The Houston Rockets made the right adjustments and played the right game. The good news is that it all worked, forcing one of the most exciting games of the young playoff season. The bad news is that even this wasn’t enough to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder at home, who pulled out a critical win to go up 2-0 on the Houston Rockets.
Despite the fact that this was one of the most heartbreaking losses of the year for this new Rockets team, this was also reason for hope and excitement. Game one was a story of a dominant team winning a game they were expected to. Game two was a scrappy underdog showing why they might be a real threat in the future. Even though the Rockets couldn’t quite hold off the Thunder as the game closed, they put themselves in the position to be heartbroken at all.
The biggest stories of the game all revolve around Patrick Beverley, a point guard who looks increasingly important for the Houston Rockets. Power forward Greg Smith was pushed out of the starting lineup to accommodate Beverley, who was one of the only bright marks in the previous game. Beverley then replaced Lin, who left the game with a chest contusion in the first half.
Beverley ended the game with 16 points, 6 assists and 12 rebounds, more than any Thunder player and second only to Omer Asik’s 14. He not only did everything on the boards, but also did an amazing defensive job against Russell Westbrook, one of the most deadly point guards on the planet. He also got under Westbrook’s skin on a couple of plays, including one in which Russ took a hit to the knee.
James Harden finally had the kind of game the world had been waiting for, racking up 36 points on 25 shots and a whopping 20 free throws. His 11 rebounds and 6 assists rivaled Beverley, and he looked as aggressive as Houston needed him to be. His 6 turnovers are an ongoing cause for concern, but the Rockets were able to push the Thunder to the brink with 16 turnovers, which is a positive sign.
Parsons also had a good game, guarding both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at times, and playing like his rookie self. His tools are there on defense: length, height, size and effort. As the series progresses, Durant may come to hate him, especially since he kept Durant to under 50% yet again. He may have had 17 points on 23 shots, but he won’t always miss 7 of 10 from three.
The entire team had another poor three point shooting night, shooting under 30% yet again. While this is a testament to OKC’s defense, many of the shots the Rockets missed were wide open. It’s unlikely the Rockets will keep missing open shots, which might make all the difference in Houston.
Of course, the downside of all of this is that the Rockets were playing above their heads and it still wasn’t enough. Asik was his usual defensive stalwart self, Smith was grabbing offensive boards and slamming them back, and the Rockets were closing out on shooters, but it didn’t matter.
What we’ve learned is that while the Thunder are the better team, the Rockets have enough X factors to push them. Oklahoma City is likely to adjust to Houston’s zone defense and punish them next game, but this series is no longer a cake walk. Houston might have to work twice as hard to make up for a talent difference, but they’re willing to work that hard. As painful as it may be, the Rockets are being forged in Oklahoma City’s crucible of fire.