Houston coach Stephen Silas has spoken often about the need for the Rockets to be rewarded for their effort, to glean something tangible from spirited showings beyond another close defeat.
The Rockets finally secured a much-needed victory on Friday, outlasting the visiting Atlanta Hawks 128-122 by surrendering only 18 points in the fourth quarter while producing a plus-31 rebounding margin — including 22 offensive boards that yielded 37 second-chance points.
After surveying the celebratory mood in the locker room following a win that snapped a four-game homecourt losing skid, Silas recognized that the moment was short-lived at best.
“They obviously were excited, and I was happy for them,” Silas said. “And then they said we’ve got another one tomorrow. That’s the beauty of the NBA. You’ve got another one tomorrow.”
The Rockets will host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday in the second game of a back-to-back for both. The Thunder topped the Chicago Bulls 123-119 in overtime on Friday.
Beyond their overwhelming performance on the glass, the Rockets outflanked Atlanta with a collective offensive effort. Second-year guard Jalen Green was dynamic, posting 30 points, five rebounds and five assists before fouling out late in the fourth quarter, but he had ample help.
The Rockets, who were without starters Eric Gordon and Alperen Sengun, got 21 points apiece from KJ Martin and rookie Jabari Smith Jr., with Martin adding 15 rebounds and Smith nine. Kevin Porter Jr. chipped in a double-double of 12 points and 10 assists with seven rebounds while Garrison Mathews made the most of his rare playing time with 20 points off the bench.
Houston assisted on 25 of its 41 field goals while Green and Smith took 17 shots each and Porter hoisted 16. Martin finished 10 of 13 from the floor to underscore the egalitarian display.
“It means that the ball is moving for us,” Silas said. “It’s always good for us to have the ball moving and getting multiple people scoring for us so we’re not one-dimensional or two-dimensional.
“A lot of it was offensive rebounding so that’s a good thing. Yeah, we want to have five guys in double figures and then one other guy with nine (Usman Garuba). That looks good for our offense at least.”
The Thunder snapped a three-game skid with the win over the Bulls, one that featured another standout showing from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Outscored 47-29 over the final 17 minutes in an overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Thunder took something positive from that collapse and applied it against the Bulls. Oklahoma City coughed up a double-digit lead, but this time recovered to finish.
“That’s what it’s all about: getting better, learning from your experiences especially when you’ve got a group this young,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “All you can do is learn and get better and be ready for the next one.”
Gilgeous-Alexander credited the “15-man roster” for carrying the Thunder through the finish line, one that included four starters scoring in double figures, Josh Giddey posting 10 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, plus an additional 48 bench points, including 17 from Darius Bazley.