Game 1, Rockets.
The Houston Rockets finished 3rd in the league for the regular season with a 55-27 record. According to Rockets guard Patrick Beverley, this was no easy feat: “We got to be happy. Fifty-five wins, in the West. Third-best in the NBA. It wasn’t great, but for our first year being together under a new coach, new offense, new defensive scheme, new players, a trade before trade deadline, to get 55 wins … is tough.”
James Harden made his case throughout the season for this year’s MVP accolade through setting franchise and league records and facilitating an ever-changing offensive lineup. It should be noted that in the midst of all this, he became the first in NBA history to score 2,000 points, nab 600 rebounds and have 900 assists. This is why the expectations were relatively high as the Rockets entered the 1st round of the NBA playoffs.
The Rockets first matchup Sunday night was against the Western Conference 6th seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. In the days leading up to this series, the focus was on the first round matchup of the two top MVP candidates, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook, who made history during the regular season by having 42 triple-double games to break Oscar Robertson’s record, finished the night with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists. Harden finished with a game-high of 37 points as well as 7 rebounds and 9 assists. After a few missed attempts beyond the arc, Harden found another way to be impactful; shaking OKC defenders to drive directly to the basket. Thanks to OKC’s lackluster defense, he transitioned from knocking down perimeter shots to points-in-the-paint.
“As a point guard, I have to try to find ways to split the defense,” Harden told the media. “They’re switching with the big and they were taking our three-pointers away, so I just tried to get to the basket. I think I missed my first six or seven shots from the perimeter, and I knew that wasn’t going to go on for long, but I just continued to stay with it and continued to be aggressive. I made some shots, but I just try to make the right play. Every game that’s my mindset. I try to get these guys shots, making sure everyone is in a good rhythm.”
During the regular season, OKC led the league in rebounding with 47 a game while also being first in rebound differential with +6 more a game. The Rockets out-rebounded OKC 56-41 and knocked down 31 second chance points to OKC’s 4.
While Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, and Nenê Hilario all had their moments during the game, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams couldn’t seem to get going. So even when everyone wasn’t playing at peak performance, the Rockets still managed to best OKC in the first game 118-87.
Coach D’Antoni predicted who would be the playmaker when he spoke to the media on Friday, “Pat is probably the unsung hero. His edginess, what he has to do-he has to guard Westbrook, the primary one…We have to guard him as a team. But still, Pat is the first line of defense.” Beverley already plays with a lot of intensity every time he’s on the court but he appeared to switch into a higher gear after getting leveled by Steven Adams off the pick with a little over 8 min. left to go in the 3rd. He laid motionless on the court for a moment and then sprung right up, fueled by his competitive nature.
Beverley answered Adams hard screen with two 3-pointers. “It was legal screen,” Beverley said. “Good screen.” And that was that.
It’s hard to make a prediction as to how long or short this series will be. Who knows? Maybe the Rockets will find a way to launch themselves into the Finals.