I’m going to start talking about this Rockets team by not talking about the Rockets.
Instead, I’m going to start by talking about a team that existed 14 years ago and also won 56 games before making a deep playoff push. Specfically, the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers under Allen Iverson.
There is a school of thought on that specific team which challenges the conventional wisdom that Iverson’s heart and will carried that team. Iverson may have played an important role offensively, but the 76ers made the NBA Finals and won one game against an all-time great team on the strength of their defense and rebounding. Players like Eric Snow, Dikembe Mutombo, and Aaron McKie were good defensive players that were actually able to win games even when Iverson had bad shooting nights.
Well, that may have been true for the 76ers and their one offensive superstar then. It was not true for the Rockets and their one offensive superstar in Game 5. Because while Terry, Brewer, Ariza, and Howard all contributed, James Harden had possibly the worst game I have ever seen from him. And all the defense, Terry three-pointers, and Brewer transition buckets are not going to beat one of the best teams in NBA history when Harden plays this badly.
James Harden’s line last night: 45 points (on 22 attempts!), 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers.
How many players this postseason would you guess had a better line? (Where “better line” is assessed according to Basketball Reference’s Game Score, which measures a player’s production/efficiency taking all box score statistics into account.)
The answer: 0.
It is highly unlikely that any player this postseason will outdo what Harden did last night. Not even LeBron’s 37-18-13 game came close (mainly because LeBron took 37 attempts compared to Harden’s 22).
How many players would you guess had a better postseason line this CENTURY?
The answer: 8.
Here they are:
Dirk (3x, ages 22, 27, and 32)
LeBron (2x, both at age 24)
Kobe (2x, ages 22 and 29)
Allen Iverson (2x, ages 25 and 27)
Shaq (2x, ages 26 and 28)
Paul Pierce (1x, age 24)
Vince Carter (1x, age 24)
Karl Malone (1x, age 36)
Maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe Harden got unusually hot one night — e.g., sinking 80 footers — and he does not actually belong on a list with these [future] hall of famers. Maybe. But his performance over the full season suggests otherwise.
Jalen Rose is fond of saying, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
Well, the Golden State Warriors beat the Houston Rockets four times on their way to winning 67 games this season. And of the 16 teams before them to win 65+ games, only LeBron’s ’09 Cavaliers, Dirk’s ’07 Mavericks and the post-Russell ’73 Celtics failed to win the title that year. Golden State was also 39-2 at home in the regular season. Only the Spurs, Bulls and Grizzlies (in Round 2) have managed to beat the Warriors at home so far this season.
Numbers like that make you wonder if the Rockets ever really stood much of a chance. [read more…]
The Golden State Warriors are a historically good team.
It is more than their 67 regular season wins. It is how they consistently blew out opponents throughout this season and finished with among the highest point margins in NBA history.
I think that there are at best ten teams in the entire history of the NBA that would be favored to beat the Warriors in a series, and realistically more like five. And when you restrict it to teams in this century, it would only be the 2001 Lakers.
The Houston Rockets are not one of the best teams in NBA history. So, after two games where they hung in there, they got destroyed by Golden State’s passing display on the offensive end and their stifling defense on the other end.
Oh, and Stephen Curry is broken.
James Harden makes his bones attacking the paint. Everything in his arsenal is predicated on his ability to get to the basket. All those free throws, that wicked step-back; nothing would be as effective if he wasn’t so good at getting to the rim.
So last night, with precious few seconds left on the clock in a one point game and the ball in his hands after rebounding a Harrison Barnes miss, Harden raced up court for what would surely be a last second play to decide the game.
“There’s no one there, there’s no one there!” I screamed at my TV, fully expecting him to get to get into the paint.
But Harden didn’t attack. He haphazardly went into Steph Curry’s body, then pulled up so that he could play a wall-pass with Dwight. Once he had the ball back, with no real plan of attack, he bobbled the ball off the Splash Brothers’ feet. Game Over. Warriors 2, Rockets 0.
Why didn’t Harden just attack the basket like he does so many times a game, usually with bigger defenders protecting the rim?