That Bad, Eh? – Kevin Pelton (ESPN Insider) measured game 1 performances compared to expected point differential, and the Rockets ranked 16th out of 16 teams:
Incredibly, the Rockets were outscored by 34 points in Greg Smith’s 17 minutes, which prorates to losing a full game by 96 points. Oklahoma City had an 18-point advantage in the nine-plus minutes Smith played with Omer Asik. Smith wasn’t any more effective at center in place of Asik; the Thunder was +16 in less than eight minutes he played there. Rookie Terrence Jones replaced Smith over the last quarter of a half, and that change could be permanent.
Destiny – Tyler Parker at Ballerball wrote a eloquently about the pressure on James Harden to rise to the occasion against his old team:
He’ll be back, Euro-stepping in April on the Peake wood once more. He’ll be in other colors now, wearing a lively kind of red, and there will be no cheers for him. Felt beards won’t litter the arena any longer and when his threes scrape the ground we won’t join in as we used to. We’ll yell at Thabo or Russ or, Bird help us, Fisher, and say you can’t give him those, because we’ve seen it before. We know. Or, maybe, we don’t. The scariest part of all this is the chance that, maybe, we didn’t know what we had. Maybe he was That Dude the whole time. Maybe he’s The Bearded Reaper and he’s coming for our basketball souls. Or, maybe he’s in for a wake up call. Maybe Collison takes thirty charges on him. Maybe Durant and Westbrook lay him over coals and hit the slow roast.
I don’t know, and that’s why this sport is so lovely.
Harden is coming back to where he started, to try to make sure those he started with don’t continue on. Everything comes full circle.
If he doesn’t make that statement Wednesday night, he may never have another chance to do it on OKC’s court.
Kryptonite – One of the few small, tarnished silver linings from Sunday night is that Chandler Parsons actually did a decent job defending Durant. From the team’s official site:
And believe it or not, the toughest riddle to unravel does not include Kevin Durant. Oh, he’s still a massive problem, but so long as Chandler Parsons is able to avoid foul trouble, the Rockets’ game plan for Durant is fairly straightforward, not to mention surprisingly effective. OKC’s superstar has averaged 22 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting during the three games this season in which he has faced Houston with Parsons in the lineup. And though Durant finished Game 1 with 24 points on 7-15 shooting, he was just 1-6 from the field when Parsons was the man defending him.
Of course, the worst thing that could happen for Parsons would be for him to be labeled the “Durant-stopper,” giving no. 35 added motivation to crush him. Just keep getting lucky with all those shots Durant is missing, Chandler (wink, wink).
Father Knows Best – When the Rockets lost to the Lakers on the last game of the season, I was disappointed that they wouldn’t get to play the ostensibly weakened Spurs. I and several of other bloggers jumped to the conspiracy theory that David Stern just wanted to guarantee that Harden faced OKC in a TV ratings bonanza (the Rockets went into the penalty with 9 minutes left to go in that game, if you know what I mean). But then Vintage Manu happened (via Grantland):
After missing nine of the last 10 games of the regular season with a hamstring injury, and kind of limping his way through the rest of it anyway, Old Man Manu Ginobili showed up in Game 1 with peak efficiency. He racked up 18 points (he’d only scored 18 or more 12 times this season) and needed just 19 minutes to do it. And it was vintage stuff, too: There were a couple of backbreaking 3s, plus this one play where he faked the jumper, dished off to DeJuan Blair in the air, demanded the ball back, dove to the basket, then almost broke his own ankles throwing it high off the backboard for two. Things got so exciting, preternaturally even-keeled broadcasting powerhouse Mike Breen got carried away enough to bless Manu as one of his favorite all-time players. A true honor if there ever was one.
Lesson Learned: Whenever the fates decree that you don’t have to play the Spurs, you should just shut up and be grateful.
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