With Jeremy Lin getting a chance to play more minutes than usual as an actual point guard, it’s no wonder the Houston Rockets and especially Dwight Howard looked so good offensively in their comfortable 104-92 win over the Boston Celtics while James Harden, trying to go against the team-basketball current, put in a bad performance, struggling with a good perimeter defender once again.
The important things are that the Rockets won, this time making things less complicated than in their win against the Wizards. The Rockets did lose by 7 points in the fourth quarter, but that came after two consecutive quarters of pummeling the Celtics, winning by a combined 27 points in quarters 2 & 3, scoring 65 points.
Dwight Howard got most of the attention against the nonexistent frontcourt the Celtics had to offer. He finished with 32 points and 11 rebounds on 11-of-17 from the field. He was sent to the line 18 times, hitting 10 shots which makes it a reasonable return for a guy struggling to remain above .500 from the line.
But there was more than just lobbing to Howard the whole game. Jeremy Lin seemed to be back in the point guard role he has rarely played for the Rockets. James Harden had plenty of time to get himself into trouble. He scored 16 points on 6-of-18 from the field, finding it very difficult to get his way against the excellent Avery Bradley, who made it clear for Harden that each time he’d try going one on one while ignoring his teammates it won’t end up well for him.
Lin finished with 16 points as well (5-of-7 from the field), easily getting to the line and almost flawless in his offensive decisions. He finished with 9 assists, showing Harden what a player needs to do when double teamed on the perimeter. Once it led to an easy three for Harden, but most of the time it was about finding Howard for easy points. The entire starting five for the Rockets finished in double figures; it has something to do with the Celtics being a bad defensive team, but smart, passing basketball, with Parsons and Casspi also looking for Howard with their first looks, didn’t hurt.
So where to from here? Kevin McHale might have been a bit jittery from playing in Boston, but he had to see what everyone saw, which is Jeremy Lin handling the basketball and leading the offense usually results in better basketball from his team. If James Harden would have been more of a team sport and not tried and force things almost every time he touched the ball, even his precious numbers would have looked much better instead of posting another example of why he’s rightfully criticized for being a ball-hog.
The Houston Rockets will have tougher games than what the Eastern conference has to offer, but the recipe and formula should be similar to their win over Boston and parts of their game in Washington: Feeding the ball to Howard against weak interiors and getting the ball to Harden as part of the offensive flow, and not as the first option no matter what. Letting Jeremy Lin make those decisions on the court seems to be a good idea, but it won’t be surprising if it’s not followed up on in the next game.