At a very early stage last season, the Houston Rockets decided that Jeremy Lin isn’t going to be the team’s point guard, James Harden will be. The problem? Despite his impressive scoring performances, he time and time again played too selfishly for his designated role. After sitting out a few games and watching Lin from the sidelines, maybe Harden finally understood what it takes to lead the Rockets to the next level.
Rising teams need signature wins along the way, and winning against the San Antonio Spurs on the road certainly falls into that category. The Rockets came away with a 112-106 win, handing the Spurs their second close loss to a potential playoff rival this week, as James Harden put on his best performance of the season, finally playing like the Rockets need him to play – no long possessions (almost none at all), quick fast break decisions and his special brand of clutch shooting.
Harden finished with 31 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, hitting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and not looking like someone who’s blind to what happens around him. As the star of this team, it’s not surprising to see him taking the big shots, but they didn’t come out of nowhere. It was part of the flow of the game, and not just someone who wastes the shot clock down to the final seconds before taking on the only play available to him.
An example was his assist to Chandler Parsons on another fantastic night, finishing with 25 points, hitting four shots from beyond the arc, including the final dunk that put the game to bed, as Harden assisted him with the full court outlet pass, making a decision he usually struggles to make. It might be silly saying he learned from Jeremy Lin – it’s not like he couldn’t do these things before, but maybe watching the Rockets play, win or lose, without him, finally changed something in his head, possibly directing his immense talent to the more beneficial direction.
Dwight Howard was once again forced to become a big man who serves as a presence, pivot and distraction, not a focal point on offense. He scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, not buckling under the pressure of being forced to the line by the hacking Spurs, finishing with 5-of-8 from the free throw line. He didn’t have the easiest time in the world with Tim Duncan (20 points), but the Rockets, if they play the right way offensively, even with the usual defensive laziness, can hang in a game in any NBA arena if it’s trading baskets kind of contest.
Last year we probably would have caved in; they would have beaten us by a lot. So, this year the improvement we’ve adjusted to has been tremendous. A back-to-back in San Antonio is always tough, but we showed resiliency and pulled out a great win. This was a dogfight, but it’s not going to change the next time we see them. That’s going to make us better as a team, and it’s going to make it fun for the fans to watch.