Houston Rockets nuke Cleveland Cavaliers behind stellar defensive performance

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/hou/" data-ylk="slk:Houston Rockets">Houston Rockets</a>’ James Harden, right, drives past <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/cle/" data-ylk="slk:Cleveland Cavaliers">Cleveland Cavaliers</a>’ <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/3934/" data-ylk="slk:Channing Frye">Channing Frye</a>, left, and Derrick Rose in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Cleveland. The Rockets won 120-88. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Houston Rockets’ James Harden, right, drives past Cleveland CavaliersChanning Frye, left, and Derrick Rose in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Cleveland. The Rockets won 120-88. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Cleveland Cavaliers are certainly a team on the decline, however, they may have sank into their nadir during Saturday night’s 120-88 loss to the Houston Rockets. The Rockets didn’t quite replicate Oklahoma City’s 148 point pulverization of The Q’s scoreboards, but they dropped a nuke on a gnat and barely broke a sweat. Houston’s win was notable, not just because of their margin of victory, but because MVP candidate James Harden delivered a modest 16-point, nine-assist performance.

From distance, Harden left craters in the rim, making one 3-pointer out of 11 attempts, and barfed up 5-of-16 shooting overall from the field. On the Rockets end, Chris Paul led the way, registering a double-double, courtesy of 22 points, 11 assists and plus/minus of +39. Throughout the evening he made the Cavaliers look silly.

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Going against grain, this Rockets blowout was curated by their stellar defense.

However, Houston’s desecration of the Cavaliers’ corpse was buoyed by Cleveland’s lifeless first-half execution. There won’t be a reason to gang up on Kevin Love after he watched from the sideline while nursing a broken bone in his hand. This was a collective team implosion. The Rockets are obviously an elite squad, but for four quarters they executed better, shot better, outclassed and outhustled Cleveland in all phases of the game. They even seemed to be more emotionally invested.

By halftime, the Cavs trailed by 26 and had made fewer field goals than the Rockets had assists (16 Cavs FGs to 18 Rockets assists). Houston even held a listless LeBron James to 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting.The boo birds descended upon Isaiah Thomas and he earned the criticism, scoring 12 points on 13 field goal attempts and turned the ball over thrice.

Cleveland’s strongest performances this season have been a result of their offense overcompensating for the league’s 29th-ranked defense. Putting his lack of self-awareness on display, Thomas, who may be the Cavs worst defender criticized Cleveland’s paucity of ball movement and apathetic defensive effort.

Cleveland is now winless in eight national television performances and an irritated James told Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor, “They should take us off every nationally televised game for the rest of the season.”

The NBA has grown accustomed to witnessing a midseason swoon from the Cavaliers, but they may be settling at a new low.

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DJ Dunson is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at dunsnchecksin@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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