Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were in street clothes on Thursday night, but the Rockets' 135-105 blowout victory remains an encouraging sign as Houston kicked off the season's final stretch.
Houston zoomed out to a 38-17 first-quarter lead at the Chase Center in San Francisco and never looked back, raining threes as the Splash Brothers sat on the sideline. P.J. Tucker hit his first five triples and Robert Covington added five more. Houston generated 21 turnovers. It kept the rebounding margin within seven. The Rockets played to their blueprint beautifully after the All-Star break, showing off their championship ceiling in a crowded Western Conference.
Here are three takeaways as the Rockets advanced to 35–20 in 2019-20.
Raining Threes in San Francisco
The Rockets have been happy to indulge in their three-happy ways after shipping Clint Capela to Atlanta, and they certainly didn't hesitate to pull the trigger on Thursday night. Eight different Rockets hit a three on the evening, even Russell Westbrook, who canned a triple early in the first quarter. Tucker feasted on open threes, as did Ben McLemore. Covington continued to display an impressive stroke with a defender in his face. Jeff Green also banged home a three, adding some serious stretch for the Rockets at the backup center spot. It's not hard to see the logic behind Daryl Morey's small-ball vision.
Dealing Capela is often cited as a benefit for Westbrook, though it's also paid significant dividends for Harden. Not only does Harden not have to deal with a center in the paint on drives to the tin, he's increasingly seeing fewer traps. Capela was lost in space when teams doubled Harden. He (obviously) can't extend beyond the arc, and he wasn't able to make plays rolling downhill. The Rockets' current rotation eliminates that problem.
Harden can either dump the ball off to Westbrook for a furious drive to the rim, or he can make a quick read to an open shooter. With five threats on the floor, doubling Harden becomes a dubious bet. Expect his shooting percentages to rise alongside the Rockets' new small-ball units.
Covington Keeps Rolling
It's hard to imagine a more seamless transition for Robert Covington in his first five games with the Rockets. The former Timberwolves forward made an instant impact in his Rockets' debut in Feb. 6, and he shined once again on Thursday night. Covington finished the evening with a plus-31 in 27 minutes, making seven of 13 shots while banging home five threes. Covington is an impressive contested shot maker. His 6'9" frame allows him to get his shot off in tight spaces and over incoming defenders. Covington should thrive with the open looks generated by Harden and Westbrook. He certainly did on Thursday night.
Rockets Wings Wreak Havoc
The Rockets are all-but-certain to lose the rebounding battle each night, a product of playing without any semblance of a center. But that doesn't mean Houston's defense has to be poor. The Rockets shut down the Warriors for much of the first half on Thursday, showing off a defensive potential that has gone underrated throughout the league.
Houston has substituted a traditional center for a smattering of wings, and the Rockets' list of forwards is lengthy (no pun intended). Both DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Green logged significant minutes off the bench on Thursday as Danuel House earned the start. Thabo Sefolosha played rotation minutes, and even Bruno Caboclo got on the floor in garbage time. The Rockets are well-stocked with large wings, a commodity in the modern NBA. Houston has forced 92 turnovers in its last five games, including 21 on Monday night. Daryl Morey's experiment may actually be sustainable given the Rockets' recent turnover generation.
Up Next: at Utah on Saturday
Houston faces a true test on Saturday before returning to the Toyota Center, traveling to Utah for a crucial battle against Rudy Gobert and the Jazz. The Rockets are 1–1 against Utah this season (losing on a buzzer-beater on Feb. 9) and Saturday marks the two teams' last battle of the regular season. With the tiebreaker on the line, the winner of Saturday's battle could prove critical in a potential first-round matchup.
Tip-off from Vivint Smart Home Arena is slated for 8 p.m. CT.