Houston Rockets 117, Utah Jazz 91: Everything came up Rockets

The Houston Rockets have won their first division title in twenty years. The Houston Rockets won 56 games and clinched the 2-seed in an unknowably brutal west, despite losing their second best player for literally half of the season. James Harden, a consensus top-two MVP candidate, notched his fourth triple double of the season in only 27 minutes in the last game of the year. The Rockets went up by 30 points on the Utah Jazz early and stayed there, cruising to a critical and beautiful win. This is the best Houston Rockets team we have seen in a decade, and this has been a a fantastic roller coaster ride. The 2014-2015 season is over, and it ended in the best way.

The Utah jazz were without Gordon Hayward, and they were no match for the Houston Rockets. Harden’s team came out swinging, grabbing a double digit lead in the first quarter, and breaking the back of the Jazz with a 15-0 run in the first half. James Harden may only have scored 16 points, but he got the team going early with his distribution and shot creation against one of the best defenses in the league. He ended the night after three quarters with a stellar 16 point, 11 rebound, 10 assist night and shot only 8 times. Harden is the core of the team, and it was behind his leadership that the Rockets won 56 games when many people pegged them to win fewer than 50.

The Rockets’ win on its own was not enough to clinch the 2 seed, as the Los Angeles Clippers had already won 56 and had the tiebreaker over the Rockets. Houston needed the division rival spurs to lose to the Pelicans in order to take the Southwest Division title and gain a different, stronger tiebreaker over the Clippers. Anthony Davis and his Pelicans came out swinging and gutted their way to a surprising win over the Spurs mere seconds after Houston beat Utah, leaving the entire Southwest Division standing in the playoffs when the dust cleared. The Golden State Warriors will face the New Orleans Pelicans and the Houston Rockets will face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. This is as good a finish as Houston could have hoped for in the standings, and it all came down to the last day of the season.

Everyone looked ready for the playoffs. Terrence Jones hit every shot, going 6-6 for 15 points. Trevor Ariza didn’t shoot well (2-8, 6 points), but his defense remained mission critical. Dwight Howard played a mere 21 minutes and scored 14 points on 7 shots to go with his 8 rebounds. Jason Terry was 3-4 from deep, exactly the line Houston wants from him. The deep bench got some run as well, due to the massive 30 point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and every player not in a suit took to the court. Nick Johnson had his requisite failed highlight play at the rim, but played solid defense. KJ McDaniels looked active and aggressive, and Kostas Paopanikolaou was alive and well.

Corey Brewer and Josh Smith took flight this game, playing the sort of form Houston needs in the playoffs. Brewer missed all 3 threes, but be was 6-12 otherwise for 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block. He was running in transition, making heads up plays and providing energy and excitement from the bench. Josh Smith, on the other hand, was hitting his threes, sinking 3 of his 5 attempts and scoring 13 points on the night. His combination of speed and power at his position and size in invaluable when he uses it right, and tonight his Swiss army knife-like skillset was imperative. The headbands extended the lead, never letting up, and never slowing down. If they can keep that intensity up in the post-season, the Rockets could make some real noise.

Clint Capela hit 50% of his tree throws, a percentage far greater than the 0% he started  at for his first 15 attempts. In all seriousness, Capela is coming along faster than any reasonable expectation, and while he’ll probably get overwhelmed if the has to play much in the post season, he’s looking like a great defensive big going forward. He cleans up the glass, goes for the dunk, and sets picks on offense. He might be the perfect back up for Dwight Howard for years to come. Joey Dorsey, meanwhile, dribbled the ball all the way up to the three point line in transition, and really, at that point, he should have shot the three the arena was requesting. Why not?

The regular season is done, and this year it’s both a relief and a victory. The Rockets held on. They suffered, struggled, and triumphed. They won enough to have the second best record in the west, and the third best record in the NBA. This Rockets team has a deserving MVP candidate, an innovative and successful front office, an up-and-coming coaching staff, and a chance to help make these playoffs amazing. Houston won, and everything is coming up Rockets.

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