The NBA Playoffs are still occurring, but the Rockets are gone, and yes, believe it or not, basketball without the Rockets exists. It is certainly not as interesting from the Rockets fan perspective, and I can already see myself losing interest a week after the Rockets are eliminated. Don’t get me wrong though. I love the NBA and I love basketball, anybody playing has me hooked, but there is a little magic lost when my team is not eligible to win the championship.
And yes, to be fair, nobody in Red Nation expected the Rockets to be still alive for title contention on May 18th, but nobody else expected the Rockets to be alive on May 11th, down 3 games to 2 in a series against the San Antonio Spurs, who had lost their two best players to injury.
The reason why they lost the Championship this season was because this team had too much pride and were too stubborn for their own good. (And Sam Dekker was hurt.)
This issue dated back to the regular season around mid-March. At this point in the season, the Rockets were firmly in position to grab the third seed. They had all but clinched it at this point. The Jazz and Clippers were fighting for fourth and they were too far away from competing for the top two slots. Despite this, the team would still compete as if they were fighting for a playoff spot. This is a great mindset to have, and the team probably does not win 55 games if they don’t adopt the mindset, but all they needed to clinch the third seed was 51.
Therefore, the rotation guys played way more than they should. Ryan Anderson even got injured and luckily was injured at the best time possible so his recovery period would be over right before the playoffs. There was one game in the season that stands out in why the team lost: a road contest against the Phoenix Suns. The Rockets were 51-25 and were comfortably in their playoff seed. Trevor Ariza missed the game for personal reasons, and Harden was out with the flu. Anderson was also out with his ankle injury, so the Rockets were down three starters. When this game happened, I was excited because the Rockets were finally taking a rest, but during the game, Sam Dekker breaks his hand.
It was ironic because it was the game in which the Rockets were trying to prevent further injury to James Harden, yet another key player goes down.
If there is one game of Devil’s Advocate that I could play that changes the season, it is what happens if Dekker does not break his hand. If Ariza plays in this game, does Dekker not play the minutes where the injury occurs? If Dekker was healthy for the first round of the playoffs, he would have been in that rotation, albeit for less than ten minutes, but still apart of the rotation. This means that he is also in the rotation when Nene gets hurt, which eases some pressure off of everyone else.
There were three contenders that adopted the rest of star players, and those three teams were San Antonio, Golden State, and Cleveland. All of them still happen to be in the playoffs right now. Coincidence? I think not.
The team was gassed by the end of Game 5, the first game of the infamous 7-man rotation. They were simply exhausted. And that exhaustion played into Game 6. Even if they win Game 5, they probably would have lost in seven because they were too tired. None of them got any real rest during the season other than healing from their injuries, but had they gotten a few games of rest during the dead zone of their season, I reckon the Rockets are playing the Warriors right now.
The Rockets were simply too proud to continue playing and not rest because that is their job. Their job is to play basketball, but their goal is to also win a championship. I would much rather have Harden and Ariza play 76 games during the regular season and be at their peak for the playoffs than have them play 81 games and sleep during the end of the Conference Semifinals. Mike D’Antoni was also too stubborn to keep his rotation going and leave Dekker on the bench.
The NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. There is a point in a marathon in which you sprint, but the Rockets sprinted too damn early, and it cost them as they got outplayed by a team that was more well-rounded and well-rested. That is why the Rockets are watching this series from the couch, and although maybe they would have lost to the Warriors in 4 or 5 because they are the Warriors, I guarantee everyone in Red Nation would rather get swept by the Warriors in the Conference Finals than lose the way the Rockets lost in the Semifinals.