Let’s start this recap in the same way I might start any article on this site: Harden was outrageous.
He scored 61 points on 62.2% true shooting. He grabbed 15 rebounds, six of which were offensive and many of which were highly contested. He had five steals to go with his typical strong post defense. He joined Michael Jeffrey Jordan as the only other guard in the history of the game to score 60 and grab 15 boards. He is in rarefied air and seems to have no intention of leaving.
And he had better not. As outrageous as Harden was, the rest of the team might be the ones deserving of outrage. Harden took 38 shots to get to his 61 points. The rest of the Rockets scored 53 points on 52 shots. Harden finished with 4 assists, which despite what you heard from Rebecca Lobo, is uncharacteristically low for him. But his passes were crisp. His drives sucked in the defense, and he passed willingly out of the double teams. Unfortunately, as has been the developing trend, his teammates are throwing bricks like Craig did at Deebo.
Other than Eric Gordon’s 20 points and three for five from the three point line, no one on the team shot better than 25% from behind the arc. That’s a good ten percent beneath league average. And again, almost none of these shots were strongly contested. D’Antoni has always said it’s a make or miss league. Your Rockets (they’re my Rockets when they’re playing well, you see) were lucky to win this one, because they were resoundingly on the “miss” side of that binary.
The game itself should have been a foregone conclusion and an easy night for the Rockets, even without Capela and CP3. It was not. The Rockets went into the half down five, having given up 63 points to the 26th rated offense in the league (26th out of 30, lest you had forgotten). But they came out in the 3rd quarter and held the Knicks to 15 points and doubled that themselves. After that they mostly coasted into what was supposed to be an uneventful win. And then P.J. Tucker had the strangest minute of basketball I’ve seen him play (and I was a student in the stands at UT when he was a Longhorn).
With 59 seconds left and the Rockets up 107-101, Tucker fouled Allonzo Trier on a three point attempt. Okay. It happens. Trier hits all three free throws, and we’re up 3 with the ball. Gordon takes the ball out of the hoop and steps out of bounds to pass it in. He hands the ball off to Tucker, who doesn’t grab it, but rather boxes out and waits for someone else to grab it as if he had just re-entered from out of bounds and couldn’t touch the ball. Gordon yelled at him three times to pick up the ball, but he didn’t. Eventually the nearest Knick decided that he might as well pick it up and made an easy layup. It was honestly bizarre. Tucker looked like he was trying to allow a football punt to roll to the goal line before stopping it.
The Knicks and Madison Square Garden were understandably energized by this, the most costly of brain farts. They were suddenly within one point without any time coming off the clock. From there, a few fouls, Trier crossing Tucker out of his fancy kicks, and a huge Eric Gordon three pointer left us with 9 seconds on the clock, up two, Knicks ball. Gordon and Harden swarmed Noal Vonleh, stole the ball, and Harden slammed down the dagger tomahawk to end it. I have no idea what happened to Tucker down the stretch, but thank goodness Harden did not go gentle into that goodnight. It seems clear that he will run through a brick wall to bring these Rockets to victory. Even if his own teammates built it.
The Eye Test
Tonight’s Eye Test is all about Kenneth Faried. He got the start as Nene sat out, and played well enough. He scored 11 points and pulled down 8 rebounds in 26 minutes. The intriguing wrinkle he brings to these Rockets has to do with his vertical spacing. He plays at and above the rim fairly often, and perhaps he and Harden (or dare I say Christopher “Our Point God and Savior” Paul) will develop alley-oop chemistry. But even without a that connection, Faried’s timing on put backs seems much more natural than any recent Rocket. He had a couple missed attempts tonight, and the long rebounds from the three point clankfest aren’t helping him, but his timing looks almost as clean as a rookie year Chandler Parsons or one Kelvin T. Cato. Look for tip dunks and put backs soon, if not against the Raptors, then definitely against the Magic this Sunday.