Hello Dream Shake Nation!
This time last week, the Rockets were coming off of a wild win in Game 1, and we were discussing what Game 2 might look like. Now, seven days later, we are discussing the possibility of closing out the Thunder tonight in Game 5. This week, we also discuss Game 3’s difficult defeat and Game 4’s wild win.
This week’s panelists are Jeremy Brener (JB), Joshua Reese (JR), Ethan Rothstein (ER), Max Croes (MC), and Adam Sweeney (AS).
As always, continue the debates in the comments below.
1. Harden had two chances to tie the game late in Game 3, yet opted to go for the lead and missed two threes. If you were Harden, what would you have done?
JB: I would have gone for a layup. There was plenty of time left in both opportunities to go for two, and heck, if things go very right for the Rockets in Game 3, we might have even called this a sweep. As a former basketball coach myself, I am very conservative when it comes to these types of things. Maybe if the score of the series weren’t 2-0, we see Harden drive in. Could you imagine how much heat he would get for missing those shots to go down 0-3? Beard wouldn’t hear the end of it.
I see the rationale in going for the three, and that overtime would have been brutal with Beverley and Harden both with five fouls, but I would have still tried for two. I don’t have a problem with going for the win on either occasion, but if I were the Beard, I would have tried to get the three point play the old-fashioned way.
JR: The second three I didn't mind so much, you trust Harden to make game winning plays and more often than naught, he delivers. I was a little disappointed he "settled" for the first three, but in his defense, he was 2/3 in the fourth before then.
ER: I think this, like many times in Harden's Rockets career, is a case of going for the easy shot over the best shot. Harden is a solid, but not great, three-point shooter. But with the game winding down, he relies on his pull-up three-point shot as his clutch option despite being markedly better when he's close to the rim. Those shots are much more difficult when your legs are tired and refs tend to allow more contact. I am not the MVP, so it's hard to second-guess. But he should at least try to generate ball movement, rather than draining the clock before hoisting up a contested three-pointer.
MC: James.Harden.Plays.To.Win. Folks calling for him to go for two are ignoring that the refs swallow their whistles that late and Harden would have likely kicked out to another shooter. I don't have a problem with Harden taking that shot, just wish he had been at 100%.
AS: I had no problem with going for the kill, especially on the road, with the first shot. On the second shot, I would have driven to the lane, but I don't have a problem with either shot. If he connects then the Rockets go up 3-0 and have a stranglehold on the series. It's important to also note that we don't know the extent of James Harden's ankle injury at that point of the game, so his shots from long distance may have been a product of that lingering issue. All in all, I am totally okay with the shots.
2. Where does Nene's Game 4 performance (28/10, 12/12 FGs) rank in all-time Rocket playoff performances?
JB: It has to rank among one of the best ever by a big man. Keep in mind that the Rockets have only made it past the first round twice in this century, so we are about to enter very rare territory for the Rockets if they can make it past this series. I would rank this performance right next to 2015 Game 2’s first round performance of Josh Smith, when he had 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists in a come-from-behind win against the Mavericks.
The situations here are very similar, and I would actually put Nene’s performance just ahead of J-Smoove’s just because this took place on the road, and this was a more consistent whole game performance, whereas Smith’s really shined in the fourth. It is by no means one of the most legendary playoff performances ever in Rockets history, but Nene’s Game 4 is a game in which Rockets fans should remember for a while.
JR: Meh, I wish I had a great memory but I don't, so I can't answer this one, but Nene was fun to watch for sure though.
ER: We'll have to wait until this playoff run is over to truly know, but it was incredible. Especially considering the Monstars sapped Clint Capela of his talent, the Rockets desperately needed everything Nene could give them. He somehow gave them more than that. This obviously isn't up there with Hakeem's legendary lines, or even Harden's Herculean Games 1 and 2 vs. the Warriors in 2015. But considering the stakes and the context, this is at least worth a video tribute when Nene returns to the Toyota Center after his Rockets career is over.
MC: Thank the good Beyoncé that D'Antoni is going with Nene over Capela. A TDS commenter couldn't have been more accurate when he said Capela looks like a baby deer. For Nene, it's an all-time statistical performance at a crucial time, but not an all-time performance. Something more has to be on the line for that and all Rocket fans hope this series is done and forgotten.
AS: It must be in the top 25 Rocket performances ever, right? (Hakeem Olajuwon probably own at least 15 of those performances by himself.) Nene carried the Rockets on his back and single-handedly destroyed the best rebounding team in the NBA. When you tie the postseason record for greatest shooting percentage based on shot volume then you belong among the greats. What makes it more impressive is how unexpected his effort was. I've always been a Nene fan but didn't know he could turn back the clock like that. Here's a stat for you; Nene had score 20+ points ONE time this season before his coming out party on Sunday. He now owns OKC's soul. Seriously, he keeps the team's collective spirit in a jar on a shelf at night
3. On a scale of 1-10, how concerned are you about Harden's ankle?
JB: It’s at a 5 right now. If this series goes to Game 6, a 6, and if this series goes to Game 7, you get my point. The sooner the Rockets allow James to heal the better. The Spurs-Grizzlies series is lasting until at least Thursday, with a game Saturday if necessary. The second round series is either starting this Saturday or Monday, depending on when these series end. If the Rockets can wrap up this series tonight, then they will have at least three days where they are not playing basketball and can heal from the wounds of the series.
This Spurs-Grizzlies series could go six or seven, and hopefully it goes seven, but no matter what, the Rockets will be ready and healed if they can just take care of business tonight. Harden’s ankle is something to worry about, but it sounds like it is not too serious and not something a little rest can help heal.
JR: It’s at a 2. Harden still ran well and cut fine, if he was slowed by the ankle he did a bad job showing it.
ER: 4. I didn't like that he said he played worse with it, but if the Rockets can finish the series in Game 5 — which they don't need Peak Beard to do, clearly — then he'll have plenty of time to rest up as the Spurs and Grizzlies duke it out. He didn't look like he was limping, just less explosive. Keith Jones has this on lock. The only concern is a serious aggravation, which is always a possibility in basketball with ankles.
MC: I'm actually relieved to hear it was his ankle. He looked like last season's James Harden in game four... The Harden who TMZ caught at an LA club after a game. Watching him during the game I thought the wear of playing 81 games was starting to weigh on him. I'm thankful that's not the case and that he rolled an ankle that can get better in the next week. Not that he's overtaxed. So I guess the panic meter’s at like a 2 or a 3, nothing too serious.
AS: 11. We're at Spinal Tap level fear on this one. It's Threat Level Midnight in H-Town. If you told me Harden had an ingrown hair on his face I would at the very least raise an eyebrow, so any legitimate injury makes me sweat. It is reasonable to expect The Beard to bounce back from his hobbled ankle, but he clearly wasn't right in Game 4. That is even more reason to wrap the series with OKC up in Game 5 in Houston on Tuesday, and to pray that San Antonio-Memphis goes 7 games. Harden needs to dunk his ankle into a glacier for a few days so he can bust our all the Euro steps in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
4. The Rockets' starting lineup has a net rating of -30.1 in this series. What should the Rockets' starting lineup be going forward?
JB: This may be an unpopular opinion, but they should stick with Beverley-Harden-Ariza-Anderson-Capela. Yes, this group has started out slow in each of the first four games, but three of those games ended up in wins. This group has not run into much of a problem throughout the season, but they are struggling against the OKC starters because they don’t match up with them as well. Capela is a mismatch for Adams, Gibson is a mismatch in the post for Anderson, Ariza and Roberson are a push, but Roberson has made more of a defensive impact in this series than Ariza. Oladipo has provided more offense than Beverley in this series, and Russ has outperformed James, but who has the 3-1 lead?
A lot of this lead has to do with the bench performing so well. 64 points in the last game from just three people! Houston’s bench is far superior to OKC’s, and the Rockets make up for their lackluster starting lineup with a tight-knit second string. As long as the Rockets keep winning, they should keep this group intact.
JR: Nope, why make a panic move up 3-1 one? Shooters are struggling, moving them to the bench won't change things, keep it as is.
For most team's i.e. the Thunder it's pretty dangerous to count on the bench so much, but that's why the Rockets brought these guys here, for moments just like this.
ER: The obvious answer: bench Ryno, start Gordon. The Rockets' starters would be much better off if Ryan Anderson looked anything like himself. But he has no confidence in his shot, and the rebounding force he became in Game 1 has also gone AWOL. Anderson can still be effective, but against a team as long and athletic at the 4 like the Thunder, capable of guarding him with Taj Gibson or Jerami Grant at all times, he is a bad matchup.
MC: Nothing. Changing the starting lineup would upset team chemistry and potentially drive Anderson or Ariza in to a deeper funk. The Rockets do need to bring Eric Gordon and/or Lou Williams off the bench earlier. The starters can't be given seven minutes untouched, they have to be cycled out earlier.
AS: A starting lineup of Harden, Gordon, Ariza, Anderson, and Nene feels right to me, with Ryan Anderson being the first to ride the pine if he can't get hot. Anderson's inefficiency is concerning to me so I wouldn't be opposed to pushing the tempo on a guard-heavy scheme for much of the game. What good is Anderson, really, if he can't shoot better than 14% from three-point range? I mean the dude doesn't rebound. His sole reason for being on the floor is to stretch the defense. When you shoot a full 200 percentage points worse than MARREESE SPEIGHTS we have problems. I like The Ryno overall and digress, but that is a long-winded way of saying that there should be a short leash on you, Mr. Anderson. Do NOT make me go Agent Smith on your ass.
5. Will the Rockets blow their 3-1 lead?
JB: Don’t let the Rockets being up 3-1 in the series distract you from the fact that the 2015-2016 Oklahoma City Thunder blew a 3-1 lead against the Golden State Warriors who blew a 3-1 lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and later that year, the city’s baseball team, the Cleveland Indians blew a 3-1 lead against the Chicago Cubs. The Rockets do not join this infamous crowd.
ER: Nope. The Rockets have played lackluster basketball and took three of the first four. They'd have to play worse to lose three games before they win another one, and I don't see that happening six straight games.
MC: "Next question." --Russell Westbrook
AS: No, no, and no. We have seen the Rockets play one game competently in this series, with respect to Game 1. The Thunder have played over their head in multiple games and still are down 3-1. The Rockets should wrap this baby up in Game 5. It all comes down to high energy, composure, and a fast start in the 1st quarter. There is no excuse to lose this series. I don't care if Russell Westbrook goes full T-Rex for the rest of the series and steals all the microphone time from his teammates. Houston is a complete team, filled with selfless players capable of handling whatever the Thunder can throw their way. It's time for Houston to do their best Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. Finish them with a flawless victory!