By: Forrest Walker
The Golden State Warriors are a very good basketball team. I don't mean to alarm anyone, but they may in fact the be the best team right now, and they might, possibly, have the best record, too. It's impressive that they were able to power through and take over a game late despite missing their starting center and key defensive anchor in Andrew Bogut. They've performed very well, and they have a real shot at winning it all. Notes on the Rockets? Oh, of course, the Rockets played in that game, didn't they? For such a back and forth, high-energy game, there's not much of a takeaway for Houston. They're in the same limbo they've been in for weeks now, and things are still basically fine. That's not very exciting, but it's where they stand.
The game itself was alternatively exciting and frustrating, with a protracted period of frustration to cap it off. Despite the final score, the game was actually close throughout, with the Rockets leading the majority of the time. It took a grand collapse to seal Houston's fate, and it took a lot of factors to cause that collapse. The Rockets made the Warriors work for what could have been a very easy win, and that's a heck of a lot better than rolling over.
James Harden, in particular, did not roll over. He led the game with 34 points, shot over 50% from the field, grabbed another 8 rebounds (sidebar: this rebounds habit isn't going away and is a striking change that isn't much discussed), dug 4 dimes out of the couch and swiped 4 steals. Harden was doing his damnedest to will the Rockets into a win, but it wasn't to be. Apart from 5 turnovers, there's not much to indict Harden on. Even then, those were turnovers borne of usage, doubling on defense, and the overall cruddiness of the bench.
Oh, right, the bench was bad. Joey Dorsey, Jason Terry and Nick Johnson were the only non-starters to get minutes before garbage time, and they managed to score 5 points on 2-11 shooting, grab 11 rebounds and rack up a single assist. The bench was awful on offense and not much better on defense. Johnson is still finding his legs, and largely wouldn't be playing normally, but Terry in particular has to perform better if the Rockets are to keep the ball rolling until some players get well. Unfortunately, there's not much to be done about it either way, and optimally none of this will matter much in the near future.
The starters were good, though, but they played a ton of minutes and petered out at the end. It's not optimal to have four players give 40+ minutes on the first night of a back to back, but there wasn't another good option. The bench might as well have stayed home and the game was very winnable until the last five minutes.
Trevor Ariza contributed 18 points and shot 4-12 from deep and grabbed 6 boards, which is just about exactly what he needs to do. Perfect. Donatas Motiejunas looked great in the post once again, and the only real snag on the way to 18 points was that the Rockets still can't figure out entry passes for some reason. Patrick Beverley started hot but faded a bit as the game progressed, ending up with 12 points on 15 shots. Tarik Black had a quiet night of 6 points on perfect 3 for 3 shooting, doing exactly the sort of cleanup down low he needs to. All the starters not named Harden picked up 6 rebounds due to some cosmic alignment I'm unaware of.
There's not a lot to say about this game, even though it was exciting. Injuries thinned the bench, the bench was worse and couldn't take the load, and the starters flagged due to having to pick up the slack. The Warriors had injuries, too, but not nearly the widespread plague of breaks and bruises that the Rockets have suffered. Do the Rockets win if both teams are at full strength? Is there such a thing as full strength? Does it matter? The answer to all of these questions remains a shrug as we spend one more day hoping for recovery.