The chemistry among the Money Boys (i.e., Harden, Lin and Asik) reminded me of the chemistry they had in Harden’s debut games–except it was even better tonight. That chemistry went away after the coaches over-emphasized Harden being the number 1 option and messed up Lin’s head. But that chemistry was back tonight, as Lin is playing with a lot of confidence. Lin also looked like he enjoyed himself out there and was having a lot of fun. It was the most comfortable and fun I’ve seen him out on the court (I missed the Knicks game). Lin’s enjoyment reached a peak when he dropped off the ball to Douglas for a three in transition in the fourth quarter. Lin had a big smile after that play, which is great to see. These guys are really enjoying playing with each other right now. The more they’re having fun out there, the more they will keep winning. That was what Linsanity was all about. It was one celebration after another and there was so much joy on the court. I’m not sure if the Rockets will ever reach that level of joy (probably no team can), but hope they come close this season.
I thought tonight was one of Harden’s best games. He plays like an old, wise Kung Fu master: patient, decisive, and devastatingly efficient. He played within himself, rather than try to force plays and shots. He had great numbers tonight: 33 points, 7 of 12 field goal (2 of 3 from three point), 17 of 18 free throws, 7 assists and only 1 turnover! I think the 18 free throw attempts is a career high for him. Not sure, but just guessing. It was ridiculous how many fouls he drew tonight. So frustrating to watch for Sixers fans, I’m sure.
Lin finally had back-to-back good games! I think it’s a turning point for Lin. This is what I was picturing would happen for Lin soon after the Spurs game. It took a few games for it to work itself out, but looks like things are starting to move in the right direction for him and, as a result, the Rockets are playing well. They shot 56% from the floor tonight: a season best for the Rockets! It’s not because they were hitting outside shots. In fact, they struggled with their outside shots tonight (with the exception of Douglas threes in the 4th). Their high field goal percentage is due to the fact that they were taking high percentage shots, because Lin and Harden were playing aggressively and their Bigs (Asik and Smith) had so many opportunities in the Paint. We had six players in double figures: Harden 33; Lin 18, Asik 17, Douglas 17, Morris 14, Smith 13. Parsons had 9 points. Smith was a perfect 5 of 5 from the field and had six or eight straight points in the second half that was key to staving any hope of a Sixers come back in the third quarter (I think). Smith is such an impressive finisher. Asik, after struggling in the past several games had a big night tonight with 15 rebounds to add to his 17 points. He was great in the pick and roll tonight. The best I’ve seen him all season! Hope he continues improving on that, because between Harden and Lin, Asik and Smith are going to have a lot of opportunities for easy baskets. The player that struggled the most tonight was Delfino. He couldn’t get anything going and was pretty much taking away minutes tonight. Parsons has also been struggling pretty badly with his outside shot (4 of 13 Field Goal and 1 of 7 from Three Point), but still managed to be effective in other ways.
I saw the coaches play Lin differently tonight. Lin got screens whenever he wanted them. The ball was in his hands just as much as it was in Harden’s hands. When Lin went to the bench towards the end of first quarter and into the second quarter is when the Sixers made their run and McHale didn’t waste much time in putting Lin back into the game. So they’re showing a lot more confidence in Lin. Like I’ve been saying, I know that the Rockets have a good offense, but I think it can be even better if they let Lin play more of his game and they did that tonight. As a result, the Rockets had their best Field Goal percentage of the season! When Lin plays well, the Rockets do well. It’s that simple. Lin just needs to maintain this same level of energy and mental toughness to continue to play his game no matter what. I think it’ll be easier for him to do this now that he knows this is what the coaching staff want from him. I think up until the Knicks game, he still wasn’t sure if the coaching staff wanted him to play aggressively or defer to Harden. But now it’s clear that the team is better when Lin plays aggressively. And Lin’s aggressive play does not affect Harden’s scoring in any way, as evident in the Knicks game and tonight’s game.
There were a few lapses in tonight’s game (early in the second quarter and in the third quarter), but overall, I thought the ball movement and player movement was solid. It was a fun game to watch. I even saw Harden set a screen for Lin. Hope they continue to throw that into the mix. It’s one of the Linharden synergies I’ve envisioned from day one. It appears this team is just starting to gel. If this is real and they have in fact built some good chemistry, then they’re way ahead of schedule. I think the Rockets organization had expected it to take much longer for this team to gel. The big test is against the Grizzlies and I’m very optimistic that the Rockets have a good shot at beating the Grizzlies, as long as they continue to play team basketball with Lin being aggressive as the primary play maker and Harden being the scorer.