It’s only a single game, but there was only one real MVP candidate on the floor at the Toyota Center on Sunday, and it was the one with a huge Beard.
James Harden was absolutely scintillating and played perhaps the best playoff game of his career. He finished with 37 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals to lead the Rockets to a statement-making 118-87 Game 1 blowout. But it was the way The Beard took control of the game in the second quarter that won the game for the Rockets.
After a slow start shooting the basketball that saw Harden toss up three airballs in the first quarter, The Beard switched strategies. He began taking the ball to the bucket off of the Thunder switch on pick and rolls, and he absolutely abused Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson.
As a result, the Rockets turned a small first-quarter deficit into a halftime lead, and then really broke the game open in the third period and coasted in the fourth, as The Beard began to truly cook with some filthy moves.
In addition to Harden’s valuable performance (see what I did there), Patrick Beverley was an absolute maniac. Bev carried the Rockets through a rough first quarter when they came out tight, and it was his intensity and toughness that set the tone for the entire contest.
He did Wolverine-like things: draining triples, drawing chargers and going all Bushwick Bill snatching boards (the little big man). He finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals and was 4-6 from beyond the arc. Most importantly, he held Russell Westbrook to 22 points on just 6-23 shooting. Russ also committed 9 turnovers and was a minus-25 on the evening, while being mostly guarded by Beverley.
Russ also finished with 11 rebounds and 7 assists, which was almost a triple double, which just goes to show how worthless that stat line can be unless put into the proper context of actual wins on the court.
Beverley did have to go to the locker room in the fourth quarter after taking a series of bumps and bruises in the contest, including an absolutely crushing pick from Steven Adams, but according the Rockets’ heart and soul himself, he’s likely to be right back out there in Game 2.
"Steven Adams set a good one on me, but I'm a dog so..."— The Dream Shake (@DreamShakeSBN) April 17, 2017
-Beverley on his back injury
One of the other more impressive stories of the evening was how the Houston front court completely outclassed the top rebounding team in the league. The Rockets outrebounded the Thunder 56-41 and they completely dominated points in the paint (62-38) and second-chance points (31-4).
Both Clint Capela and Nene came to play, with the Swiss Roll finishing with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, while the Brazilian big man showed how a true vet comes prepared to the dance with 15 points and 5 boards on 7-8 shooting in just 19 minutes of action. He was indeed a major difference-maker for the Rockets off the bench.
Possibly most encouraging for the Rockets was they can absolutely play better. They came out extremely slow to start the game, and they got very little offensively from some usual major contributors. Eric Gordon had just 11 points on 3-8 shooting, while Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson had just 4 points apiece (though Anderson did have 12 boards).
Lou Williams finished with 11 points, but he continues to look a little unsure of himself offensively and continues to force things.
But that’s all bad news for the Thunder, because the Rockets didn’t even play their best game as a team and still blew OKC out by 30. Sure, you can’t expect 6-23 shooting from Russ every night, and Patrick Beverley’s injury situation bears watching over the coming days. but after Game 1, it appears the Thunder might just not have the fire power to hang with one of the all-time best offensive attacks in league history. The bearded ringmaster of that attack was on full display for the world to see on Sunday night.
Game 2 takes place on Wednesday night, back at the Toyota Center.
Make sure to visit Welcome to Loud City all through the series.