Eric Gordon, Rockets Shock James Harden, Nets for 7th Straight Win

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIDecember 9, 2021

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden, left, passes as Houston Rockets center Christian Wood defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

The Houston Rockets have won seven straight games after upsetting the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets 114-104 at home in Toyota Center on Wednesday.

The Rockets led by as many as 20 points and took a 67-52 halftime advantage. The Nets cut the lead to as few as four points in the fourth quarter, but the Rockets responded with a 16-6 run to end the game.

The Nets rested both Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge. Rockets rookie guard Jalen Green was out with a left hamstring strain, and Kevin Porter Jr. missed this matchup with a left thigh contusion.

Current Nets and former Rockets superstar James Harden played his second game in Houston since being traded to Brooklyn in January. He had 25 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists but shot just 4-of-16 and committed eight turnovers.

All five Rockets starters scored in double figures, with Eric Gordon's 21 points leading the way. Christian Wood posted 12 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, and rookie Josh Christopher celebrated his 20th birthday by shooting 7-of-7 for 18 points off the bench.

The Rockets started the season 1-16 but have since moved well clear of the NBA's basement with the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons both losing 20 times apiece.

The 17-8 Nets remained in first place in the Eastern Conference after the second-place Chicago Bulls lost against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.

Notable Performances

Nets G James Harden: 25 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists

Nets G Cam Thomas: 18 points

Nets F/C Paul Millsap: 10 points, 6 rebounds

Rockets PG Eric Gordon: 21 points

Rockets G Josh Christopher: 18 points

Rockets PF Christian Wood: 12 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks

Thanks Largely to Mathews, Rockets Regroup in 4th Quarter and Run Away

This game appeared to be unraveling for the Rockets in the fourth quarter when Gordon committed his second technical foul after a vociferous argument with officials.

After Harden made the technical free throw, the Nets had the ball down 98-94 with 6:17 left in regulation.

Momentum appeared squarely on Brooklyn's side, especially with the Rockets' leading scorer out of the game. Plus, Jae'Sean Tate was playing with five fouls, and the Nets were riding the high of a 21-8 fourth-quarter run that put them within striking distance.

The Nets never got any closer than those four points, though, and it's largely because of Garrison Mathews.

First, Mathews scored nine of the Rockets' final 16 points. After Harden missed a step-back three-pointer that would have cut the lead to one, Matthews drew a shooting foul and knocked down both free throws for a six-point advantage.

Harden then hit another free throw after a Tate technical, but Mathews then drilled a huge three-pointer to give Houston an eight-point lead.

Houston Rockets @HoustonRockets

HE DOES NOT MISS! 💦 <a href="https://t.co/KXQd39jgyo">pic.twitter.com/KXQd39jgyo</a>

Mathews soon did work on both ends, deflecting a Harden pass and running the other way for a dunk and a 10-point Rockets lead:

Houston Rockets @HoustonRockets

GARRISON MATHEWS! 😱 <a href="https://t.co/iI6Yms6sjd">pic.twitter.com/iI6Yms6sjd</a>

He wasn't done defensively, though, diving on the floor and corralling a rolling ball after Harden tried to preserve some time off an inbounds pass. Harden fouled Mathews, who made two free throws to seal the game.

Credit also goes to D.J. Augustin for his work in lieu of Gordon. He had a late three-point play to give the Rockets a 14-point lead and also served up an alley-oop pass to Christopher to emphatically shut the door:

Houston Rockets @HoustonRockets

WATCH YA HEAD! 🤯 <a href="https://t.co/hohd9i60TW">pic.twitter.com/hohd9i60TW</a>

With that, the Rockets punctuated their seventh straight win.

The Nets may have been missing Durant and Aldridge, but the Rockets were without two of their best players in Green and Porter.

Despite being short-handed, the Rockets bottled up Harden and did more than enough offensively en route to an excellent performance from a young team that appears to be growing up quickly after a 1-16 start.


Off-Night for Harden and Nets

A win was there for the Nets despite playing without Durant and Aldridge after cutting the lead to four in the fourth.

Despite the turnovers and missed shots, Harden was bringing back some fond memories for Rockets fans as the king of foul-drawing went to the line 16 times, making 14 of his free throws. He also astutely drew Tate's fifth foul, forcing him to the bench in the third quarter.

Cam Thomas' hot shooting (7-of-15) kept the Nets in the game. He was impressive, as Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News wrote:

Kristian Winfield @Krisplashed

Cam Thomas is not and will never be Kyrie Irving, but he hits a lot of the same high degree of difficulty shots, like turnaround fading mid-range jumpers, floaters in traffic and pull-up mid-range shots.

However, there were a few setbacks in this one.

For starters, this may have been a night where Harden and the Nets simply didn't have enough gas in the tank for four quarters.

One night earlier, the Nets overcame a 17-point deficit to defeat the Dallas Mavericks on the road 102-99.

That gave Houston a significant rest and travel advantage, with the team playing just one road game (a close jaunt to Oklahoma City) since Nov. 23. The Rockets also had two full days of rest before welcoming the weary Nets.

In addition, too many Nets shot poorly from the field for Brooklyn to stay in this game. Brooklyn made just eight of 33 three-pointers and hit just 39.3 percent of its field goals overall. That was in conjunction with a fast, hot-shooting Rockets team that simply out-hustled the visitors at times for loose balls and rebounds.

It also seemed as though the Nets were searching all night for some kind of player combination that worked.

Thomas ended up playing 32 minutes off the bench, more than anyone else on the team outside Harden. Brooklyn also gave over 21 minutes to rookie David Duke Jr., who made his NBA debut. Blake Griffin returned to the rotation after some coaching decision-related absences too.

Three starters (DeAndre' Bembry, James Johnson and Nic Claxton) all played under 20 minutes.

In the end, the Nets never led after Armoni Brooks hit a two-pointer to give the Rockets a 15-14 lead with 5:36 remaining in the first quarter. Brooklyn knocked on the door late, but the Rockets slammed it shut.


What's Next?

Both teams will play Friday.

Brooklyn will visit the Atlanta Hawks at 7:30 p.m. ET in State Farm Arena. Houston will host the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.