James Harden vs Kevin Durant

All the theories in the world about Jeremy Lin being the one thing that the Houston Rockets need in order to turn their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder into a more even one went out the window as James Harden had another impressive scoring output while shooting terribly, this time actually getting some help from his head coach, who didn’t too bad with his small lineup idea.

Patrick Beverley started for Greg Smith and nearly stole the game away from the Rockets but making life very difficult for Russell Westbrook and forcing the Thunder to defend a little bit differently than they usually do. Beverley ended up scoring 16 points, adding 12 rebounds and 6 assists, although it wasn’t enough in the end as the Rockets lost 102-105.

Jeremy Lin, wasn’t felt too much during the game before leaving due to a chest injury, that might put him in doubt for game 3 in Houston. Lin did provide some good minutes, playing 20 of them, finishing with 7 points and 3 assists, but the general concept, of Harden getting the larger share of the ball handling didn’t change. He finished with 9-24 from the field, scoring 36 points and grabbing 11 rebounds as the Rockets dominated the offensive boards with 18, but he also dished out 6 assists. His attitude and aggression were responsible for their big run, but his six turnovers and insistence on scoring alone might have been the small difference the Rockets needed in order to win.

And here comes that double-edged sword once again. Harden can’t be excluded from the process, but there’s no in-between with him. It’s either he controls everything or nothing, and the Rockets can’t operate through such extremities, even if for once it almost brought them victory, more to do with the Thunder and their own bad coaching not adjusting to the changes before him.

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The Rockets scored 27 second-chance points on 18 offensive rebounds despite playing lineups with one big (Omer Asik or Greg Smith) for all 48 minutes. It will be a good idea to continue that trend in Houston as well, as it forces the Thunder to play in a way that cancels out some of their defensive strengths. The Rockets aren’t exactly the Miami Heat, but it’s been proven that small-ball does do damage to the Thunder, who are talented, but aren’t the smartest team in the world.

Harden finished with 27 points scored on drives to the basket, but he was also 1-7 from beyond the arc, when the Thunder closed the lane early enough and force him to dribble out the clock and try to make something happen on his own. He is 2-18 on shots from at least 15 feet (only 11.1%) so far in the series, which goes to show that giving the ball to him without giving him an option to let someone else make the decisions for him once in a while.

The Rockets showed they can think out of the box, which means Kevin McHale knows that his team wasn’t going to win the same way he’s been playing so far. But James Harden getting the ball almost 100% of the time isn’t the way to win. Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley need more ball handling time because it forces the Thunder to stretch out and open up. Harden was a shooting guard once upon a time. It’s not the end of the world to let him play like that.