Streaking Pacers to test Rockets’ improving defense

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The Rockets had talked up their defensive improvement for more than a week prior to Wednesday but, considering the quality of their previous opponents, that chatter rang hollow.

Following their gritty 102-93 win against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Rockets collectively had reason to puff their chests.

The Clippers were by far the toughest foe during the Rockets’ recent stretch of defensive advancement. After earning their first win against a team with a winning record, Houston will try to maintain that level of defensive focus when the Indiana Pacers visit Toyota Center on Friday.

“Our communication, our rotations,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “Obviously they made some big shots. Kawhi (Leonard) made some tough mid-range shots, JaMychal Green made some corner threes, but they’re a good team, so you’ve got to live with something.

“We knew how great their bench is … that was a big emphasis right there. Overall, we did an unbelievable job as a team.”

Smothering the likes of the Grizzlies, Bulls and Pelicans doesn’t quite earn the same recognition as making things difficult for Leonard and Clippers reserve guard Lou Williams. That duo combined for 46 points on 18-of-46 shooting. The Clippers shot just 38.8 percent overall, marking the third time in four games that Houston held an opponent to sub-40 percent shooting from the floor.

When P.J. Tucker wasn’t locked on Leonard, the Rockets sent multiple defenders his direction. They employed a similar tactic against Williams, who started the second half after Houston limited the Clippers to 37 points at the break — their best defensive effort for any half this season.

After stating a need for more vigorous defensive play following their ragged start to this season, the Rockets are executing that mandate.

“We just played hard,” Tucker said. “We were getting into the ball, we were making them make tough twos, trying to get them off the line and make their threes really, really tough. We boxed out pretty well. We just played hard. At the end of the day, that’s what won it.”

Like Houston, the Pacers required an extended stretch of games for things to materialize, with their quality depth coming to the forefront during their current four-game winning streak.

Four different players have scored in double figures off the bench during the streak: Doug McDermott, T.J. McConnell, Justin Holiday and rookie Goga Bitadze. Contributions from up and down the roster have helped to offset ankle injuries to Myles Turner and Jeremy Lamb, who both missed Tuesday’s 111-85 home win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Everyone has done a great job of sharing the ball,” McConnell said. “It gives us more confidence as a team to know that we’ll share the ball, and everyone is looking to score and can score.

“I think (coach) Nate (McMillan) is doing a great job with the subs. We don’t have any guys with egos here that are complaining about minutes and how they’re being used. That’s great for our locker room and the way we want to do things here. It speaks volumes about the people we have here.”

–Field Level Media

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