Houston Rockets: A Champion Contender

Houston Rockets: A Champion Contender

This series between the Warrior and Rockets has been one of the most anticipated series since last year’s Western Conference Finals when the Warriors advanced to the next level, leaving the Rockets disappointed and their fan base jaded. As a Rockets fan, you hear the same trash talk from Warriors fans over and over.

“Harden chokes in the playoffs”

“27 missed 3’s”

“Why doesn’t Chris Paul have a ring?”

The next few games are the Rockets chance to stop all the chatter. An advancement over the Warriors would feel like a championship itself. It’s hard to believe there are still two more series after this though. As a real contender to move forward, it’s interesting to look back at the beginning of the season to see how far Houston has come.

You can imagine the disappointment that Rockets fans all felt when the regular season started with a five-game losing streak after flying so close to the sun in the WCF. Carmelo Anthony came and went, doing nothing positive for the team’s stats or morale. Then, injuries to Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and Clint Capela further derailed them. Thankfully, James Harden placed the team on his back and carried them to the All-Star Break with 32 games straight of 30 points or more. He just kept putting up ridiculous stats, night after night.

During this time, the Rockets received major help in the form of Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried, and Iman Shumpert. The team came back from the All-Star Break, fully healthy and with a new depth that had been missing on the bench.

Coming back with one of the best offensive ratings after the break, the Rockets battled for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th seed which was a close race between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers. After losing their last regular season game to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Rockets fell to the 4th seed. This actually worked out well for Houston though as they were matched with the 5th seed, Utah Jazz, and the Rockets took the first series in a gentleman’s sweep. They had an extra day of rest while they waited for the Warriors to close out their series with the LA Clippers.

The Series So Far

Game 1 was a controversial game, to say the least. The officiating was discussed all over social media by NBA players and fans alike. In such a close game, Rockets fans felt robbed by the missed calls that the officials admitted to missing. But the series went on. Game 2 left a lot to be desired by the Rockets on both sides of the court. There were little to no rebound efforts, missed shots, and the enigma that is Kevin Durant. He was an unstoppable force. Draymond Green scratched Harden’s eye early in the game, removing him from most of the first half. The Rockets lost both games at the Oracle.

Photo: Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

Game 3 in Houston was different. The Rockets minimized the Warriors ability to make shots from the perimeter. PJ Tucker proved to be the most valuable defensive player Houston has, flying in to get rebounds and guarding the one and only Durant. The game turned physical with the Rockets playing with more grit and muscle. This, paired with Harden’s 41 point game and Eric Gordon’s 30 points won the game for the Rockets. Steph Curry also had a particularly cold night and a missed layup in overtime that was shared across social media relentlessly.

Game 4 came down to the wire after the Warriors had a chance to tie the game in the last 11 seconds of the game but both Durant and Curry missed their uncontested shots. The Rockets carried the lead for the majority of the game. Any reports that Harden was “struggling” in this year’s playoffs were no longer applicable as he scored 79 points in Game 3 and 4 combined. Curry struggled again in this game only scoring 4 for 14 shots from deep, making him 12 for 46 in the series. The Rockets won both of their home games, tying the series.

2-2 Tied Series: 3 Takeaways

  1. James Harden and Kevin Durant are Gods. These two players are battling it out on the floor with stats. Such a curious thing, the way narratives work though. Kevin Durant is said to be dominating the playoffs while James Harden is accused of struggling. Harden is averaging 35.8 ppg, 5 assists, 1.3 steals, .5 blocks and 3.8 TOs. Durant is averaging 36 ppg, 4.5 assists, .7 steals, 1 blocks and 3 TOs. Both of these players are their team’s heart and soul and without either of them in the game, this series would be completely different. The following games will surely be determined by these two titans of basketball and their ability to score.
  2. PJ Tucker is the team bulldog. There is no one on the court that plays with more grit and determination than PJ Tucker. The Rockets have some good defensive players off the bench, mainly in Austin Rivers, but no one can compare to Tuck. Tucker wrote an article about why he thinks James Harden should be the MVP again this year, calling him the Mad Scientist and referring to himself as Harden’s Assistant. What better way to describe Tucker’s role on the floor? He guards those necessary to make room for Harden to take his shots. He harasses Kevin Durant better than anyone on the team, is able to make clutch threes on the wing and plays with insurmountable energy. Truly the X-Factor.
  3. Small Ball is the name of the game. Coach D’Antoni has been playing around with rotations and lineups and just might have found one that works well. A four-guard lineup of Harden, Paul, Gordon, Rivers, and Tucker playing center. It’s a bold move with 7 foot Durant on the floor, but the Rockets have found a way to make this lineup work. With Rivers and Tucker leading the way defensively and Harden, Paul and Gordon doing what they do best, offensively.

If anyone is going to dethrone the Warriors this season, it’s going to be the Rockets. These teams are such a close match up with each other in skill levels that no matter what the score, you can bet it’s going to be close. The 4 games played in the series have been determined by 6 points or less.

The Rockets have all the right players on the floor to take control of the series and advance. If they can defeat the reigning NBA Champions, they will have a real chance at getting a ring of their own. Game 5 is tonight, back at the Oracle, at 9:30 pm Central tonight on TNT.

Featured Photo Credit: Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

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