Eric Gordon faced a seemingly impossible task Monday. The Utah Jazz were 20-3 in their past 23 games entering the day. They had won their previous nine home games and were 18-3 at home overall. The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, had lost six of their past nine games. James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Clint Capela all sat out on Monday, forcing the Rockets to start a four-wing lineup that included no players taller than 6-7 and P.J. Tucker at center. And yet, when the final buzzer sounded, it was the Rockets that came out on top, 126-117, and they have Gordon to thank for it.
The 12th-year veteran scored a career-high 50 points on Monday, shooting 14 of 22 from the field while hitting 16 of his 20 free-throw attempts. He also contributed six steals, three assists, two rebounds and a block in what was, on paper, the biggest upset of the season to date.
Harden, Westbrook and Capela combine to average more than 76 points per game. The Rockets, as a team, average only 118.5 per game, so that trio represents nearly two-thirds of Houston’s scoring. Their bench, on the other hand, averages only 26.9 points per game. That is the second-worst mark in the NBA.
Gordon’s struggles have been a big part of that problem. He is shooting only 36.4 percent from the field this season, and given his age and injury history, the notion that he was simply declining and would no longer be effective was at least plausible.
What he does from here obviously remains to be seen, but the Rockets desperately need Gordon to play like this more often. He is the only realistic third option on their roster behind Westbrook and Harden, and as they are tied for fifth place in the Western Conference, some form of improvement is going to be necessary if the Rockets plan to compete for a championship this season. Gordon won’t score 50 every night, but hopefully this game serves as a launching pad into his typical level of production.