The Houston Rockets don’t beat the Portland Trail Blazers without Jeremy Lin making the most of his time off the bench, seemingly understanding that the only way for him to get minutes is to play like James Harden, which means becoming a score-first kind of player, and let someone else worry about trying to make others look better.
This was still the James Harden show for most of the game, ending in a 118-113 overtime win for the Rockets. It has to be when you play 47 minutes, and your starting backcourt partner, Patrick Beverley, fouls out. Harden finished with 41 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals in another impressive shooting performance that included 7-of-12 from beyond the arc. But does he take too many shots? Probably. Does he ignore teammates sometimes? Definitley. He is just too hot to worry about it at the moment, making some big, difficult shots at the end of regulation and overtime.
Jeremy Lin? Same thing, only in less minutes. Lin wasn’t as accurate from beyond the arc, but showed he can show up in crunch time (which shouldn’t be news to anyone) with 26 points, probably his best game in 2014 in only 34 minutes. It was Lin’s minutes that had the Rockets play their best basketball, becaused it forced Portland to focus on more than Harden, and the learning star of the team, who has shown willingness to play differently in recent weeks, got the ball to Lin when he was open.
But there was more to this win than just Lin and Harden, although it was Lin who it the high, looping jumper in overtime that finally put the game to bed, and it was his three off a Harden assist with 1:21 to go that gave the Rockets a 102-101 lead in a game with very little defense or smart basketball. Teams were simply running and gunning, and the Rockets seemed to have a bit more accurate firepower in the end.
Dwight Howard was overwhelmed in the paint with the Blazers grabbing 22 offensive rebounds, as Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge made the most of some defensive mismatches to keep getting their team second chances. Aldridge led his team with 28 points, and got help from Matthews with 26 and Lillard scoring 21. However, their final barrage of three was well contested, including by Lin with some solid defense on Batum’s shot from the corner, and in a game that felt like a H.O.R.S.E competition at times, they didn’t have the bench player to change everything with his minutes on the floor.
Dwight Howard had a solid 17 points, 12 rebounds performance. Chandler Parsons added 16 points and 7 rebounds. Patrick Beverly scored 12 quiet points, but his energy on defense wasn’t channeled into the right direction, making at least two foolish fouls he could have avoided.
Lin has taken notes from the games in which he saw his star fade and his head coach ignore him. Just like in his D-League experience and those days off the Knicks’ bench – playing the nice guy and quiet, pass-oriented point guard won’t get him minutes in this bunch. He has a slightly different skill set than Harden, but he can put up points just as efficiently when he gets hot, and that will be his ticket to more minutes, especially if Beverley keeps up his yo-yo offense, relying completely on the open shots others get for him.
The Rockets aren’t necessarily playing their best basketball right now, but they’re the hottest team in the league, and maybe on the right path to finally making the most of All the key players they have at their disposal, which means that thinking about a championship isn’t unreasonable.