Johnson Dazzles in Summer League Debut

Rockets fall to Pistons 89-95 in Orlando Opener
by Jason Friedman Writer/Reporter

Rockets fans received their first look at some of the club’s newest players Saturday afternoon as Houston tipped-off its summer league schedule in Orlando against the Detroit Pistons.

The Rockets began the game brightly as rookie Nick Johnson delivered an alley-oop layup off a pinpoint dish from Chris Kramer. Johnson then returned the favor the next time down the floor, tossing an alley-oop pass of his own to Akil Mitchell.

For the rest of the opening frame, however, the Pistons had their way, wreaking havoc with Houston’s defense with a pick-and-pop attack spearheaded by Peyton Siva and former Rocket Brian Cook. Between Siva’s probing playmaking and Cook’s sharpshooting, Detroit unleashed a 26-4 run to open up an 18-point lead.

That would hardly prove to be the only massive momentum swing of the opening half, however. The Rockets wasted little time mounting a furious rally, as Johnson and Chris Crawford carried the load offensively. The perimeter pair combined to tally 23 points during the first two periods of play, helping Houston to trim its deficit all the way down to a mere three points. But a late push by the Pistons allowed Detroit to rebuild its cushion and take a 51-40 edge to the break.

The third quarter began with yet another Rockets run, this time sparked by 2008 second round selection Maarty Leunen. The former University of Oregon product drilled a pair of triples from the wing as Houston ripped off 11 straight points to open the second half and tie the game.

The pyrotechnics taking place on the scoreboard soon took a backseat, however, when Johnson put on a one-man fireworks show of his own. The high-flyer put his hops on full display midway through the third quarter with a thunderous one-handed hammer dunk thrown down on the head of former Rocket Tim Olbrecht. That sensational slam represented two of his 18 points for the game as the former Arizona Wildcat guard delivered a thoroughly impressive debut performance on both ends of the court.

Detroit ultimately prevailed, however, when Siva scored six straight points during the contest’s final minutes to break open a tie game and help the Pistons hold on for a 95-89 win. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led all scorers with 26 points. Crawford delivered 20 points to pace Houston.

The Rockets next play the Magic on Monday at 4:00 p.m. CT.