It was starting to seem like one of those nights for the Rockets that have become all too familiar this season.
The Rockets were playing hard on the road against Oklahoma City on Dec. 1, but with their top two players, Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr., sidelined with injuries they just couldn’t overcome the Thunder. That’s when second-year swingman Jae’Sean Tate somehow found another gear, hitting big shot after big shot on drives and pull-up jumpers at the elbow.
By the time it was all over, the Rockets had not only extended their winning streak to four games but recorded their first road win of the season. Much of the credit belonged to Tate, who finished with a career night with a career-high best 32 points to go along with 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots.
It was a coming out of sorts for a player who is accustomed to having a lot of solid nights.
“It definitely feels good to have a career night and finish it off with a pretty hard road win, our first road win,” Tate said afterward. “This is something we have to continue to build on.”
And that is what the Rockets and Tate certainly have been doing. They extended their winning streak to an NBA-best six games going into Wednesday night’s game against Brooklyn. The winning streak came on the heels of a frustrating 15-game losing streak that seemed to have the Rockets designed to win the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery.
While Eric Gordon, Wood and Porter have continued to play well, the current streak seems to coincide with the normally defensive-oriented Tate opening up more offensively. He has scored in double figures in five of the six wins and has averaged 16.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists during the run.
Teams have certainly underestimated Tate’s offensive ability but that will likely change soon.
“That’s not my primary role and I think everybody knows that,” said Tate, who is averaging 12.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists this season. “But I am very confident in what I bring to the table offensively, not only scoring-wise, but just seeing the floor and being able to make decisions in space. That kind of helps me when they overlook the scouting report. I’m all for it.”
Tate’s NBA success has been something of a long time coming. He went undrafted after starring for Ohio State from 2014-2018, forcing him to go the long route to the NBA. Tate spent the 2018-19 season in Belgium playing for the Antwerp Giants and then moved up next season to the Australian Basketball Association’s Sydney Kings where he played for current Rockets assistant Will Weaver.
Tate signed with the Rockets last year, almost instantly becoming a reliable player on both ends of the floor in the season of major turnover. Tate became something of a novelty as a 25-year-old member of the NBA’s All-Rookie Frist Team.
During his first season with the Rockets, he and then first-year coach Stephen Silas developed a bond as the young coach saw how hard Tate was willing to work for what he wanted.
Silas was especially proud to see Tate have the breakout game against the Thunder.
“Long long ago in his rookie year last year…We definitely have a bond and with those two guys out, we needed some scoring…He was like the guy who was playing the hardest from start to finish,” Silas said. “I trust him as much as anybody else. He has earned that trust and he deserves it.”