Aside from his 37 point, Sengun also had 11 rebounds as Houston won on the road Saturday.
HOUSTON — Houston center Alperen Sengun figured out a way to make his matchup with New Orleans veteran Jonas Valanciunas look more like a mismatch.
Sengun scored a career-high 37 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help the Rockets edge the Pelicans 106-104 on Saturday night.
While Sengun complimented Valanciunas’ strength, he added, “I’m not that strong, but I’m fast, and he’s not fast like me, so we were just attacking him.
“He got in foul trouble and that wasn’t good for them,” Sengun added.
Valanciunas had 10 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 4:06 left while trying to stop one of Sengun’s drives down the lane.
Jabari Smith Jr. added 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Fred VanVleet had 10 points for the Rockets, whose physical defensive play and willingness to get back in transition frustrated the Pelicans throughout. Houston had an 11-0 edge in fast-break points.
It was the second time in three games that Smith — a second-year pro out of Auburn — has scored at least 26 points. He had a career-high 34 in a loss to Atlanta on Wednesday night.
“You can tell he’s very confident getting to his spots using his size and length to rise up over guys,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “It’s only a matter of time that he gets to this level and does it on a consistent basis.”
Zion Williamson scored 28 points for New Orleans on mostly power moves near the basket. Brandon Ingram added 19 points and Trey Murphy 14 for the Pelicans, who turned it over twice in the final two minutes and missed nine free throws in the game — with Williamson missing five.
“We’ve got to stop turning the ball over and we’ve got to make free throws,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It comes down to executing with force, with patience … and getting a quality look every time down the floor.”
New Orleans also missed 23 of 31 3-point attempts in just its second loss in seven games.
No team led by more than seven points the entire game.
The Pelicans led by six early in the fourth quarter. But with a lineup of reserves, Houston went on a 9-0 run against New Orleans’ starters — fueled by Aaron Holiday’s 3, former LSU star Tari Eason’s runner and Jae’Sean Tate’s hook.
“They definitely played more physical than us tonight,” Williamson said. “If the whole team do it, the ref ain’t going to call the foul on everybody. They collectively do it consistently. So, tonight, they were the tougher team.”
The game was tight after that and Sengun scored nine in the final four minutes to help Houston close it out.
It was the young Turk’s third game with at least 30 points in just his second NBA season, and the he expects more to come.
“I’m just like 21. So, I have a lot to go,” Sengun said. “I’m going to give my best every day on the court, fight, help my teammates, you know. If it’s my day, it’s my day.”
The teams played a tight, physical first half which included a brief scuffle after Jose Alvarado tried to steal the ball from Smith.
After Alvarado was whistled for a reach-in, Smith mockingly tried to hand the ball to the Pelicans guard, who shoved him away. Naji Marshall quickly stepped in to aid his Pelicans teammate.
Technical fouls were issued to Alvarado, Smith and Marshall, the result being one technical free throw for Houston, which Holiday made.
Williamson scored 18 of his points in the first half on 7-of-8 shooting, including a rare 3-pointer when Houston left him so open it was as if they were daring him to try it.
Consecutive driving layups by Williamson ignited a 9-2 run to close the second quarter and give New Orleans a 51-47 lead at halftime.