Howard was more decisive, more forceful with the ball. Rather than trying to squeeze shots through, he moved quickly finishing at the rim and drawing fouls. “I just tried to get myself going,” said Howard, who had 15 points against the Clippers after playing just six first-half minutes. “Last game, I really couldn’t get a lot going because of foul trouble. I tried to come out tonight, be very aggressive on the offensive end. Me and James, the fourth quarter comes, it’s on us to lead the guys.”
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