Just like in the intro to Fallout 4, the protagonist talks about war never changing, the same can be said about James Harden, who did the same things he usually does for the Houston Rockets in a 108-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, ignoring the criticism from his teammates and others while making it seem like all the team needed was to actually fire Kevin McHale.
The team wasn’t responding to McHale in practice or during the games. McHale himself admitted it, as weird as it is for a head coach that just wins more games in each season with the team. Be it them doing it to him on purpose, or simply some mental fatigue, which happens, the only option here is to fire the coach, because it’s impossible replacing the entire roster. Some players fought for McHale (there’s a rumor running around about Howard being his strongest defender) but it didn’t matter. McHale got fired, and might be getting a job with the Boston Celtics pretty soon, teaming up with Danny Ainge in some front office capacity, which might be more up McHale’s alley anyway.
But in the hours and days that led to McHale getting fired, there was also a players meeting, players-only meeting. And while McHale getting fired might have resulted from that meeting, telling us a lot about how the NBA works these days, at least in some organizations, Harden got his share of criticism from the players on his team. Harden talks about leading this team after every loss, but he might not be seen as a leader by the others in Rockets uniform.
His defense, his offensive play and his aloofness, which pretty much hacks to pieces Harden’s leadership talk, were brought up by the players in hope that it shakes up something with their All-Star, who like it or not, is the biggest factor in how well the Rockets play because the ball goes through him so much.
So, did anything change in the hours after McHale was fired? Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff is the head coach right now (interim), and the team didn’t look much better. Sloppy was probably the best word for it. Harden did finish with 45 points and 11 assists, but he shot just 11-of-29 from the field (4-of-15 from beyond the arc). He at least made a difference on defense, something we know he can do, with 5 steals. He had a big fourth quarter to help the Rockets back from down 16, and made a creative assist to Corey Brewer who nailed the 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime.
Harden made shots and looked focused in the final minutes. That seemed to be the difference. But can it all be just about making shots and his head being in the right place? The Rockets need to be smarter, better. Jason Terry started for Ty Lawson in what looks like a permanent move. Lawson responded with 2 points and 1-of-8 field, in a field move so far for Houston, but maybe keeping him away from Harden as much as possible will lead to better basketball from him.
The Rockets look like a mess on the court, salvaged by individuals stepping up. Harden, Corey Brewer with big shots and a little bit of Trevor Ariza. But be it Bickerstaff or someone else who gets the job of coaching this team, it’ll have to be about creating some sort of offensive cohesion and discipline. Simply giving the ball to Harden, who can have these kind of nights but also ones in which he destroys his own team, can’t be their only strategy anymore.