After a series of games in which it seemed the Houston Rockets were headed in a new direction of a bit more cooperation and sharing of the ball handling and decision making role between Jeremy Lin and James Harden, it was back to step one for the two and the team, who did win the game and clinch a playoff spot, but needed a little bit of luck to get it.
James Harden pulled up for a three, missed it, yet saw Jermaine O’Neal foolishly knock the ball away while it was still bouncing on the rim, probably trying to deby the offensive tip in. Instead, his play was called for goaltending, giving the Rockets a 101-98 win and their first playoff appearance since the 2008-2009 season.
Harden didn’t take it easy with his shooting or with his ball handling this time, scoring 33 points on a not so impressive 9-21 from the field, adding six assists and 3 steals. The Rockets hardly used their bench to win for the 44th time this season, playing without the injured Chandler Parsons and Carlos Delfino, giving Harden and McHale the notion that the offense once must against rest almost completely on his shoulders.
Where did that leave Lin? Again, getting the times Harden didn’t feel like taking it on himself (which was very rare in the 44 minutes he put on the floor), and the rest was the usual spot up shooting Lin had to settle for, and as always didn’t bring out the best basketball out of him, finishing with 13 points, 6 assists on 5-14 from the field.
The Suns are 2-15 since Marcin Gortat ended his season last month, which meant an easier time for Omer Asik in the paint, at least defensively. The Turkish center is still quite a distance from becoming a formidable offensive piece for the Rockets, but he makes up for it quite often with his presence in the paint and his dominance on the boards, finishing with 22 rebounds, 7 of them on the offensive glass.
This seemed like one of those games the Rockets just want to somehow get through, with Francisco Garcia in the lineup (scoring 15 points) and Patrick Beverley getting a little bit more credit than he usually deserves, but actually stopping two Suns scoring runs single handedly with his defense, which didn’t cost Lin a spot in the finishing lineup this time, as it seems McHale is learning from past mistakes regarding his choices in who to trust in the finishing moments, but still gives Harden a bit too much free rein on the court, even when he doesn’t make the best of decisions.