The Houston Rockets can win games without Jeremy Lin, but the question is whether or not this kind of defensive effort, which makes up for the unintelligent offense you get for putting the ball in the hands of James Harden all of the time, is going to be something we see from the team almost every night, or was this just a one-time deal, motivated by the growing rivalry with the Golden State Warriors.
One big plus for the Rockets was getting Chandler Parsons back. He scored only 8 points on a very rusty and sluggish 3-of-13 from the field, but Parsons gives the Rockets energy on defense and fast breaks, not to mention being someone that actually moves the ball around and forces defenses to respect the spacing the Rockets offer, despite hitting 6-of-28 from beyond the arc.
One of the best offensive teams in the NBA finally put on a defensive performance. The switches and rotations against the Warriors’ screens on the outside worked perfectly, leading to the 105-83 win. The Warriors shot only 2-of-16 from beyond the arc, as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to score only 27 points on 29.1% from the field.
Dwight Howard, with a strong performance of 22 points and 18 rebounds, including an encouraging 12-of-20 from the line, put one of his best performances of the season. Not just because of the double double or his shooting from the line, but his timing when leaving the paint on defense, realizing the Warriors don’t offer much of a threat through inside scoring, being a huge disruption to Curry, Thompson and the others to get the regular game going.
When things don’t go well for the Warriors from the outside they try to take shortcuts with super fast ball movement. This led to 22 turnovers, which the Rockets scored 23 points off of. James Harden had no problem driving to the basket again and again, en route to 34 points on 13-of-22 from the field. He had no reason to shoot threes (1-of-3 from beyond the arc), with the Warriors offering up so many easy points.
But did we see a change from the team’s best player? Not so much, only less of an opposition that made him take the ball to the basket more than usual, avoiding his offense-killing long possessions and tough shot making. Not all opponents are going to look so broken and desperate from a very early stage in the game, and there are few teams that won’t realize at some point that the Rockets don’t move the ball enough when Harden is the one getting all the touches.
Jeremy Lin wasn’t needed in this one, but he’s going to be back soon anyway, already participating in practice. This season is about going further than before and maybe even posing a threat to the NBA championship. With James Harden playing like this every night, it might be interesting to watch, but it won’t get them where they want to be. For that, a lot more of this kind of Dwight Howard defense, along with the influence of Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons is required.