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Forget analytics, it’s time for swagger: 50-point quarter reignites Peak Rockets

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A 50-point third quarter propelled by James Harden and Chris Paul justify Houston’s top seed swagger.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves
Chris Paul and James Harden combined for 61 points.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets offense was reignited behind a 50-point third quarter propelled by should-be-two-time-MVP James Harden and Chris Paul. The 30-point advantage the quarter delivered closed out Game 4 early.

Of course, you know this already. Unless you rely on the ESPN News ticker or your morning copy of the Houston Post for NBA scores. The historic quarter is coursing through your veins this morning after twenty or more mediums filled your smartphone.

The quarter will go down in history as the second-most points scored in a quarter in 55 years. It’s astounding.

But the sober likelihood is the Rockets won’t go off for 50 in a quarter next game. Instead the lasting imprint of the quarter will be Houston’s rediscovered swagger.

Prior to Game 4 James Harden openly recognized the team’s sluggish and below par offensive performance over the last month. The Beard said the team was ready to break out of the funk.

They did.

Houston looked like the regular season behemoth they were for most of the year. The type that ran teams out of the building on their way to a franchise-best record while bagging a record number of makes from distance. It was a performance that re-established their brand of basketball. It brought back the swagger, which I am told is a phrase to describe how a person handles a situation.

Right now, mentality may be Houston’s X-factor. It’s the secret stuff. It’s the difference between the pre-season statistical models which had the Warriors winning 70 games and the top seed the Rockets currently hold.

And any fan can tell there’s a difference.

James Harden and Chris Paul enjoyed last night’s game. Gone was a sense of Dashboard Confessional-induced emo attitude in Harden’s eyes. The MVP had an awful first quarter. He responded with a commitment to shake off the haters eclipsed only by Taylor Swift’s literal spoken commitment to do so more than 30 times in a three-minute song.

The man your grandma now recognizes after a single glance outscored the entire Timberwolves team in that third quarter, 22-20.

And Chris Paul... on the Clippers, Paul could have been mistaken for Regina George performance art. Wildly vacillating between playing a victim and chastising teammates with authoritarian decrees that pink can only be worn on Wednesdays and forbidding the use of the phrase “fetch.”

Instead, last night Paul looked like he has most of the year. A man who is enjoying his profession, his teammates and his wins.

It’s an important atmosphere to acknowledge. Houston got behind the James Harden-Dwight Howard Rockets teams, but neither the team or fans felt in their gut that they could go the distance. Did I mention the team didn’t believe in themselves or each other? Because they really didn’t.

Brooding self-interest put a ceiling on those teams before they stepped on the court most evenings.

This current team believes. This team wants to beat the Warriors. This team has history on it’s to-do list. This team has Chris Paul fighting to establish a legacy. This team has James Harden searching to silence the haters.

Last night their swagger returned. They casually achieved what 28 other teams would consider impossible.

Xiane wrote about the three different Rockets teams we’ve seen over three playoff games. Last night the red and yellow boys delivered “Peak Rockets.”

They delivered a clear win while showing there’s still more room to swag. Houston scored 119 points while PJ Tucker, Gerald Green, and Ryan Anderson combined for five total points. Each player will find ways to contribute in future contests.

In reality Houston is built to withstand a sleepy evening from multiple players. Last night, Harden and Paul delivered when they were needed. In future evenings others will step into the void and deliver performances which make the team believe in one another.

Shit, even Zhou Qi and Chris Paul had a custom high five routine on the bench.

Most importantly, the Rockets team needed a reason to believe in themselves. Last night’s third quarter delivered the opus. The résumé. The justification. After more than a decade of using analytics, salary cap manipulation, and roster shuffling to find an edge, perhaps what matters most right now is believing this thing can happen.

50 points in a quarter is certainly a statistical outlier, but it’s also real life.

The Hall of Fame point guard who’s never made the conference finals can make it further than that. The should-be-MVP can silence the critics. The ragtag bunch of tequila sunrise sporting 100-game losers can beat the top three payrolls to hoist some hardware.

Swag on Rockets. Swag on Houston.

Editorial note: The author of this article has never used the phrase “swagger” aloud. However, he does own orange Air Force Ones his mom bought him “because they were Houston Dynamo orange.” He was 25 when this happened.