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What happened to James Harden and the Rockets on opening night?

Why exactly did James Harden struggle against the Nuggets?

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Does anyone remember Admiral Ackbar in Star Wars? Well as the Rebel Alliance was entering what they thought was a sneak attack on the Galactic Empire, they were dead: wrong the Empire was waiting on them.

"It's a trap!" Ackbar screams as the Rebels take massive fire and casualties before being able to retreat.

My first thought post game of James Harden's struggles was this exact same thing. The Rebel's A.K.A James Harden thought this game was in the bag, he'd get his points, Rockets would get their win and he'd be out mid-way through the fourth quarter.


The Empire aka the Nuggets were ready and waiting to make Wednesday night's opener as difficult as possible for the Harden and the Rockets.

"We had a spurt in the third quarter where we were hustling and we didn't get any shots to fall, and that takes a lot of energy out of you," Harden said "the great thing about it is it's only game one."

To Harden's credit, in the third when the Rockets were trying to get back into the game, the Rockets were all over the place. One stretch in particular that comes to mind: midway through the third quarter down by four. The Rockets had seven chances to score before the Nuggets hit another shot, instead they missed shot after shot.

I will support Harden, that's pretty soul-crushing. They were flying all over the floor, getting offensive rebounds, taking threes, but just couldn't put anything in the basket.

It wasn't just the third, though. It was all game long. Harden shot just 28 percent overall on the night (6-21 field goals). It also wasn't just one thing keeping Harden down, it was a mixture. The shot wasn't going down despite some good looks. He wasn't getting some of his normal foul calls (only nine free throws on the night). And, last but not least, the Nuggets played some honest to goodness defense.

"You want to be physical, make him feel you, make him see bodies," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said of the defense his team played on Harden "Gary Harris did a great job, was into him all night long, our bigs were in support on all those pick and rolls."

Harris downplayed himself doing well personally on Harden crediting a great team defense. Harden postgame dismissed the Nuggets stopping him.

"No, no, it's the first game of the season," he said.

Regardless of it was or was not the defense, this was probably the hardest he's worked to score 22 points. But even the greatest of the great put up stinkers, so don't worry too much. Harden has earned the benefit of the doubt in Houston, he knows how to score and get the ball in the hoop.

Overall, the Rockets only shot 34%. Yes, it stings the loss was to the Nuggets and on opening night, but these games happen from time to time.