No longer 'soft', Rockets' defense pleases Harden
CHICAGO — James Harden exited the Houston Rockets‘ game against the Chicago Bulls and took a seat next to Thabo Sefolosha on the bench with 3:37 remaining in the fourth quarter at the United Center on Saturday.
He ended the night one point shy of a triple-double, with 42 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, also passing Bulls legend Scottie Pippen for 58th on the NBA all-time scoring list, but it was Houston’s defensive effort that pleased him more in the 117-94 win.
“Our talk, our aggressiveness, we’re getting after it,” Harden said of the defensive effort. “We were too soft earlier — the first couple games, we were too soft. So, we’ve got to make teams feel us a little bit more defensively.”
Through Nov. 3, following a 129-100 loss in Miami, only the Golden State Warriors had a worse defensive rating than the Rockets (116.2). However, in Week 3, the Rockets went 3-0, and their defensive efficiency was 97.5 points per 100 possessions allowed — good for third-best, behind the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers, since Nov. 4.
Chicago’s 94 points were the fewest allowed by the Rockets this season.
“That’s been a point of emphasis: to try to keep teams under 100,” said Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, who posted four points and five boards. “We know even on our worst night, we’re still gonna score 100 points, so if we keep teams under 24 a quarter, we will be alright and will have a really good chance to win the game — so it’s something from here on out we always try to take advantage of.”
Chicago (3-7) went 4-for-32 from beyond the arc (12.5%) which is the sixth-worst 3-point field goal percentage in a game in NBA history, with a minimum of 30 3-point field goal attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That mark was also the second-worst in a game in Bulls history, with the same minimum.
Houston outscored Chicago 36-18 in the third quarter to pull away on the night.
“Effort, plain and simple,” said Rockets guard Russell Westbrook, who had 26 points, seven rebounds and seven turnovers. “We have a scheme, we just don’t want to get away from it … just keep playing. The way to win in this league: You have to defend. There is no night off; you have to defend every single night against some of the best teams.”
For the season, the Rockets are still 23rd in defensive efficiency overall (110.1), so there’s still work to do, but as impressed as Houston coach Mike D’Antoni was with the way Harden filled up the basket in Chicago, he also recognized the defensive improvement.
“Better. Much better, and we also held them under 100 giving up 24 turnovers, and that’s hard to do,” D’Antoni said. “But, I thought we were talking, switching and doing the right thing. I think Clint (Capela), his presence guarding the rim really helps. He bothered a lot of shots, got a lot of blocked shots, and then Danuel House comes up with six steals, and it was good. Overall, good … better.”