With no Jeremy Lin, the stage was set for James Harden to do whatever he wants, only to be thwarted again and again by a prepared Oklahoma City Thunder defense. Luckily for the Houston Rockets, there’s a bit more to them, especially coming from Chandler Parsons in a huge performance, and some big plays from less involved players like Carlos Delfino, including one huge and shocking dunk over Kevin Durant.
Can the Rockets win the series? Except for the first game in the series, a humiliating blowout in favor of the Thunder, it’s been three games decided by three points or less. The Rockets won game 4 105-103, but not before Omer Asik stopped Reggie Jackson with his body on the way to the basket, and Serge Ibaka got nervous hand with the opportunity to hit the game-tying layup. It’s not a question of referees not calling Asik for a foul – in the playoffs you expect a certain kind of intensity and raised physicality level that shouldn’t be addressed with whistles. The question is would it have been called the same on the other side of the floor?
But the important thing is that the Rockets kept the series alive. James Harden played with Francisco Garcia and Patrick Beverley in the backcourt, and was quite terrible in yet another attempt to win a game on his own. Maybe he’s envious of Kevin Durant on the other side, but there’s no way Harden can take over games the way Durant can. Harden finished with 15 points on 4-12 from the field and 7-8 from the line, but he only had 5 assists compared with 10 turnovers, the first double digit turnover game in the NBA playoffs since 2008 (LeBron James).
It’s funny to say the Rockets did a good job on Kevin Durant when he finishes a game shooting 12-16 from the field, adding 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 38 points, but the numbers don’t matter here. They forced Durant to give up on the ball more than he and the Thunder would have liked, including the final play of the game after some excellent defense from Francisco Garcia. The Rockets keep giving Durant different looks, and it’s wearing him down. Worse, the Thunder don’t have a one player they can trust completely to pick up the slack.
But Parsons was the story, picking up Harden loose ball and making the most of a disorganized offensive game by his teammates to finish with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Every time the Rockets needed a big shot, Parsons or the quite elusive Patrick Beverley were there to make it happen. There’s no system, simply mayhem in the basketball the Rockets play right now, but that’s the road they’ve chosen to go in, and they can only hope Harden picks up his game and wises up before he doesn’t get the back of his teammates to rescue him from a sweep that’s would have been his fault in more than just a minor way.