HOUSTON — On Friday, Rockets fans witnessed something they had not seen in a long time. And no, it wasn’t the freshly painted red court installed for the NBA’s new in-season tournament. Instead, this new-look team has seemingly caught lightning in a bottle at Toyota Center during its ongoing seven-game homestand.
Houston was led by veteran guard Fred VanVleet, who saved the day by scoring eight out of his team’s last nine points in the final 1:15 of the fourth quarter. With Houston trailing, 100-95, VanVleet hit two huge 3-pointers to help overcome the five-point deficit while boosting the confidence of his teammates down the stretch.
“Got to get a win,” VanVleet said of his late-game performance. “It is time to get a win. We battled enough and knew we didn’t play our best, but we had a shot there late. I had good looks all night that did not go, so I was just trying to manipulate and find a good look, and I was able to make a couple.”
New Orleans gave Houston a taste of its own medicine by winning the first quarter, which the Rockets had done against their opponents the last four games. Houston recovered from the slow start in the second quarter by playing their style of basketball, which consists of a defense-first mentality. The Pelicans could not escape the defensive pressure and were held to nine points during a four-minute stretch, which sent them into the half trailing by a 54-48 margin.
“This game is all about runs,” Dillon Brooks said about the 14 lead changes during the game. “The NBA is a long season, and we are going to go through things like that.”
The Rockets misfired a lot in the third quarter with only 16 points, and their lead had suddenly become a nine-point deficit entering the final period. But in contrast to the past three seasons, the team kept the Pelicans from getting too far ahead of them on the scoreboard. Their 34-point fourth quarter, which was capped by VanVleet’s heroics, helped them steal a victory from a tough New Orleans team.
“These are way more fulfilling than the blowouts,” VanVleet said. “Having to work for it and grind it out, being up and down, having the ejection, technical fouls, bad shooting, turnovers; this game had it all. We were able to stay resilient and come out with the win.”