After a career-high 50-point night against the Utah Jazz last Monday, Eric Gordon seems to be turning a corner on the season.
His numbers up to this point, as a whole, have been some of the worst of his career. Some of it is health, some of it can be traced to a new role after the departure of Chris Paul and addition of Russell Westbrook. Regardless, he’s been shooting a career-low 38.4 percent from the field and has averaged his smallest number ever for assists, too. He’s right around his average the last few years of 16 points per night, albeit not as efficient as he’s been in the past.
However, he’s recently been getting back to form. In the last 10 games, he’s poured in 22.1 points per game on 43.8 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from three. Over his last five, he’s at 25.2 points a night, although that number is slightly skewed from the aforementioned 50-point effort.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni wasn’t surprised about Gordon’s recent uptick in play and he attributes a lot of it to his improving health.
“He’s pain-free for the first time in a year and a half,” said D’Antoni, “There will be ups and downs like always. Eric‘s going to be good, so as long as he’s not hurting he’s going to be good.”
And good Gordon was.
With a depleted Houston roster missing James Harden, Clint Capela and Westbrook, Gordon preceded to drop a 50-burger on a surging Utah side. He was attacking Rudy Gobert at the rim, draining deep threes in Donovan Mitchell’s face and looking as locked in as he’s ever been. The crazy part about this high-scoring effort? He hasn’t dropped more than 40 points in a game since his rookie year, which was 11 years ago.
Austin Rivers had plenty to say regarding Gordon’s special night, too.
“You just marvel at it, he’s like a bowling ball when he drives to the basket, dudes just bounce off him. He’s so low to the ground.” Rivers continued, “He’s so strong, Eric is built like a fullback – you know his body. Seriously, I always tell people, he picked the right sport – obviously, it’s worked out well for him – but I think he could’ve played in the NFL too because he’s just so strong.”
Watching Gordon continually take it to Gobert, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, was supremely impressive — even to his teammates.
“There was times where Gobert was trying to, I mean, they just bounce off of him.” Rivers said. “His range is ridiculous. Eric’s a guy that if he played on a lot of other teams, he has All-Star capability.
“And he sacrifices a lot for this team so tonight you saw full effect how good he is.”
If the Rockets want to achieve their goal of an NBA championship — one that has been so elusive to them the past few years — they’ll need Gordon to be the best version of himself. The fact that his body is back to 100 percent is crucial, undeniable. A three-headed dragon of Harden, Westbrook and Gordon in the playoffs could be killer to whichever franchise unfortunately comes across it.
“Tonight was just a special night for me. It means a lot that we won. I just want our team to build off of this, but it is special for me for sure.”
Without question, that effort against Utah was incredible. He was 14-for-22 from the field and added 16 points from the charity stripe. But his attitude post-game was heavily team-focused. “Yeah I had it going, but other guys played well. It was like a team effort. The most meaningful thing is that we won.”
When asked if the Rockets had a nothing to lose mentality going into the game – what with Westbrook, Harden and Capela out and all – Gordon meditated on a team-centered focus once again.
“No question. The other team, they probably let down a little bit, but we just kept on playing, you know, we played hard. We just didn’t beat ourselves. We made mistakes a little bit, but we really didn’t beat ourselves. We made plays throughout the whole game.”
The Rockets got ahead early and never relinquished a lead in the second half and Gordon’s consistent play on offense was a large part of that. He was asked about his health, to which he said, “I feel like I’m getting back to being myself. I told everybody when you have surgery during the season, it’s always going to be a process. Now it’s just all about us collectively together, playing for one another — because we can do this thing, we just got to turn this thing around and win a lot of games.”
While Gordon is right, there’s little speculation that the Rockets have much to worry about. There haven’t been many moments this season where all three of Gordon, Westbrook and Harden have clicked together and, yet, they are still fifth in the West, and just three games out of the No. 2 seed. If the Rockets can clinch home-court in the first round, that might be enough for them to eventually punch a ticket to the Western Conference Finals.
“How we played tonight is how we need to play. We got after it defensively, we just went out there and played,” Gordon told Basketball Insiders. “We just played our game. Everybody contributed and that’s what made things a lot easier.”
Eric Gordon is a major key to the Rockets’ success — but he’s absolutely right in saying that a collective effort from the team definitely eases the burden. The less Houston has to rely on heroics from one James Harden, the better off they’ll be.
Almost at the All-Star break, the Rockets are surely trending upwards. Westbrook is finally playing solid basketball, Gordon is back to full health and Harden is still a complete MVP-worthy package.
There’s little reason to believe that Houston has anywhere else to go but up — but how high? That’s still anybody’s best guess.
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