On some nights, you think that the Jeremy Lin – James Harden backcourt duo is the best in the NBA. In other games, like the most recent win for the Houston Rockets, you clearly see the difference between an OK, sometimes outstanding point guard who still has plenty of improvements to make, and someone who is already a full fledged NBA superstar.
We’re growing. It took us some time, but we usually rely on our shots. If we’re not making shots, we kind of give up on our defense. The last few weeks, it’s been our defensive effort, holding teams down defensively and trying to get out and score our transition baskets.
Harden didn’t just lead the Rockets in scoring with 29 points (adding 9 rebounds and 6 assists), he literally won the game for the Rockets, improving to three games above 8th in the West, which means playing either the Spurs or Thunder when it comes down to it. With the Rockets down by one point, James Harden hit a jumper as the clock showed just 4.5 seconds left in the game, handing the Rockets a 96-95 win, making it five wins in six games for a team that sometimes, just sometimes, looks much more than a group of run & gun, with solid defense and a genuine clever offensive philosophy.
Harden scored 18 of his 29 points in the second half as the Rockets rallied from three down in the final minute, beating the San Antonio Spurs for the first time after four consecutive losses. The Spurs, who usually go to Tony Parker on the big clutch plays decided to go with Manu Ginobili, thinking they had the mismatch in their favor. Ginobili messed up badly (finishing with only 3 points and 1-6 from the field), leading to a very bad Kawhi Leonard shot.
Jeremy Lin had his best individual game of the season against the Spurs, with James Harden not playing that time. Facing the best point guards usually is a rough outing for Lin, who finds it hard chasing elite point guards on defense and still giving his best on offense. He finished with only 6 points on 2-8 from the field, adding 5 assists. It was simply better to have Harden handle the offense most of the time, enjoying a much more favorable matchup on defense, drawing the fouls he usually does, going to the line 17 times, making 15 of his shots.
While it was classic spread-the-ball through spacing offense from the Rockets, the kind Chandler Parsons is always so proud of, showing a bit of grit, scoring in other ways than just three-pointers (“only” 9 from 23 shots), including 18 points on the fast break, isn’t such a bad way to roll. Parsons was Harden’s right hand man this time, scoring 20 points while adding 8 rebounds, as Omer Asik made life in the paint very hard for Duncan and Splitter, grabbing six offensive boards as Houston won the rebounding battle.
In a series, it’s unlikely the Rockets will come out alive against either the Spurs or the Rockets. Too relying on their home court, and when it’s about putting up a defensive stand in consecutive games, the Rockets usually fail. But there’s no doubt how fun they are to watch, and what contrast of styles a match up of them against pretty much anyone in the West is going to be. If they figure out a way to make Jeremy Lin a more consistent contributor, even when most of his action is off-the ball, maybe a first round upset won’t be such a hard-to-reach dream.