Led by John Lucas and playing for Stephen Silas, Rockets emphasize defense, accountability in win

Three nights after one of their worst losses of the 2022-23 NBA season (a largely uncompetitive loss at San Antonio, last place in the Western Conference), the Houston Rockets responded with arguably their best performance yet in Sunday’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks, widely viewed as a legitimate title contender.

What changed? Sure, there were emotions involved. The Rockets were admittedly playing on behalf of head coach Stephen Silas, who missed Sunday’s game after the death of his father, renowned NBA lifer Paul Silas, earlier that day. Veteran coach John Lucas, normally Houston’s lead assistant, filled in as acting head coach.

But beyond the Silas angle, and prior to Silas temporarily leaving the team, they apparently had a breakthrough at practice.

Lucas elaborated in his postgame remarks:

That’s a good win, for us. We had a really good day of practice, the other day. We talked about accountability, being professional, and starting to grow up. We’ve got to stop hiding behind being young. We’re better than young.

Houston (8-18) has now won four straight home games at Toyota Center and is 5-4 in its last nine games, overall. Milwaukee (19-7) lost for just the second time in its previous nine outings.

Jalen Green did the heavy lifting on offense with a game-high 30 points on strong efficiency, but Lucas was more excited to talk about the second-year guard’s defense, which he called “impeccable” in Sunday’s win. Lucas and Houston’s team leaders were also excited to talk about the defensive contributions of rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr., who helped limit two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to 16 points (tying a season-low) on 7-of-17 shooting (41.2 %).

“That’s a big assignment, especially for a rookie,” said Kevin Porter Jr., who had 18 points (50% FG) and a team-high 7 assists for the Rockets.

“But we trusted Jabari, and he handled it well,” Porter added. “That was a near-perfect game for Jabari.”

Smith, who had a team-high 10 rebounds and 3 steals, let out a primal roar after securing a critical rebound in the closing seconds, which was followed by swishing two free throws to secure the final 97-92 margin. In postgame comments, he elaborated on what it was for.

“When we can come together and show that we’re growing and going in the right direction, it’s always good to let out some emotion,” Smith said. “Cause we’re working. Whether people see it or not, we are.”


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Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire

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