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There is nothing

Houston’s season is over and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. There are hundreds of reasons why the Trail Blazers are heading to San Antonio to face the Spurs instead of the Rockets. An endless litany of moments and decisions led up to the final shot of the series, a moment that will define the rising star of Damian Lillard, a shot that tucks into the encyclopedia of Houston Sports Trauma right next to John Stockton. There are years left in this team’s core, years for the Rockets to improve and fight and perhaps win. There’s a future in Houston, but that’s tomorrow, next month, next year. Today, there is only the loss: loss of a game, a series, and a season. Today, there is nothing.

Sports are built on narrative and emotion. No matter how many analytics experts and synergy models and efficiency upgrades we build, the narrative lies waiting, whispering into the ears of fans, players and managers alike. The narrative demands that we learn something from failures, that victory only comes from years of work and struggle, that the good guys win and the bad guys lose. Emotion swirls around the narrative and adds meaning, necessity and justice to the mix. It’s necessary for the world to make sense, for the story to have a moral, for the heroes to get angry. The real moral of the story is that this isn’t a story. This is basketball, and now the season is over.

What’s the lesson to be learned? It’s nothing we didn’t already know. The Rockets have a poorly schemed and enacted defense. The Rockets stagnate on offense at times, especially in crunch time. The Rockets don’t run enough pick and rolls, their most effective play, instead going to mediocre isolations and post-ups. Losing to Portland in six games didn’t teach any valuable lessons, it just reinforced the issues that were already there. Trying to change plans, to learn new tricks, to add weapons all comes later, once every team is done with the NBA for a few months. There’s no opportunity for that now, with the arc of Lillard’s shot still burned into the heads of a city. Today, there is nothing.

Many hoped for a coaching change after this defeat, something to signify forward momentum, something to imply that the deck is being shuffled and next time the hand might be played better. Kevin McHale isn’t the best head coach in the league, and probably isn’t better than all the ex-coaches floating around in the analyst chairs and op-ed pages of the world. None of that matters, though, if none of those better coaches want to come to Houston, or if the players demand that McHale remain, or if the management believes in Kevin. It was probably some mix of those factors which led the Rockets to announce that they would be retaining McHale as head coach, running with this setup for at least another year. That’s not the worst choice, but it’s probably not the best. Most importantly, it’s not the progress, the change, the action that people expected from a team that just lost in the first round. Standing pat isn’t something; it’s nothing.

We don’t know, yet, how much of those six games came on the back of implosion from Houston or explosion from Portland. The Blazers went nova repeatedly, but until the face the Spurs, there’s no way to know if they were simply given the chance by an underperforming team. The Rockets collapsed late, over and over, lending credence to the idea that the Houston simply has to execute better, to mature. If this is the best case, then the best case scenario is simply to wait for a year, to do nothing today. The worst case is that the team is fundamentally flawed, that the core is unsalvageable, that James Harden is doomed to poor performances in the playoffs. Even if that’s true, even if Daryl Morey is regretting his decisions (which it isn’t and he isn’t), there’s nothing to be done. You don’t trade superstars, much less superstars that want to be there. They’re too valuable, their ceiling too high. You can’t blow it up. All you can do is wait for free agency to tweak the role players. Today, there’s nothing to be done.

The most terrifying reality for Houston, when the smoke has cleared, is that there’s no fire. When even a look at the context, at the basketball equations comes up blank, perspective only pulls the rug out the rest of the way. Narrative and emotion demand that someone be responsible for an injustice, that bad guys be fought and justice upheld. Reality demands instead that people go to work, care for their loved ones and push the Rockets out of their thinking. There was no injustice, no meaningful battle. There was a ball, ten men and two hoops. When Lillard threw that ball at that hoop, it felt like fate. It felt like a conspiracy of luck and cruelty. It felt like the end of a chapter in one saga and the beginning of another. In reality, it was a man throwing a ball. That time, the ball happened to go in, and now there is nothing.

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Total comments: 14
  • rockets best fan says 5 months ago

    @Buckko

    no doubt Beverly not being at full strength was a factor in Lillard's play in the series, however Portland also made adjustments to aid the process as well. allowing others to bring the ball up courtneutralizedsome of the effect of Beverly's defense on Lillard. they would run Lillard through several picks before receiving the ball and then run a pick after he received it. so it was notjust Beverly's illness.......it was also Portland's adjustments

  • Buckko says 5 months ago IMO lilard played far better than normal due to Beverley battling a bad fever.
  • rockets best fan says 5 months ago

    @goRockets

    WELCOME TO THE FORUM :)

    I disagree that most of the blame should go to Harden. true Harden wasn't shooting well, however his coach should have seen this and inserted a couple of plays to get him better looks at the basket. to illustrate my point I want to throw this example out there. Portland knew Beverly would ware Lillard down over the course of a game. so to offset that they made an adjustment. they had other people bring the ball up the court whenever Beverly was in the game. this kept Lillard fresh. their coach perceived aproblem and over came it through adjustments. part of a coaches job is putting his players in position to win. McFail didn't do that. I'm not saying Harden should be without blame.no doubt he stunk. however it'sMcFail who controls the framework that these players play within. McFail is the one who decides what defensive rotation will take place on any given play. he decides what plays we run out of timeouts, what plays we run in the half court game plan and when we run it. a coach must know how to make adjustment within his own framework. McFail is clueless. we lost this series because it took us two games to adjust to what Portland was throwing at us. Portland came out swinging and we never got off the ropes. there's plenty of blame to throw around, however the lion's share belongs to McFail

  • PKM says 5 months ago

    Don't think McHale had anything to do with bringing D12 to Houston. I'm of the mindset that he was convinced by the presence of Harden and Parsons and a bit of Morey.

    Given that Howard has explicitly stated otherwise, you are wrong.

    As for McHale, Rahat observed often back when Houston was looking for a superstar that "Tim Duncan is not walking through that door." Similarily, I'd observe that "Gregg Popovich is not walking through that door." It is easy to declare that coach X will do better than McHale, and no one thinks McHale is a great coach, but it is possible to wait and see. Perhaps it is comparable to Kubiak ( I would not know, I am extremely casual when it comes to football), but I do not think that there should be a rush to panic. Heck, if Houston decided to bring in a new coach, there's no reason they need to do it right now.

  • goRockets says 5 months ago

    As poorly a coaching job McHale did in the playoffs, you cannot blame James Harden's 29% shooting in the first 2 game on the coach entire. I'm sure he and everyone else on the team did not anticipate that happening, which put them in a 0-2 hole right away that was hard to climb out of, however hard the team tried to come back from that.

    Yes it's sad and disappointing that Rockets exited in the 1st round. But what did you expect when their best player really only played well in one game (Gm 6). The first 5 games of the series, I think Harden shot below 40% in all of them (if not at least 4 of them). If he is this team's alpha dog and the team goes as far as he takes them, then I would say it's not shocking that they got booted in the first round. However you look at this series, even with the variety of mistakes Rockets made (by multiple players), overall Harden's struggles sit at the top, and blame has to go to him mostly. Yes Kevin McHale was out coached too, but the basketball was in Harden's hands the most, McHale didn't take one shot.

    I truly hope that Harden takes more pride in playing some defense, and feels embarrassed that people joke about his bad defense all the time now. I don't care how good he is offensively, if he plays no defense at all, this team still won't go far. And please, no one ever listens to Harden calling out defensive assignments anymore, it's a joke that he of all people was the one telling Parsons and Beverley to switch on Lillard on that last play of game 6.

  • feelingsupersonic says 5 months ago

    The SA-POR outcome doesn't necessarily say anything. Some of these are matchup situations who's in a groove and who isn't. You all wouldn't believe that San Antonio didn't play defense for 6 games in that series but finally showed up in game 7, the Spurs might have just flipped their switch. Also, you cannot compete with the experience that Pop and his core have, over a decade together which is crazy.

    Thanks for giving us your perspective Forrest. I enjoyed your piece though I have a different view, I see a lot when I look at the Rockets and their organization from top to bottom.

  • Buckko says 5 months ago

    Well that means San Antonio will annihilate Portland considering they have far more good players and a better team.

  • payplay2 says 5 months ago

    Jack Ramsey, former Portland Coach, was quoted during the telecast of Game 6 and it perfectly summed things up. Paraphrasing: "a team with lesser players that plays as a team will beat a team with better players that plays as individuals."

  • timetodienow1234567 says 5 months ago If Portland gets swept or loses in 5 we are pretty far away.
  • Charles B says 5 months ago

    Don't want to comment too soon. Lets see how far POR will goes against SA. This will give us an idea how good or bad HOU is.

  • thejohnnygold says 5 months ago

    He said as much in his exit interview. Most coaches were guards. He said that it's nice having a coach who sees and understands things from his perspective.

  • Steven says 5 months ago

    Don't think McHale had anything to do with bringing D12 to Houston. I'm of the mindset that he was convinced by the presence of Harden and Parsons and a bit of Morey.

    Idk. Learning from someone who people consider to have the greatest post moves ever, might have been a plus. McHale's game is closer to Howard's then Hakeem, for D12 will never have Dream's feet.
  • bladad says 5 months ago

    i don't think hanging onto the guy (mchale) who brought dwight howard to houston in the first place is necessarily a bad thing, nor does it imply that the rockets will be "standing pat." clearly, there will be another offseason of roster shaking-up, and there is a kelvin sampson-sized hole in the coaching staff that needs filling. let's just see what the next few months bring before assuming how the 2015 playoffs are going to pan out.

    Don't think McHale had anything to do with bringing D12 to Houston. I'm of the mindset that he was convinced by the presence of Harden and Parsons and a bit of Morey.

  • grawlsy says 5 months ago

    i don't think hanging onto the guy (mchale) who brought dwight howard to houston in the first place is necessarily a bad thing, nor does it imply that the rockets will be "standing pat." clearly, there will be another offseason of roster shaking-up, and there is a kelvin sampson-sized hole in the coaching staff that needs filling. let's just see what the next few months bring before assuming how the 2015 playoffs are going to pan out.

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