James Harden, LeBron James

The Houston Rockets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-103 in one of the more intense games we’ve seen this season, including LeBron James missing potentially game winning free throws, James Harden kicking him in the groin and Patrick Beverley also getting in on the action, as expected.

The Cavaliers aren’t used to playing without Kyrie Irving, and something felt out of balance for the entire game. James shot 15-of-35 from the field in a very uncharacteristic performance from him. He did end up scoring 37 points, but tried a bit too hard to do things all on his own, while he and head coach David Blatt could have gone with a different approach that involves more of Kevin Love’s playmaking ability and not just being another guy waiting on the perimeter for the ball to reach him.

More than anything, it was James messing up from the line. In overtime, James hit a 3-pointer with 43 seconds left in the game to put the Cavaliers just one point behind the Rockets, followed by J.R. Smith stripping Josh Smith of the ball, leading to one final possession for the Cavaliers. Josh Smith fouled James and sent him to the line with less than four seconds on the clock.

It turned out to be a good decision. James finished his day with just 3-of-11 from the line, including missing those two shots, losing the game for the Cavaliers, or more accurately failing to win it for them. He also shot just 22% from the field during the final 10 minutes of the game (including overtime) in one of those performances that helps feed the flames in the never dying “LeBron is not clutch” bonfire.

James Harden wasn’t always accurate and in his altrecation with James sent a kick to the family jewels that should have gotten him ejected, but this was in Houston, and Harden enjoyed the benefit of the doubt, called for a flagrant one instead of the more severe version. He finished with 15-of-18 from the line, including one more point (missing the second shot) to finish off the game after James’ misses.

James and Patrick Beverley were both T’d up earlier in the game, although it’s not quite clear what happened there except for a collision as Beverley tries to take the charge. Beverley pushed up, James pushed down, but it didn’t turn into something too outrageous. Besides all the violence and tension, it came down to the Rockets making their free throws while the Cavaliers, short changed by the officials all game long, shooting a disastrous 11-of-21.

The Cavaliers have lost back to back games for the first time in almost two months, but it’s something that should be considered as normal considering the circumstances. More interesting here is how the Rockets have been able to navigate through the storm of missing such a key component of their plans like Dwight Howad, winning five in a row and now finding themselves only six games behind the Golden State Warriors, with Harden getting plenty of help regardless of how well he’s playing.

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