Russell Westbrook Shreds Suns in Bounce Back Performance
The Rockets' offense came alive after a cold first quarter on Saturday night, defeating the Suns 115-109 at the Toyota Center in Houston. Russell Westbrook turned in a quality performance after combining to shoot 14-57 on the Rockets' two-game road trip, and Ben McLemore once again provided a critical spark off the bench. Houston has now won four of its last five, sitting at 15–7 ahead of Monday's matchup with the Kings.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday's victory.
Westbrook Bounces Back
Russell Westbrook secured his third straight triple-double on Saturday, but the home performance against the Suns was a far cry from Westbrook's effort in Houston's last two road games. Westbrook's previous two triple-doubles consisted of largely empty calories, with the achievement masking his dreadful performance from the field. Saturday marked a return to form for the 2016-17 MVP.
Westbrook stuffed the stat sheet on Saturday with 24 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, adding a pair of blocks and trio of steals in the matchup. He reached the rim at will against Phoenix, who didn't have the requisite rim protection to deter the slashing point guard. Westbrook spent much of the last two games hesitant beyond the arc as he pondered whether to let if fly against sagging defenses. There was no reticence on Saturday.
The UCLA product notched his 144th career triple-double on Saturday, and he broke a frustrating streak in the process. Westbrook entered the night 0-18 on the season on corner threes, but he ended the dry spell with a corner triple in the first quarter. Westbrook entered the night shooting an abysmal 21.6% from three, the worst mark among all players with at least 100 attempts in 2019-20. Rising to even 30% by season's will do wonders for Houston's spacing, especially when teams trap James Harden.
"[Westbrook] will continue to get better. This is his first time away from Oklahoma City so he's still trying to get adjusted," Harden said after Saturday's win. "You know, it's not going to take 20-25 games. It may take the course of a whole year."
McLemore Continues Hot Streak
McLemore retreated to the bench as Danuel House returned to the starting lineup on Saturday, but the altered role didn't slow down the former Kings' lottery pick. McLemore was on fire from the field in Houston's win, finishing the night with 27 points on 10-15 shooting. McLemore added five threes, and his chemistry with Russell Westbrook in transition was critical to the Rockets' strong offensive effort.
"Running with [Westbrook] opens up his game and opens up a lot of my game as well," McLemore said postgame. "So we got to continue to do that and hopefully have some success with that."
McLemore has been Houston's most consistent contributor over the last four games. He's averaging 21.8 points per game since Nov. 30, shooting 48.9% from three. The former Kansas wing has found a home in Houston after a disappointing first six seasons. He's filled Gerald Green's role with relative ease, thriving as a quick-trigger gunner. McLemore has become a key cog in Houston's bench after the Rockets battled early rotational concerns. Daryl Morey may have found another gem.
Harden Heats Up Late
The Suns put the clamps on James Harden throughout much of Saturday's contest as the two-time scoring entered the fourth quarter with just 16 points on 5-19 shooting. Phoenix eschewed trapping Harden for much of the contest, only throwing the occasional double in non-pick-and-roll situations. The strategy paid off until the fourth quarter.
Harden erupted late, ripping off 15 straight Rockets points in the fourth quarter en route to 18 points in the final 12 minutes. Harden made 12 trips to the line in the fourth quarter, and he banged home a pair of late triples. As most games go for Harden, it's only a matter of time before he lights up the scoreboard. He's averaging 38.5 points per game after Saturday's victory, leading second-place scorer Giannis Antetokounmpo by 7.7 points per game. Harden's lead is unlikely to be challenged in 2019-20, even with 59 games left to play.
Up Next: vs. Sacramento on Monday
The Rockets will look to win their third straight on Monday as the Kings come to the Toyota Center for the first time in 2019-20. Sacramento is on pace for a 14th straight lottery appearance, struggling to keep pace in the Western Conference as point guard De'Aaron Fox battles an ankle injury. Buddy Hield leads the team in scoring with 21 points per game.
Tip-off from the Toyota Center is slated for 7 p.m. CT.