This is how I expected Game 4 to go. With Harden back in form, Rockets did what I expected them to do in Game 4. But I did not expect the hobbled Rockets to win Game 5. Things didn’t look good at all before Game 5 started: Harden was under the weather, Lin was still unlikely to play and Asik is still dealing with back issues. I expected guys like Sefolosha to step up and I expected Martin to have a solid game. But OKC played without any energy and no one else but Durant (and later Jackson) could get anything going. Rockets, on the other hand, had pretty much every player going. Parsons had a poor shooting night, after a stellar performance in Game 4 and Smith, again, didn’t do much (but he also didn’t play much). Delfino had to leave the game with an injured foot or something. But Harden was back in form and got his shot back. He nailed his first 7 threes (tying an NBA playoff record held by Robert Horry) and ended up shooting 7 of 9 from three point. He hasn’t had a shooting night this good for like over a month or so. Ended up with a very efficient 31 points (10 of 16 from the field) with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and ONLY 3 turnovers. Asik, due to OKC’s fourth quarter Hack-Asik strategy ended with 21 points on 13 of 18 free throws (that has to be a record for Asik) and 4 of 6 from the field. Garcia was the third leading scorer with 18 points. He helped keep Durant scoreless in the fourth quarter, which is the first time Durant has ever been scoreless in the fourth quarter in the playoffs in his NBA career! In all, every single Rockets player was in double figures, except for Smith and Delfino, who barely played. So it was a great team effort. This is the way the Rockets have to play. Just keep the ball moving, keep bodies moving and be aggressive on the defensive end. I think they played their best defense tonight–at least the best that I can remember.
I thought OKC would get over their overcompensation for losing Westbrook, but it looks like they’re still scrambling. Their over-reliance on Durant is really shooting the confidence of their other players. Kevin Martin went 1 of 10 from the field, which is pretty much unheard of for him. I hope OKC continues to stick with their panicked strategy and keep their focus on Durant. The more Durant gets the ball at the top of the key, the better, in my opinion. But I can’t blame them for their strategy, because his teammates really struggled.
I’m sure Rockets fans were thrilled to see Brooks play some major minutes. He went 4 of 11 from the field, so not very good, but did provide a lot of energy. Beverley also had a pretty solid contribution with 14 points and 8 rebounds, but only had 1 assist in 39 minutes. Brooks had 3 assists in 19 minutes. So, for those who think the Rockets don’t need Lin, I think they’re of the mindset that 1 good thing that Beverly does = 4 good things that Lin does and 1 good thing that Brooks does = 16 good things that Lin does. I think it’s more over-enthusiasm that these guys haven’t dropped the ball in Lin’s absence, but Rockets do need Lin. Right now, they’re playing playground ball and are able to get away with it. Also, without Westbrook, Lin isn’t needed as much for this match up, since Beverly and Brooks can compete with Fisher and Jackson. I’m sure McHale isn’t in too much of a hurry to have Lin back and if they can win without Lin, then that’s great, because they’ll need Lin healthy for the next series.
What’s awesome about the Rockets, and what makes them so fun to watch, is that they play team ball. This is why the last few games of the season were so painful to watch, because they went into Harden Hero Ball mode. This Rockets team has a lot of players who can step up at different times. This is what makes them so dangerous. Rockets played with so much confidence tonight. As long as they continue to play with this much confidence, yet with a lot of hunger and energy and continue to play team ball, they have a great chance of pulling off something that’s never been done before in the NBA. Already, they’ve become only the 14th team in NBA history to force a Game 6 after being down 3-0. According to Ultimate Rockets, there has been 109 series that have started out 3-0. I find that pretty hard to believe that only 14 teams have forced a game 6 down 3-0. And I’m amazed that no team has come back down 3-0 in NBA history. I mean, you figure in all those years, some team must have done it. Rockets have a great shot, now that they’ve got the momentum. They need to stay hungry and not let up. OKC is scrambling and as long as OKC continues to scramble, Rockets have the best chance of doing the impossible. They’re in a great situation now, as long as different players continue to step up. I have a feeling Brooks will get even better in the next game and he’ll have to step up, since I’m pretty sure Lin will still be side-lined. I don’t think McHale trusts Lin enough to put him back in, even if Lin is healthy, because McHale doesn’t want to mess with the lineup right now.
NOTES: The smart play award goes to Harden with the play where he waited until the ball went across half-court to touch it and then launched a quick three so Rockets could get a 2 for 1 possession. That’s some high basketball IQ right there. And Asik gets kudos for not crumbling under pressure and sending a message to Scott Brooks that they need to come up with something better than Hack-Asik.
Rockets are still alive! I didn’t think it would happen, but what a great feeling as a fan. Time to make history!