Bjelica Buzzer-Beater Spoils Strong Westbrook Performance in Rockets Loss
Fourth-quarter Westbrook was in full force at the Toyota Center on Monday night, but a buzzer-beater three from Nemanja Bjelica spoiled Westbrook's effort in a 119-118 Kings victory.
Houston seized a 118-116 lead with one second left on a Westbrook layup, and the Rockets appeared to be on their way to a fifth win in their last six games. Bjelica and the Kings had other ideas. The fifth-year forward broke loose on the inbounds pass, launching a wide-open 30 footer as time expired. Bjelica's shot rattled in, and Houston fell to 15–8 in 2019-20.
Here are three takeaways from Monday's loss.
Kings Spoil Westbrook Performance
Westbrook was the Rockets' catalyst throughout Monday night, turning in perhaps his strongest performance of 2019-20. The Kings didn't have the requisite rim protection to deter the Rockets, and Westbrook took full advantage, finishing the evening with 34 points and eight assists on 13-17 from the field. Westbrook has now shot over 50% from the field in four of his last six games.
Westbrook took full control of the contest in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. He scored nine of the Rockets' last 12 points on Monday, finding former Kings' lottery pick Ben McLemore for a wide open three for the other bucket in the last three minutes. Monday marked perhaps Westbrook's best game of the season, but it was all for not as Bjelica banged home the game-winner.
Rockets Defense Struggles
The Rockets' defensive woes on Monday didn't begin with Bjelica's buzzer-beater. Houston struggled to bring energy on the defensive end throughout the evening, allowing the Kings to bang home 20 threes. Many of the triples were wide open, with the Rockets lazily closing out on Sacramento shooters. Rockets' head coach Mike D'Antoni was frustrated with Houston's effort postgame.
“We lost the game because we didn’t play hard the whole game. We were out of energy for whatever reason," D'Antoni said. "We got to have a little bit more determination than what we played with tonight.”
Westbrook echoed his coach's sentiment.
"I think collectively we’ve got to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and figure out how we can be able to bring it every single night and be responsible for our own actions and then look elsewhere," Westbrook said.
Houston has now allowed 100-plus points in nine straight games. The Rockets' will receive a brief respite against Cleveland on Wednesday, but Monday's defensive effort was troubling as Houston looks to keep pace in the Western Conference.
Clark Provides Spark
Second-year forward Gary Clark continues to battle for minutes in Houston's rotation, and the Cincinnati product made the most of his opportunity on Monday night. Clark scored 11 points in the first quarter along with three threes, finishing the night with a plus-six in 22 minutes.
Clark was the Rockets' first big off the bench on Monday as Tyson Chandler sat due to illness and Isaiah Hartenstein earned a DNP-CD. The backup center role appears to be Clark's best route to consistent playing time. Clark provides necessary stretch for five-out lineups, and he's mobile enough to switch from bigs to guards with ease. D'Antoni would be well served to experiment with more Clark-at-center minutes moving forward.
Up Next: at Cleveland on Wednesday
The Rockets will begin a two-game road trip on Wednesday night, heading north for a matchup with the lottery-bound Cavaliers. Cleveland is on the fast track for a second straight lottery appearance in 2019-20, losing their last seven games in the first year of head coach John Beilein's tenure.
Tip-off from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland is slated for 6 p.m. CT.