The Houston Rockets traveled to battle the Miami Heat on Sunday in an early season showdown between two teams that could make deep postseason runs. Houston came into the game 0-2 and struggling on the offensive end. Miami came into the affair with a 1-1 record after winning their season opener against Charlotte before losing in Cleveland. Houston would have to try and get their first win of the season without star center Dwight Howard, as he sat out for rest as they played their first game of a back-to-back set.
Houston came out with a bang on offense, scoring 14 points in the first four minutes of action. They were doing a little of everything, which gave Miami’s starting unit early problems.
Miami on the other hand couldn’t seem to score if it wasn’t from the foul line or close to the rim as they fell behind early and worked from behind for the entire opening quarter. Hassan Whiteside and Luol Deng had success close to the basket as they combined for 18 points in the first and carried Miami offensively. The big problem for the Heat was turnovers, as it seemed every time they built momentum they would make a bad pass that the Rockets turned into points.
The second quarter, like the first, was in the Rockets favor as hot shooting from deep and their up-tempo pace helped them maintain a comfortable lead. James Harden was doing what he usually does, which is getting to the line and making free throws. As a matter of fact, Harden knocked down 10 of them in the first half. Harden also dished out seven assists and Houston will always be successful if he is able to control the game like he did against the Heat. Marcus Thornton drew the start and rewarded Houston with 19 points, making five three-pointers in the half.
Chris Bosh missed all six of his shots in the first two quarters. The only bright spot for Miami was the offensive play of Whiteside, as he scored 15 points on seven-of-nine shooting. Dwyane Wade was ineffective with only 8 points, but he continued to show his ability to draw defenders and create easy looks for Whiteside on the inside. Houston’s great shooting and effective defense helped them take a 63-44 lead into halftime.
The second half was a completely different game for both teams. Miami came out firing and the energy was up in the building as soon as the third quarter got underway. Houston started to cool off from deep and Miami started to make shots outside of the paint. Wade was much more aggressive, as he scored nine early points in the midst of a 18-6 run for the Heat to start things off in the second half. Deng and Wade knocked down the first three pointers of the night for the Heat, and Miami eventually cut the lead to just seven.
The Heat's ability to knock down shots in the third quarter caused the Rockets to play at a slower pace. The improved shooting percentage, along with much more aggressive defense, helped limit Houston to just 12 third quarter points. Whiteside continued to dominate, and the Rockets had absolutely no answer for him all night with Howard sitting out. Gerald Green knocked down a three pointer with 54 seconds left in the quarter to tie the game up before heading into the fourth quarter.
Houston showed grit through the first few possessions of the fourth, scoring the first four points in attempt to stave off an even bigger run from Miami. That wouldn’t happen for long however, as Bosh finally got it going and scored 10 points in the middle of another huge run for the Heat. Miami's head coach, Erik Spoelstra, decided to give Tyler Johnson and Mario Chalmers the bulk of the minutes at guard in the quarter, and it caused serious problems for Houston as the Rockets turned the ball over 5 times.
Justise Winslow, a Miami rookie, continued to play smart and effective basketball, as he scored efficiently and played great individual defense on Harden late in the game. Miami ended up finishing the game on a 29-6 run including 17 unanswered, and after trailing by as many as 21 points, the Heat came back and defeated the Rockets, 109-89.
There was a night and day difference between Miami’s energy and defensive effort in the first and second half. After giving up basket after basket in the first half, Miami held Houston to just 1-15 shooting from deep in the second. Miami also forced 12 second half turnovers from Houston.
"You can't have a stagnant offense and not get stops," Harden said. "That's a sign of disaster, which happened in the second half."
There was an offensive turnaround as well, as Miami made 9-12 from three point range in the second half after not making a single three in the first. Whitside did it all for Miami tonight, leading the way with 25 points, 15 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. Wade also chipped in 20 points and eight assists, many of those to Whiteside.
When asked about the connection, Wade, who is one of the top guards in the Eastern Conference, said, “Communication. Me and Hassan continue to communicate…I’m always looking for him.”
Harden scored 16 points with six rebounds and seven assists for Houston, and continued to struggle with his shot going 0-10 from three-point range.
"We have not played well all preseason. We have not played well in the first three games," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "No one feels sorry for us. We just have got to go out and find our rhythm and keep on playing."
With the win, Miami has improved to 2-1 while Houston fell to 0-3 on the season. Miami will host Atlanta Tuesday, looking to stay unbeaten at home.