The Rockets Beat The Bucks In A Thriller Behind Westbrook And Havoc Defense

The Houston Rockets have proven to be one of the bubble’s most exciting teams through two games, which comes as little surprise given their style of play, but what does raise eyebrows is that they are off to a 2-0 start. After dispatching of the Mavs thanks to a furious second half comeback to win in overtime in the opener, they stared down the Milwaukee Bucks in their second game in primetime en route to a 120-116 win that was as impressive as any this season.

Houston’s frantic small-ball approach has been much discussed since they debuted it after the trade deadline, but what they’ve proven is that it can work against the league’s best. On Sunday, we got another data point with that as the Rockets downed a Bucks team that got tremendous play from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez. As expected, the length of Milwaukee gave Houston problems on the glass as the Bucks out-rebounded the Rockets 65-36, but like so often with this Rockets team, it was the havoc they can create, forcing 22 Milwaukee turnovers, and their three-point shooting that carried the day.

The Rockets tied the NBA record for threes taken in a game with 61, making 21 of those, while the Bucks were a rather dismal 9-of-25 from distance. Houston created a ton of great looks, and it felt like they missed a lot of open corner threes they should’ve made, as James Harden and Russell Westbrook probed the paint, collapsed the Bucks defense, and put passes right in the pocket for their shooters.

As has been the case often in the super small-ball era, Westbrook thrived in this one with 31 points, eight assists, and six rebounds. Harden, meanwhile, had 24 points, seven boards, and seven assists in a somewhat pedestrian offensive outing for him, but he was engaged on defense and came up with six steals as he was part of the key Rockets effort late in forcing Milwaukee into turnovers to finish things off.

For the Bucks, they were led by Giannis, Middleton, and Lopez who combined for 86 of their 116 points, with Giannis posting an absurd 36 points, 18 rebounds, and eight assists.

Lopez had 23 points and 12 rebounds, playing spectacularly despite how Houston has been able to at times play traditional centers off the court with their small lineups.

Middleton had 27 and 12, and was the catalyst for their late run that put them ahead by what seemed to be enough to pull away before they found themselves ice cold for the final two minutes.

In the end, it was Houston’s defense that came through when they needed it most. P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington, and Danuel House all made some big plays, as their effort and energy on that end continues to allow them to overcome size disadvantages with active hands and forcing tons of turnovers.

The takeaways from this game are pretty simple. The Rockets, when at their best, are capable of playing with anyone in the league and it just remains to be seen how long they can keep the necessary energy level up to play this style come playoff time. The Bucks are a dominant force, but when they don’t get quality perimeter shooting from role players, they’re beatable. We’ve learned this in the past two postseasons and that remains their biggest question moving forward, but both are going to be very tough outs in the postseason.