The Houston Rockets have been in a minor funk, but they shook off some woes when they defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 111-92 at Toyota Center on Wednesday night.
The win was fueled by a barrage of late three-pointers from James Harden and Eric Gordon, who combined to pave the way and help the Rockets improve to 33-12 a night after looking flat in a loss to the Miami Heat.
As has become expected, Harden led the Rockets in the scoring column with 38 points on 14-of-25 shooting to go with eight assists and six rebounds.
His big fourth-quarter threes allowed the Rockets to pull away:
Gordon added 25 points on 9-of-20 shooting (7-of-17 from three), which was a welcome sight after he shot 3-of-17 against the Heat. The Sixth Man of the Year front-runner also had an outrageous plus-38 rating in 32 minutes off the bench.
The Bucks were paced by 32 points, 11 rebounds and six assists from Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he didn't have much in the way of reinforcements on a night when 54 of Milwaukee's 92 points came in the paint.
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All told, the Bucks shot 39.8 percent from the field, and a dismal 12-point second quarter put them in a hole that was too steep to claw out of.
The Bucks shot 3-of-21 from the floor in the second, according to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, and that wasn't even the worst of it.
While the Rockets ripped off an 18-0 run to take a 13-point lead into the break, head coach Jason Kidd's side floundered in epic fashion. Specifically, Milwaukee finished the first half with a single made shot outside the paint, as NBA.com's shot chart illustrated:
Those struggles applied to all but the Greek Freak, who held his own while keeping the Bucks within striking distance, as All the Bucks noted on Twitter:
Antetokounmpo kept at it after halftime and continued to attack the rim, but the two-man tandem of Harden and Gordon stayed hot enough to keep the Bucks at bay down the stretch.
However, Antetokounmpo's ability to single-handedly put the offense on his back didn't go unnoticed.
ClutchFans suggested the 22-year-old's ceiling could be limitless if he ever finds a consistent rhythm from long range:
The Bucks, who fell to 20-21, have now dropped three in a row after starting January 4-2. For a team on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, that's hardly ideal.
However, the Bucks will have a couple of chances to get back on the winning track before they return home. A Friday showdown against the Orlando Magic awaits, and a meeting with the Miami Heat—whom the Bucks defeated on Jan. 13—will tip off Saturday.
Elsewhere, the Rockets will enjoy a well-earned day of rest Thursday before the Golden State Warriors pay a visit to Toyota Center on Friday for what figures to be a shootout of epic proportions.
After the win, Harden offered the game ball to a fan celebrating her 100th birthday, according to the team's official Twitter account:
As for his on-court performance, a couple of Bucks players heaped serious praise on Harden following his scoring outburst.
"I think I can say right now he is the best player in the league," Antetokounmpo said, per the Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner. "He's tough."
"He easily could have won the MVP two years ago; this year he will finally get his due," Bucks (and former Rockets) guard Jason Terry added, per Gardner.
However, Harden pointed to Houston's defensive effort as the main reason why his side was able to triumph.
"We’re realizing that in order for us to get to where we want to go, we have to get stops," he said, per Feigen. "When we get stops we are 10 times better."
That was bad news for the Bucks, who were left to reflect on their lack of firepower.
"Giannis had a great game but no one else showed," Kidd said, according to Gardner. "We're not built around one guy. Unfortunately, a lot of guys had a tough night tonight."