We'll start with the Rockets though.
The game was sloppy early but Houston's defense reigned supreme. The Rockets finished with 13 blocks but had 8 midway through the second quarter. Defensive rotations were solid and the Rockets rarely let the Jazz get open looks from distance.
It wasn't until the second quarter that the Rockets took firm control of the game. Through a bevy of defensive stops and run-outs, the Rockets built a 35-point lead. As you would expect, Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza, and Josh Smith were at the heart of the action.
One sequence in particular stood out: In a 48-second span, the Rockets got a 3 from Terrence Jones, a stop, a James Harden 3, two blocks on the ensuing possession, followed by a Corey Brewer fast break dunk. It sealed the game.
After that, it was up to the Rockets to play out the string and they did just that. The fourth quarter was tedious and even the Rockets announcers were barely paying attention.
The bigger news for Houston was the New Orleans Pelicans defeating the San Antonio Spurs tonight. The Rockets win combined with the Pelicans' slingshots the Rockets to the 2 seed and the Southwest Division title.
That's right, the Rockets just won the toughest division in all of sports. The only division to feature all five of its teams in the postseason. Don't forget: just three years ago, the Rockets were wrapping up the 9 seed for the third straight season and we were wondering if they would ever be good in our lifetimes. It happened. We're here.
I distinctly remember in 2009 when the Rockets had the chance to win the Southwest Division on the last day of the season. They lost and got zero help from the rest of the West and fell to the 5 seed. And after two straight seasons of closing seasons terribly, the Rockets finished the year on a 3-game winning streak.
Less than a week ago, the Rockets looked dead in the water after two losses to the Spurs. Tonight was a fantastic switcheroo that Rockets fans will remember for years to come.
So, with everything trying to push this squad down, they rose to their first division title in 21 years. They overcame an awful offseason, a TON of injuries, a Josh Smith acquisition that many said would ruin the Rockets, and two late-season losses to the Spurs that sent every analyst to the hills to cry out that the Rockets were pretenders.
It's impossible not to be incredibly proud of this team.
The Rockets will now have home court advantage in their opening series against the Dallas Mavericks. Chandler Parsons will have to deal with some Toyota Center boos.
Some notes about the actual game tonight:
- Kevin McHale played Clint Capela instead of Joey Dorsey as the first center off the bench and he played pretty well. Might we see Capela as the backup 5 against Dallas?
- Josh Smith was fantastic tonight. 3-5 from 3 and was everywhere on defense.
- Playoff Dwight Howard is here.
- Terrence Jones didn't miss a shot. I said in the preview today that Houston would need him to step up and now he'll have to abuse Dirk on offense and try to contain him on defense.
- K.J. McDaniels, Nick Johnson, and Kostas Papanikolaou played most if not all of the fourth quarter. Papa looked understandably rusty. It's safe to assume we won't see any of them in the playoffs. KJD is a free agent this summer and the Rockets hold a team option for Papa. It might have been their last game as Rockets.
- Oh yeah, James Harden had a triple-double! 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in 27 minutes. What a way to finish the season. I wish everyone else saw what we see every night, but it's still great to know that Harden is under contract here for three more years.
Enjoy this. You deserve it.