Heading into this evening, the Houston Rockets were one game back of the second-seed Memphis Grizzlies, one game ahead of the fourth-seed Portland Trail Blazers, and an enviable situation. With Memphis and Portland facing off, the Rockets could be assured to pick up a game on one of them if they could just beat the Phoenix Suns, a team at the bottom of the playoff bubble and a team all but eliminated from that race. All Houston had to do was complete the sweep against Phoenix to make a huge stride in a close, crucial playoff race. Even in a worst-case scenario, the Rockets wouldn’t lose any ground to the Blazers.
Worst case scenarios have a way of updating themselves when you’re not looking, like phone apps or guest lists. It turns out that falling two games behind Memphis wasn’t the worst that could happen, because other, worse things happened, too. Not only did that Rockets go from being up 12 to down 13 in a quarter and a half, they also lost another big man to injury and saw one of James Harden’s worst performances of the year. Some nights, the only consolation is that lightning didn’t strike James Harden and burn his beard off.
For about three and a half quarters tonight, I paid more attention to tonight’s broadcasting than the actual Houston Rockets game.
Calvin Murphy was back in the booth where he belongs. That boundless enthusiasm. His warstories where he described kicking his teammate Rudy Tomjanovich out of bed. And his ability to go from the game to himself to back to the game without missing a beat.
Combine that with the Championship Reunion Night at the Toyota Center, and the result was a great spectacle and series of interviews. Who cared what was going on in the court? Vernon Maxwell was walking on the court to thunderous applause! Murphy was talking with Mario Elie! With Rudy T! With Adam Silver!
And when James Harden exploded for a career-high 50 points, showcasing himself as the greatest Rocket since Dream, Murphy could barely contain himself. “This is no accident”, he said. A great night from the Beard combined with a great time from Murphy and the rest of the old Rockets, almost made this a perfect night.
Are you one of those people who bemoans the death of the midrange game? Do you find yourself nodding your head when you hear, “You have to guard him, because he can hit that 16 foot jump shot?” Are you constantly yelling at the TV when your team doesn’t guard the opposing stretch 4 outside the paint? If so, this piece is for you.
I know I’ve said this countless times before, but we are so much smarter now. It’s not just about what data we collect, it’s also about how we use data to think about basketball. Cliches that used to be sacrosanct are now consistently criticized. Some have legitimately been debunked. Some are well on their way to the same graveyard. Curmudgeons who grumble about how the game is not the same (ahem, Charles Barkley, Charles Oakley, or anyone else named Charles) are basically old men complaining about how they didn’t need cell phones when they were growing up. Nostalgia is adorable. Unimaginably greater communication capacity is better.
As I just tweeted, Patrick Beverley isn’t exactly setting the world on fire right now.
But as revealed by the eye-test, he isn’t stopping anyone this year either. The numbers, unfortunately, confirm:
Overall, opponents are shooting 45.1% against Beverley. They shoot 44.4% otherwise. On 3’s, opponents are shooting 34.2% against Beverley, and 35.25% otherwise. On 2’s: opponents are shooting 50% against Beverley, and 48.4% otherwise.
Within 6 feet, opponents are shooting 66% against Beverley, while shooting 60% otherwise; within 10 feet, they are shooting 60%, while shooting 54% otherwise.
Now you might say “hold on. That percentage at the rim is just as much an indictment on the Rockets as a whole as it is of Beverley.” And you’d have a point. But that would mean you’d be getting torched regardless of who you put out there, and I have a hard time believing it could be that much worse. Wouldn’t you be better off playing someone who at least gave you something offensively?
At this point, Houston is almost playing 4 on 5.