Houston Rockets‘ new era ended in a home defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. The first regular season game with James Harden and Russell Westbrook starting together (in a Rockets uniform, that is) saw a duel between the last three NBA MVPs, but it was the 2018/19 winner, Giannis Antetokounmpo who reigned supreme. Antetokounmpo finished with a triple-double.
Harden and Westbrook combined for 43 points. Westbrook had a better night than his former Thunder teammate, the 2016/17 MVP scoring 24 points on 41% from the field and 43% from deep. Harden had just 19, going 2-for-13 from the field and 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. His 14 dimes were a positive sign. Westbrook claimed 16 boards.
Cold shooting nights happen for Houston, as the Golden State Warriors benefited from in the playoffs on numerous occasions. Harden and Eric Gordon couldn’t get any sort of rhythm as the Rockets let a 16-point half-time lead slip. Antetokounmpo fouled out with five minutes left in the game, but Milwaukee held on.
Westbrook’s display on the glass was huge for the Rockets. Mike D’Antoni sat Clint Capela in the fourth, leaving them at a major size disadvantage. Westbrook’s hustle and athleticism helped the Rockets compensate for that – Houston outrebounded Milwaukee, the best rebounding team in the NBA in 2018/19.
You’d get very long odds on Westbrook hitting 43% from three for the season, but it’s a nice start. It’s something to build on – the Rockets need him to be reliable on catch-and-shoot looks.
It was a great outing for Westbrook, an early positive for a Rockets team that has been under a cloud of controversy since Daryl Morey’s tweet and faced justified questions about the on-court fit of their two superstar guards.
There’s no shame in losing to the Bucks, who were the best regular season team in the NBA last year. With the Pelicans, Thunder and Wizards in their next three games, Houston will expect to shift their record to 3-1 before travelling east to face Kyrie Irving’s Brooklyn Nets.