The three-point attack has been the Houston Rockets’ red glare this season, with the long-distance shot lighting up NBA scoreboards at a record-setting pace.
Houston brought its three-ring circus to Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Sunday night looking to extend a seven-game win streak at the expense of the Raptors, still stinging from a demoralizing overtime loss the night before in Chicago to the Bulls.
But Houston struggled with its stock in trade early on Sunday and appeared doomed, sinking just two of 17 from beyond the arch to trail the Raptors.
The Rockets found their shooting eye in the second half and, led by a sublime 40-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound effort from guard James Harden, roared back for a convincing 129-122 victory over a visibly tiring and frustrated Toronto outfit.
The win was the eighth in a row for the Rockets (30-9). The Raptors (24-13) lost their second in a row and their fifth in their past seven.
Toronto carried a 99-95 lead into the fourth quarter but it was quickly erased by the Rockets, who opened with a stinging 17-1 run, paced by a couple of three-point strikes by Trevor Ariza, to seize a 112-100 advantage.
Toronto got to within five points on a couple of occasions but did not have enough left in reserves to make any more of a dent than that. And when a driving layup by Patrick Patterson with just under four minutes left was negated after he plowed into Harden for an offensive foul, it signalled the unofficial end to Toronto’s long night.
“They just put their heads down and attacked out feet,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said about Toronto’s letdown at the start of the fourth. “We played good basketball for, what, 39 minutes. But it’s a 48-minute game. We got to extend that.”
DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points to lead the Raptors, the 18th time he has scored 30 or more this season, but it was far from enough.
DeMarre Carroll was sharp, scoring a season-high 26 points including a career-best six three-pointers.
Along with Harden’s triple-double – he had a quadruple double if you count his 10 turnovers – the Rockets were also paced by 28 points off the bench by Montrezl Harrell, who hit 12 of his 13 shots from the floor.
As have been the hallmark of teams coached by Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets are one of the most offensively dynamic teams in the NBA.
And they have embraced the concept of the three-point shot like no other.
“He should probably be smiling all the time because everybody now is trying to play like that,” Casey said before the game.
Coming in, almost 40 per cent of Houston’s points are scored via the three-pointer, by far the highest rate in the NBA. The Rockets have made 570 from beyond the arch – well over 100 more than their nearest rival.
The Rockets average 15 made three-pointers each game and have hit the 20 mark on five occasions, so teams have a pretty good idea what they’re going to face against Houston.
Sunday against the Raptors they were not as sharp, making just 11 of 38 of their three-pointers.
The Raptors were optimistic of a better result after welcoming Patterson back after the 6-foot-9 versatile forward missed the previous four games nursing a sore knee.
While the Raptors were being demoralized by the Bulls in Chicago Saturday night, losing 123-118 in overtime, the Rockets were already cooling their heels in Toronto, resting up.
The Rockets sputtered with their long-distance attack in the opening quarter, going just 1-for-8, and the Raptors capitalized with a more versatile attack to carve out a 37-27 lead.
Houston’s shooting woes continued into the second quarter where Eric Gordon served up an air-ball from three early on, dipping Houston’s success rate to 1-for-11.
Toronto extended its lead to 12 points with about two minutes left in the second quarter.
But the Rockets closed the gap with a 12-2 run, including a buzzer-beating three from Ariza, to cut Toronto’s lead to 63-61 by the half.
The three-point floodgates opened in the third quarter with both sides pouring it in, led by Carroll, who hit four of four that helped lift Toronto into a 91-82 lead.
But the Rockets fought back and a Harden three at the buzzer, his third of the frame, cut Toronto’s lead to 99-95 heading into the fourth quarter.Report Typo/Error
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