In a change of pace from recent showings, the Hornets played a fun, watchable game as Miles Bridges had 20 points and a career-high 15 rebounds while Terry Rozier added 20 points of his own, but the Hornets couldn’t pull it together down the stretch against the Rockets, losing 125-110.
Cody Martin earned the first start of his young career tonight, so congratulations to him. Miles Bridges hit a step-back long-two for the Hornets’ first bucket of the game, and it took them until the 9:16 mark to come up with an empty possession. It was all Hornets in the early-going, taking an 18-5 lead into the first Houston timeout at 7:58. The Rockets put together a quick 9-2 run after some sloppy turnovers by the Hornets to make their deficit 20-14, but the Hornets killed the Rockets on the interior and in transition for the rest of the quarter. They took a 34-22 lead into the second period after Malik Monk canned a contested three at the buzzer. On his 22nd birthday, no less!
Malik continued to boast his birthday confidence by scoring the first five points of the second quarter. The Rockets went on a 6-0 run after that before James Borrego called a timeout to halt the momentum, which didn’t entirely work because the Hornets eventually remembered they were the Hornets and their hot start regressed to the mean. What was once a 15-point Charlotte lead dwindled down quickly, but the Hornets always seemed to find an answer to keep Houston at bay despite them taking a brief lead and James Harden scoring 15 points (9-9 FT) in the quarter. That man is pretty darn good at basketball, if you ask me. Miles had 10 points and nine boards and Terry Rozier had a team-high 15 points going into the half, where the Hornets led 63-62 thanks to a personal 5-0 run from Martin to end the second quarter.
Martin canned a three-pointer to kick off the second half to give himself 10 points in his first career start. After a Rockets timeout with 8:48 remaining in the third, the Hornets led 72-68. They continued to do a lot of good things in the third, such as crashing the glass and making the extra pass on offense, but the Rockets started to find their groove towards the end of the quarter. They got into the lane, and it typically resulted in a good look at the rim or a kick-out three-pointer. Houston held on to their lead, heading into the fourth quarter up 92-88.
With Harden on the Rockets’ bench to start the quarter, the Hornets had an opportunity to piece together a run, but were down 96-95 when he came back in with just over 10 minutes to go. Devonte’ Graham warmed up and hit a couple of threes to briefly put the Hornets back on top, but the Rockets took a 108-103 lead with 6:19 remaining. With 5:42 to go, we witnessed some unfortunate Cody-on-Cody violence. Zeller smacked Martin in the nose, causing him to bleed profusely all over the floor while the Houston’s arena entertainment crew played “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift over the loudspeakers (their song/artist choice says a lot about them as a franchise). Mike D’Antoni challenged what was clearly a foul on Malik by PJ Tucker, and it resulted in the refs adding a goaltending call to the foul as well, making it 113-106 Rockets after Malik hit the free-throw. Neither team could buy a bucket for the following few minutes, until the Rockets called it a night and buried a few threes. James Harden’s four-point play with 1:28 to go put the Rockets up 125-110 and ended any shot the Hornets had at coming back, and they fell to Houston with a final score of 125-110.
James Harden, surprisingly enough, was the difference-maker for the Rockets. He went 14-15 from the free throw line, scored his second-straight 40-point game, dished out 12 assists, and grabbed nine rebounds. His dribble penetration was causing a lot of problems for the Hornets in the second half, whether it resulted in a layup or foul for him, a dump-off down low, or a kick-out to three-point line. Danuel House Jr. had a nice game for Houston, going 6-11 from beyond the arc, finishing with 22 points.
One simply cannot be upset about this lost. The Hornets hung with a Finals-contending (yet injury-ridden) Rockets team for about 44 minutes, six players scored in double-figures, most of the young guys looked good at certain times, they never stopped playing hard no matter what kind of run Houston was on, and most of all, they preserved the draft pick. This is the perfect kind of loss for a rebuilding team. For the most part, the box score is a beauty. Let’s hope this game helps get Devonte’ back on track, too. He was 5-10 from three, and he hit a few of them that gave me flashbacks to his November hot-streak. The Hornets are off for three days until they get Dallas at home on Saturday. We can only hope that game will be as entertaining as their first matchup last month.