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Harden vs Giannis: Small Ball Rockets Stay Undefeated in the Bubble

Last night, one of the NBAs long-standing rivalries in James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo continued as the Rockets and Bucks faced off again. From in-game tiffs to competitive MVP races, Harden and Giannis have constantly clashed heads in proving who is more dominant. 

Since returning to the bubble, Giannis and Harden have also been two of the hottest players in the league. Coming off an OT victory against the Mavericks, Harden was able to win his debut in the bubble with 49 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. 

Similarly, Giannis was able to crush the Celtics in his first game back with 36 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and both a steal and a block. Despite the Bucks missing Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton for both the Celtics and Rockets games, Giannis and Middleton have kept them alive through consistent rebounding and scoring.

One of the most noticeable differences between the Rockets and Bucks in their matchup is their large disparities in size. While the Rockets have committed to a “small ball” approach for 2020, the Bucks remain one of the largest rosters in the league. Consequently, this is what led 6’7’’ Robert Covington to guard 7’ Brook Lopez at Center.

Although this height advantage allowed the Bucks to total up 29 more rebounds than the Rockets, the Rockets were able to make up for this on defense. Through generating 22 total turnovers for the Bucks — with Harden grabbing 6 steals for himself — the Rockets were able to keep themselves in the game. 

A major decider for this game was the difference in 3-point scoring for the Rockets and Bucks. While Harden had a rough night shooting (3/12 from 3), other Rockets players were able to hit their shots from far while the Bucks could not. Shooting just under 26% from 3 as a team with only 9 3PM, the Bucks could not keep up with the Rockets’ 34.4 3P% and 21 3PM. Although the Bucks still shot a better overall FG%, the Rockets were able to edge them out 120-116.

Although the Bucks were missing one of their best shooters in Bledsoe, this loss shows how detrimental a lack of shooting can be for them. Despite scoring a better overall percentage from the field against an undersized team, they still came up short. For the Rockets, this win is a good sign for them because it shows they can still win games even if they are heavily out-rebounded. Through refining their defense and 3-point scoring, the Rockets have continued to edge out close games against two of the best teams in the League.

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