Posted on March 10, 2018, by Travis Pulver
It was bound to happen eventually. The Houston Rockets were going to lose a game; the win streak would come to an end. The only question was whether it would come after the team has an off-night against a lousy team or some real competition.
As it turns out, it came at the hands of the other conferences No. 1 seed, the Toronto Raptors.
Much to the delight of the home crowd, Toronto got off to a good start in the first quarter. Kyle Lowry hit his first five shots and scored 13 points to help the Raptors take a 32-16 lead over the Rockets. Houston struggled to hit any shots. They missed eight of their first ten shots and ended up making just six of 21 attempts (0-5 from three-point range).
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It was only the second time the Rockets failed to score 20+ points in the first and their season-low for the first quarter.
But Houston was not going to go down easy. They were able to outscore the Raptors in the second, but only by a single point, 27-26. The Rockets continued to struggle from three-point range making just one of four three-pointers as Toronto took a 58-43 lead into halftime.
With the way Houston was playing, it certainly didn’t look good. Toronto’s perimeter defense was making it difficult just to attempt shots from behind the arc. For a team that lives and dies by the three, the Rockets were going to need to figure out how to get more open shots.
The Raptors defense continued to hold the Rockets long-range shooter at bay in the third quarter. Before James Harden made a pair of three’s late in the quarter, the Rockets had been 1-12 from behind the arc.
While they didn’t find their three-point shot in the third, Houston did manage to close the gap a little. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Rockets were down by eight, 83-75.
Houston threatened to take the lead several times in the fourth only to see Toronto maintain an edge. But when James Harden hit a 26-footer with 2:10 to play, the game was tied, 102-102. DeMar DeRozan retook the lead on Toronto’s next possession, 104-102.
Chris Paul had a chance to give Houston the lead with 14.5 seconds left but missed an open three-pointer. Kyle Lowry tacked on a couple of free throws to give Toronto some breathing room. Eric Gordon brought Houston back within one with a 30-foot three-pointer. But Jonas Valanciunas made a pair of free throws to end the scoring and secure the win for Toronto, 108-105.
James Harden was able to get off a shot at the buzzer, but it didn’t come close to hitting the basket. Harden led all scorers with 40 points. But he didn’t get much help from the rest of the team. Eric Gordon and Chris Paul chipped in 14 each followed by Clint Capela’s double-double (13 points and 13 rebounds). Trevor Ariza also scored 13.
For the Raptors, it was Lowry leading the way with 30 points after hitting seven of nine three-pointers. DeRozan had 23 points on the night, and Valanciunas chipped in a double-double with 14 points and ten rebounds.
“They’ve been playing exceptionally well of late,” DeRozan said after the game (ESPN), “so for us to come in here and protect home court is big.”
The win improved Toronto to an NBA-best 28-5 at home.
Toronto made a point to take away Houston’s three-pointer, and it worked. The Rockets have been making 15.5 a game this season and attempting 42.4. But Friday night they attempted just 27 and made only nine. The Raptors, on the other hand, made 15-38.
“We didn’t match their intensity until late,” Paul said after the game (ESPN). “Our defense wasn’t aggressive enough early.”
Houston will try to get back on the right side of the scoreboard Sunday night when they travel to Dallas to take on the Mavericks. Toronto will take on the Knicks in New York Sunday afternoon (at 1 PM ET).