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.
Why “almost?” Because tonight’s victory and Harden’s performance were marred by Terrence Jones’s rib injury. In a scrum to get the ball late in the first quarter, Kenneth Faried inadvertently kneed Jones in the ribs. Jones committed a foul to get himself out of the game shortly afterwards, and did not play for the rest of the game. According to Clutchfans, Jones was wheeled out on a stretcher and taken to a hospital.
It is possible that this is just a precautionary measure to check for a punctured lung. But with Dwight Howard out for about another week and Motiejunas slumping (3-10 for just 7 points tonight), the Rockets cannot afford to lose Jones and weaken their already shaky frontcourt. Joey Dorsey did come out and do some good things tonight on the defensive end and the glass.
But without Jones, Faried grabbed 19 points and 12 rebounds. Faried and Randy Foye( who never seems to miss against the Rockets) sparked a Nuggets run at the start of the fourth quarter. Even though Houston had a 17 point lead at the start of the quarter, Kevin McHale was forced to send Harden in to finish Denver off.
And did he ever. I must say that Harden ran iso plays more often than I would have liked. But it worked, and he scored 50 points in the most Harden way ever – by grabbing lots and lots of free throws. His 25 free throws tonight were a season high, and 50 points on just 12 made field goals has to be some kind of record.
But it should be noted that Denver is a small team. Their lack of size meant that they were not able to capitalize on the absence of Jones and Howard. This will also likely hold true against Phoenix on Saturday. But against Indiana and New Orleans afterwards? Let us hope Jones will be back for that. I shudder to think of what Anthony Davis and David West would do to Motiejunas.
There are 14 games left in the regular season. Six of them will be against potential Western playoff opponents. Harden’s 50-point performance will solidify his MVP case in the mind of NBA media figures who don’t religiously follow the Rockets. And while Houston cannot catch up with the Golden State Warriors, a strong performance over the next games will not just help their standings, but Harden’s case. Maybe he does not care about it, as the first words out of his mouth after the game were praise to his teammates. But he certainly deserves it.