I didn’t expect to win this game when I knew the Thunder would be determined to win after losing 2 in a row. I didn’t expect to win this game upon hearing about the Thomas Robinson trade, an impressive move which nevertheless meant that Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Cole Aldrich, and Toney Douglas, all rotation players on this team, never took the court as they departed to their new homes. I didn’t expect to win this game when Chandler Parsons turned his right ankle past the midway point of the third quarter and had to be helped off the court. And I certainly didn’t expect to win this game when the Thunder had a 109-97 lead with under six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
All of this is because I am but a mere worthless insect, unworthy to behold the sight of James Harden submitting not just the greatest performance by a Rocket this season, but submitting arguably the best game by any player in the league this season, and yes, that includes another King James. A new career high of 46 points on 19 shots, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and while I have always been someone to favor the moneyball belief of “clutch is a statistic”, tonight was an absolutely inspired performance at the end of this game which made me a believer for one night.
On a night when half of our rotation members had been traded away, it was about Harden, Lin, and Parsons throughout the entire game. Without Patterson and Morris, the Rockets entered this game by moving Carlos Delfino to the 4 spot. With 4 wing players on the floor, the Rockets started by launching a barrage of 3 pointers. As an early signal of what his performance would be like tonight, Harden hit 4 out 4 3 pointers and finished the first quarter with 14 points. Houston managed to take a 12 point lead thanks to hitting 8 3’s in the quarter, but the Thunder led by Russell Westbrook narrowed the lead to seven by the end of the quarter.
It was during the second quarter that things began to fall apart. With Delfino in the starting lineup and Morris gone, the ever-shaky Rockets bench simply couldn’t maintain the lead. Houston initially attempted to feed Motiejunas in the post, but he simply lacked the bulk to bang down there and had an awful miss off the side of the backboard, causing McHale to not play him again in the second half. Harden did suffer from foul trouble during the first half as he played with 2 of them for much of the first quarter, and was thus fairly passive on defense, and the 3 point shooting temporarily dried up and the turnovers returned. While Durant was passive and scored only 9 points in the first half, Thabo Sefalosha took advantage of Harden leaving him for the double to score a career high 28 points and the Thunder also got more than their fair share of free throws. The Thunder walked into the locker room with a 62-57 lead.
The third quarter had the Rockets hang around, but with a few minutes left to go, Chandler Parsons turned his ankle as he ran to assist Lin on the fast break. Parsons stumbled onto the floor and was carried off the floor by Terrence Jones and the Rockets trainer. At that point, I was pretty sure it was over, even when Harden hit a 47 foot 3 pointer to end the quarter. With Parsons seemingly out and no one helping Lin and Harden, I believed it wouldn’t be enough.
Instead, the two of them took over at the halfway through the quarter as they just didn’t miss. A Harden iso turned into a made 3, and then Lin would hit one. Then Harden make another jumper, or go to the line, or make a path to Greg Smith, or…it didn’t matter. Harden completely, totally took over, and Lin was right behind him with 29 points of his own. On the defensive end, while Durant did manage to grab a triple double, Chandler Parsons returned midway through the quarter to prevent him from taking over the game. Westbrook tried to do it instead, but failed and instead repeatedly turned it over into the waiting Houston fast break, which meant more 3 pointers and jump shots which didn’t miss. At all. Lin gave the Rockets a 114-111 lead, and while there was a brief scare when Durant missed a potential game tying three pointer with 30 seconds to go, the Rockets hung on for a win which was far more impressive than ever the games against Golden State or Utah. With half of their team missing, the Rockets hung on for an absolutely jaw dropping, stupendous victory. That is all there really is to say.
- A quick note on the Robinson deal, though I’m certain Rahat’s thoughts will be more eloquent than mine. While Thomas Robinson has hardly been impressive in his brief tenure as a King, I don’t expect this to be another Terrence Williams situation at all. While this will hurt the spreading out situation for Houston, I think what we’re fundmentally looking for our power forwards are those who can defend and rebound, something Robinson can do. Combined with his much greater potential compared to Patterson and Morris and I definitely think this is a great deal. I do feel sorry for Patterson, though hopefully he’ll spend more time with the Chuckwagon and not Cousins while he’s with the Kings.