20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Houston Overcomes Harden's Poor Shooting, Takes 2-0 Lead Over Oklahoma City

Despite being without the services of the injured Russell Westbrook, and despite some horrible shooting by James Harden, the Houston Rockets defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-98 to take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference first round series. Harden led the Rockets in both scoring (21 points) and assists (nine) but he shot just 5-16 from the field (including 2-11 from three point range) and he was the only one of the Rockets' seven double figure scorers who had a negative plus/minus number (-1 in 36 minutes, meaning that the Rockets outscored the Thunder by 14 points in the 12 minutes that the did not play). Four Rockets had double-digit positive plus/minus numbers: Danuel House (19 points, +19), Eric Gordon (15 points, +23), Jeff Green (15 points, +13), and P.J. Tucker (14 points, +15). The Rockets set an NBA single game playoff record by attempting 56 three point field goals. They made 19 of those shots, for a .339 percentage that proved to be good enough to defeat a Thunder team that connected at a similar rate (.344) on 24 fewer three point attempts.

Chris Paul, widely touted for his leadership and even mentioned in some corners as a fringe MVP candidate (!), scored 14 points on 6-15 field goal shooting. He had six rebounds and just two assists. Paul did not attempt a single free throw--so much for being aggressive and crafty--and he finished with a staggering, game-worst -36 plus/minus number. Harden did everything he could to give the game away, but Paul refused to accept the gift. The disconnect between how these two players are generally portrayed in the media versus how they perform when it matters most is amazing.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 31 points on 9-17 field goal shooting. Danilo Gallinari finished with 17 points on 5-12 field goal shooting. Steven Adams scored eight points, and he led both teams with 11 rebounds. He did not attempt a field goal during the second half, and he did not attempt a free throw in the entire game. One might think that Paul would recognize that Adams enjoys a significant matchup advantage in the paint, but Paul did not succeed in getting Adams involved offensively. Imagine if Kobe Bryant played in a playoff game during which he accumulated an almost impossibly bad -36 plus/minus number while not arranging for his big man to take a single second half shot against a team that is playing without a true center. Do you think that the commentators and "experts" might say something about that? I remember many commentators and "experts" loudly asserting that Paul should win the 2008 regular season MVP that Bryant ultimately received; it is bad enough that Harden has won an MVP, but it would have been an absolute travesty if Bryant--who deserved several regular season MVPs, but finished his career with just one--lost that MVP vote to Paul and finished his career without a regular season MVP.

The Rockets came out firing--and misfiring, setting an NBA playoff record by attempting 35 three pointers in the first half. The Rockets missed their last 15 three point field goal attempts in the first half, and Oklahoma City led 59-53 at halftime. Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 13 points each. Steven Adams scored eight points on 4-4 field goal shooting, and he had six rebounds. Austin Rivers topped Houston with 11 first half points. James Harden had eight points and five assists, but he shot just 2-10 from the field, including 1-8 from three point range.

The Rockets started the third quarter with a 16-2 run to take a 67-61 lead but the Thunder rallied to go ahead 78-77 heading into the fourth quarter. It was anybody's game. Would Harden step up? Would Paul take over? No and no. The Rockets made a 15-0 run to take a 92-80 lead with Harden on the bench and Paul playing but not having much impact. Harden returned with 7:23 left in the fourth quarter. Given the cushion of a double digit lead to work with, Harden finally found his shooting touch and scored 11 fourth quarter points. The margin was never less than nine points during Harden's fourth quarter stint, so he was able to perform without facing much pressure.

This game exploded the myth that the Rockets only have a bunch of role players who are completely dependent on Harden to create offense for them. Although I know--and have written previously--that Harden is not the one man team he is portrayed to be, I had assumed prior to this series that the Thunder would be a serious threat to the Rockets if Russell Westbrook did not play. Perhaps I should have known better considering Paul's sorry playoff resume, but when given the choice between picking Harden to choke and picking Paul to choke perhaps I got confused--or maybe Harden will continue to choke and Paul will not have another -36 performance. If Westbrook comes back during this series, then this series could rapidly become a Houston sweep, but perhaps the Rockets are confident enough about their position that they will give Westbrook extra time to recover, as it seems unlikely that the Thunder will win four of the next five games.

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 7:44 PM



Post a Comment

<< Home