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On Lin, McHale, and a ’95 memory

Whether we win or lose Game 6 now is irrelevant.  They made us proud.  They made it a competitive series.  That’s the only thing that we could have asked for.

  • While the odds are still against them, the Rockets actually have a chance to make history.  You could sense from the opening tip last night that the dynamics of this series have completely shifted, even two games removed from the Westbrook injury.  I had expected the Thunder to come out, step on the Rockets’ throats, and put them away early.  Instead, they came out flat.  That ‘fear’ that Houston had in Game 1 is now completely gone.  Whether it’s the absence of Westbrook, the confidence from the Game 4 victory, or something else, the Rockets no longer are in awe or fear of the Thunder.  The Rockets feel they can beat this team.
  • It’s amazing how much one player can mean to a team.  Aside from Durant, the Thunder just don’t have that aura about them anymore, now that Westbrook is gone; they no longer have that swagger.  They’re now just any other team, aside from having the 2nd greatest player in the world.  They were tentative all game long, looking as confused as Houston did in Game 1.
  • Before the Westbrook injury, one point made by many was that in the Finals, for the Thunder to have a chance, Ibaka would have to be the key.  I think it was Barkley who said “Ibaka has to be the best big man on the floor; he has to outplay Chris Bosh.”  We’re now seeing that the Thunder wouldn’t have had a chance.  Ibaka has had some emphatic blocks, but overall, has pretty much been a non-factor in this series.  He should be torturing the Rockets down low, or at least on the glass, but he hasn’t done that.
  • Why is such a big deal made that Westbrook is out, with no mention made of Lin?  Yes, obviously, Westbrook is on a whole different stratosphere from Lin.  But absolute value isn’t the point.  It’s relative value–what the players mean to each team–that matters.  And while Lin isn’t as big a second option for us as Russ was for the Thunder, he was still a very big part of our team.  Yet we’re playing without him and have managed to plug the hole with other guys.  Why isn’t that a story?  For example: let’s say someone steals $500,000 from a man with $1,000,000.  That’s a huge loss of money.  But if a man with $50,000 is robbed of $25,000, just because the absolute amount he’s lost is less doesn’t mean he hasn’t been injured just as much.  In fact, he’s been injured even more than the millionaire because he had less overall to fall back on!  That’s the case with the Rockets.  The basic point here is this: Lin is nowhere near as good as Westbrook.  But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a big loss.  He was a big part of this team.  This should in some way be a story.
  • I got killed on Twitter by Lin devotees for suggesting that even if he’s healthy, the Rockets should not play Lin in Game 6.  I just don’t see how they can afford to tinker with the chemistry they’ve built off of these wins.  Sure, Lin can bring some things.  He’ll push the tempo and attack the rim.  But who do you sit?  I don’t want to sit Garcia for even a minute more than needed.  And Aaron Brooks, at this point, with his soft shooting touch, and complete ownage of Derek Fisher, is just a bigger offensive threat than Lin.  If we somehow live to get to the second round, we can re-evaluate.  But right now, we have to stay with what’s working.
  • It’s so interesting how the game is made of matchups and certain advantages can totally shift the balance of power in a team’s favor.  And every once in a while, you’ll get a matchup between subs that is such a complete and utter mismatch that you can’t help but sit back in awe.  That’s the case with Brooks-Fisher where the former can, essentially, get past the latter at will.  It’s been a pleasure to watch, just as simple retribution for Fisher’s many sins.
  • It’s bizarre to think that Aaron Brooks is actually back and 2) that he was the initial domino in this revolving door of fringe All-Star point guards: Brooks exploded in the ’09 playoffs, won the MIP, then got hurt, then Lowry exploded in his absence, then the team traded Brooks for Dragic, then Lowry got hurt, then Dragic exploded while Lin also exploded in New York, then the team let both Lowry and Dragic go and brought back Lin.  And now Aaron Brooks is the last man standing.  It had to be this way.
  • Watching Durant carry the scoring load while also bringing the ball up on his own while his teammates stand around incompetently is eerily reminiscent of the McGrady era.
  • Those of you who wondered how Kevin Martin would fare if we ever made the playoffs, once the whistles stopped blowing, have your answer.
  • A story: I just logged onto NBA.com to take another look at the box score before writing this and the video loaded with the audio that “the Rockets stave off elimination.”  Of course I already knew that, but it kind of brought back a memory from ’95 when I was just 9 years old.  I, of course, being just 9, had to be in bed by 10:30 at the latest.  This meant that I could only watch the first half of west coast games.  So anyways, I believe it was Game 5 with the Rockets trailing the series 3-1 against Phoenix when, after watching the first half, I had to retire to bed not knowing if the season would be over.  When I woke up, I again had no way of knowing what had happened.  There was no internet to just log onto for a recap.  But back in those days–or maybe still now–they would have a sports update at the 20th minute of every hour on 740AM.  So before my dad left for work, I asked him to listen and then call me.  I got ready for school, waiting for the call.  He then called during breakfast and told me the Rockets had won in overtime.  I think he also told me the leading scorers as well.  I couldn’t believe they had pulled it off.  It’s amazing how much things have changed.  This is probably one of my favorite memories as a Rockets fan.
  • Finally, on Kevin McHale, to whom the game ball goes: he’s basically pushed all the right buttons in this series, filling the lineup card perfectly and flustering the Thunder offense with the correct defensive adjustments.  It’s been his call to put Garcia on Durant, and his call to trap Durant and pack the paint.  One of the best parts of these wins has been the look of pride in McHale’s eyes in the postgame pressers in talking about his players.  There was a great sound byte late in the 4th last night, during a timeout where McHale was motivating his troops: “come on boys, you can do this!”  It was great for so many reasons.  But you got the sense of a father watching his child learning to walk, encouraging him when he stumbles, and beaming when he finally takes that step.  Afterwards, McHale summed it up perfectly: “I just wanted these kids to experience this.”  And that’s what this season has been all about.  Win or lose in Game 6, the Rockets accomplished their goals.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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