The Houston Rockets, who entered play Sunday night losers of five games in a row (and 10 of their last 11 contests), were able to top the Orlando Magic 114-110 at the Amway Center Sunday night.
Only three active players on each team Sunday were on the roster when these two organizations played earlier in the NBA season.
Christian Wood scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Newly acquired big man Kelly Olynyk added 24 points (9-14 FGA’s) for the Rockets.
Houston enjoyed a 16-11 advantage over the Magic in made three-point field goals, one of the significant differences in Sunday night’s game.
“Obviously, I think the third quarter play (for the second game in a row),” Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford told the media after the game when asked about differences in the game. “We played actually a good solid first half, and then our intensity just dropped - and the other team came out much tougher.”
After failing to convert a field goal Friday against the Raptors, Gary Harris knocked-down his first three field goals (including two early three-point field goals) en route to eight first quarter points.
And after missing Orlando’s last two contests with a hip contusion, Mo Bamba gave the second unit a significant lift early, scoring seven points (in 4 minutes) in the game’s opening period.
Houston was able to stay connected to Orlando early by gaining an advantage on the offensive glass, grabbing five offensive boards in the first quarter - and holding a 20-10 advantage over the Magic in paint scoring.
Olynyk gave the Magic fits early in the contest, scoring 13 points in the first half.
After the Rockets scored the first two field goals of the second quarter, the Magic charged out on a 10-0 run. Wendell Carter Jr. went to work in the paint for Orlando in the second quarter, helping the Magic push their lead to double-digits. Carter Jr. scored on three consecutive Orlando possessions midway through the second period.
One could describe the erratic play from both teams in the first half as disorganized, but also very physical at times. Play was stopped a few times to attend to players that were bleeding, and the referees seemed to be eager to get the contest through with as soon as possible (thus, their whistles were a bit swallowed).
Late heroics in the first half by Kevin Porter Jr., who buried two three-point field goals in the last 31 seconds of the second quarter, narrowed Houston’s deficit to just six points at the break.
Houston carried that momentum into the start of the second half, taking the lead back from the Magic following a 12-0 third quarter run. Orlando’s offense was sloppy to begin the second half, forcing bad shots and committing multiple live ball turnovers which led to easy Houston points.
The Rockets scored 22 of the first 30 points scored in the third quarter. Olynyk, Porter Jr., and Wood combined for 23 of Houston’s 32 points in the period.
“Just a lack of effort, it starts with myself,” Cole Anthony told reporters after the game about the team’s struggles in the third quarter. “Didn’t play hard enough, definitely could’ve given more. Just have to be better as a unit.”
But Orlando made their run late behind strong offensive play from Dwayne Bacon, who scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.
Anthony buried his only three-point field goal of the game to cut Houston’s lead to just two points with 28.0 seconds remaining in the contest.
Olynyk was fouled with 14.4 seconds remaining in the game, and he calmly converted both crucial free throws to keep Houston’s lead at two possessions.
After a quick layup by Anthony, the Magic fouled Avery Bradley, a career 78 percent free throw shooter. Bradley converted both at the line, and Orlando was unable to draw any closer.
Porter Jr., who fouled out of the game midway through the fourth quarter, scored 22 points and dished out 7 assists. Armoni Brooks (5 for 6 on 3PTA’s) scored 16 points in 26 minutes off Houston’s bench.
“This morning, Pat Delaney (Magic assistant coach) did this game plan, and he made a huge deal out of (Armoni) Brooks,” Clifford added after the game when discussing his team’s lack of attention to detail. “He just had another huge game the other night, he’s a great shooter. And frankly (in that third quarter), we played as if we had absolutely no idea who he was. You can’t do that in this league, and it cost us dearly.”
Orlando’s trio of rookies, Chuma Okeke (4 steals), Anthony (9 assists), and R.J. Hampton (6 assists), all set or matched career-highs in Sunday’s contest.
Terrence Ross was a late scratch Sunday night. Clifford said it was just minutes before tipoff when he found out that Ross couldn’t go, and he wasn’t sure how long Ross would be out for. The Magic were also playing without Michael Carter-Williams and James Ennis.
“That’s super frustrating,” Anthony added after the game on losing to a lowly Rockets team that is in last place in the Western Conference. “It’s a game that you know you can win (and should have won), it’s frustrating. But at the end of the day, we have another game to play.”
That next game will come Tuesday night in Atlanta against Trae Young and the division-leading Hawks.