The Rockets will always have their doubters. There is just something inherent about the Beard bias, even as he is square in the midst of a second consecutive historic season. That dislike extends out to the Rockets as a whole, and it’s just a fact of life as a member of Red Nation.
Granted, the Rockets made some of this bed with last season’s .500 stumble that led to the firing of Kevin McHale and Dwight Howard moving on to Atlanta. But we’ve even still seen some of that disrespect through the first quarter of this season, despite a hot Houston start, primarily on the road, that’s led them to the upper half (4th seed to be exact) of the admittedly early Western Conference playoff seeding.
The prevailing thought: This team can score enough to beat the bad teams, but what happens against the top echelon of the NBA?
Those of us inside Red Nation, however, knew this team was capable of hanging with anyone in the Association, and despite still smoothing out some wrinkles in a brand new system and a revamped roster, this team is beginning to assert itself as a major player in spite of a treacherous early-season schedule. After last night’s 132-127 double overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors, the rest of the league should start recognizing as well.
The Beard did typical Beard-like things. Harden finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds, 14 assists and 2 steals. It was his fourth triple dip of the season and the 13th of his career. He’s now just one behind the immortal Hakeem Olajuwon for the franchise lead.
And Eric Gordon did what is fast-becoming another night-in, night-out given. He finished with 23 points, 5 assists and 4 triples and has developed into the secondary perimeter scoring threat this team has desperately been missing.
But the Rockets also showed the areas they are still developing. After struggling a bit through the first several weeks, Ryan Anderson finally showed why team management spent what did on his contract. Ryno went off for 29 points, 5 rebounds and 5 threes, including some big ones down the stretch to help Houston to victory.
And the Rockets also received stellar games from two young guns who have finally cracked the rotation and are slowly starting to earn themselves more minutes. This win doesn’t happen without Sam Dekker’s 11 points and 8 rebounds and Montrezl Harrell’s double-double of 13 points and 10 boards.
Dekker can shoot, brings some much-needed controlled athleticism to the lineup and has the height and length to effectively defend. And Trez repeatedly shows he belongs in every opportunity for extended minutes he receives.
Expect him to take more of Nene’s court time as the season progresses. The Brazilian big man can still be effective in small spurts, but he’s looked every day of that 34 years of age this season, while Harrell’s grit and toughness can be what separates the Rockets in hard-fought games such as last night’s.
We’ve also learned that the Rockets are still coming into their own. They haven’t even come close to reaching their peak. The team is still evolving, and as new pieces like Anderson and youngsters like Harrell and Dekker become more comfortable and more integrated into the team and system, this Rockets squad can be a genuinely scary force to be reckoned with.
They’ve already beaten San Antonio and Golden State on their respective home floors and gave the defending champion Cavs a run for their money in Cleveland.
We also learned a little about the Warriors last night too. We learned that depth is a real problem for them, and the Rockets’ ability to get substantial bench production was a huge difference maker in this contest. The Warriors played 13 guys last night, but got next to nothing from the 8 that came off the bench.
We learned that they’re still massive front runners. When the going got tough, KD shrunk, Steph Curry fouled out and Draymond Green did what Draymond does best: start kicking people. Of course he also whined and cried about the officiating after the fact.
The flagrant one call was not the reason the Warriors lost, and it comes after a long and extensive prior history by Green of doing the exact thing he was flagranted for last night. Teams were also notified by the league office that they would be looking closely at exactly those types of incidents moving forward.
In stressful situations, people often revert to their natural instincts. Green has proven over and over again what his first instinct is, then he has the sack to actually complain about being reprimanded for it, despite being warned by league. More than once.
It all comes across as childish and petulant on Green’s part, but it’s just further proof that Golden State still lacks the mental and emotional toughness to win when everything doesn’t go exactly their way (last year’s NBA Finals collapse, anyone?)
The team’s emotional leader (Green) should be pushing his team through adversity. Instead, he’s crying to the press about perceived slights rather than looking in the mirror. He has the rep he has for a reason. As I said, front runners.
In the meantime, the Rockets will keep developing around what looks to be the league’s clear early MVP leader, a coach whose system is still forming around the roster like an organic, living glove and who also runs smart rotations, and several young players (we haven’t even mentioned Clint Capela) beginning to grow into serious roles and prove themselves in the heat of battle.
Houston might not be perfect. There’s still plenty of room for improvement in several facets: defense, rebouding, limiting turnovers. They also need to get more consistent. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them lose tonight in Denver after last night’s emotional win in double OT.
But they’ve already shown they are capable of beating anyone in the league at any time, and they’ve shown the mental toughness to keep their composure in tight games and against big competition.
The ceiling for this team is through the roof. They have the potential to do some legitimate damage if they keep improving. Keep it up and the rest of the Association and those who watch and cover it will have no choice but to recognize.