It took overtime, it took LeBron choking at the free throw line to make up for some bogus calls, but the Rockets beat the hottest team in the NBA, 105-103. Now everyone take a shower.
For a regular season game, this was an instant classic, one that deserved an extra five minutes to resolve. The heavyweights traded knockout punches all game, it was close from wire to wire, and the refs...we'll get to the refs. The important thing is, the good guys won.
Add this to the list of juicy potential finals matchups (if someone can take out the Warriors for us). With basically no personal history that I can recall going into the game, the Rockets and Cavs essentially turned into Knicks-Pacers circa 1993, especially in the third quarter.
That third quarter was as much fun as any quarter I've watched this year, if you like total chaos (I do). There were fights, technical fouls, MVP moments from Harden and LeBron, and Pat Beverley agitating at Peak Beverley levels (which I'm sure you guessed from the first part of this sentence). He even got LeBron to fight! When's the last time you saw that?
LeBron totally started it, by the way.
Through all of the chaos, James Harden just kept scoring. And scoring. He totaled 13 points in the period. He also got called for a flagrant foul when he kicked LeBron in the junk, but he was already being mugged, and LeBron should have received his second technical for the aftermath. Getting LeBron ejected would have been Harden's definitive MVP moment.
Overall, the Beard was at his best, finishing with 33 points while making 15 of 18 free throws, with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. When both offenses slowed down and became predictable isolation-fests at the end of the fourth quarter and overtime, it was Harden who created more points than LeBron, and facilitated when LeBron stubbornly kept forcing up shots.
Terrence Jones had a great first half, showing off his improved strength and energy, but faded badly in the second once Harden took over. He missed a couple of easy layups in the fourth quarter that the Rockets really could have used as LeBron was decimating their defense. However, he played well defensively and still managed 19 points and 7 boards. If he throws that up every night, no one will complain. He also led the Rockets in minutes with 44, so yeah, he's back.
Speaking of LeBron, he slowed Harden considerably in the fourth quarter after switching onto him. In terms of the MVP race, I think it was an absolute coin flip between the two going in. Both take their teams from lottery squads to title contenders. On the one hand, LeBron's the better overall player, and harder to neutralize. On the other hand, Harden has less talent to work with and has been more consistent all year. On the third hand...
There's your 1,826,377th MVP moment for the Beard. Also, LeBron went 3-11 from the free throw line, and missed two critical FTs late in overtime when making them both would have taken the lead from the Cavs. What more do you need, voters?
Other than Pablo Prigioni, pretty much every Rocket who saw the floor played well. Josh Smith started the game by jacking up ill-advised threes and missing, but became a penetrating force (who was still too loose with the ball) in the second half and overtime, often providing the only non-Harden offense the Rockets could muster. He didn't have a great stat line, but he brought a lot of energy and defense in the paint once Timofey Mozgov fell off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again.
Let's go back to Patrick Beverley for a second, and give thanks. He didn't have an elite point guard to defend, though he did shut down the illustrious Matthew Dellavedova. He scored 12 points, dished out 5 assists and shot over 50%, which he didn't do once in February. He also instigated a lot of the madness of the third quarter, which angered LeBron enough that he went into terminator mode.
That might be a negative, as LeBron certainly went on a tear, but he also needed 35 shots to get his 37 points. He played straight-up hero ball in the second half, and my guess is that it was because the Rockets got under his skin. Never change, Pat. As long as you can shoot it half-decently, we'll always love you.
I generally think it's bad form to harp on officiating, considering how easy of a target they are, and how tiresome it is for any neutral reader. So all I'll say is this: the game was terribly officiated, and it affected both teams. However, it seemed to go against the Rockets more frequently as the game went on. There was some bullshit out there today.
Having taken care of the Cavs, the Rockets can sit back, relax and aw crap they gotta face the Hawks next? Well...*pulls up pants* back to work, everybody.