- Many Rockets can play hero-ball.
In Game 1, James Harden scored 41 points to open the series with a win. When the series shifted to Utah, it was Eric Gordon with the hot hand, scoring 25 points to pull the series back in Houston’s favor. Then, in Game 4, Clint Capela’s defense bolstered a 3-1 lead and CP3 held it home in Game 5.
The Rockets can beat teams in so many different ways, and that’s why they are one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA. Utah got the best of that in this series, seeing many different players from Houston step up to the plate. P.J. Tucker also played a large role in victories in Games 1 & 5. Gerald Green had big moments in the series as well. I could go on about how important every man in the rotation was, but the depth could be this team’s biggest strength.
- Donovan Mitchell is one of the most exciting players in the NBA.
I wanted to refrain from saying this during the series, but I love Donovan Mitchell. He is one of the most exciting players in the league today and he will be in that conversation for years to come. The Jazz know how lucky they are to have a player like that and Mitchell could be a guy that could attract free agents to Salt Lake City and he is definitely the cornerstone of the franchise for years to come. I’ll be one of his biggest fans as he grows and matures in his career, except when he plays the Rockets.
His rebound-dunk in Game 2 was so impressive. I wanted to like it so much but I couldn’t because it was against the Rockets and it was during a Jazz run as they stole Game 2, large in part due to Mitchell’s efforts (17p, 11a in win). Also, his Game 5 third quarter might have been the most impressive feat in the series, rivaling Capela’s five blocks in two minutes and CP3’s fourth quarter in Game 5.
- Clint Capela is a force to be reckoned with.
Speaking of Capela’s five blocks in two minutes, that was INCREDIBLE. I mentioned after Game 4 that it was Capela’s growth from a boy to a man right before our very eyes. Capela outplayed Rudy Gobert in the series, and that was crucial towards the Rockets’ success. If Capela can bring this mentality to the Conference Finals, the Warriors are going to have some problems on their hands.
- Alec Burks had a pretty good series.
An unsung hero for the Jazz in this playoff series was Alec Burks. Playing for the injured Ricky Rubio, Burks averaged 11.8 points per game in the series, including 22 in the final Game 5. Burks came off the bench as a burst of energy and a scorer and outplayed the Rockets’ version of him in Eric Gordon in this series. As someone who didn’t get much playing time during the regular season, Burks has certainly strengthened his case for more playing time in next year’s rotation.
- The Jazz really missed Ricky Rubio.
Despite Burks’ strong play in his absence, Rubio’s defense was sorely missed from the Jazz in this series. In each game, the Rockets had at least one guard score 25 points, and twice where a guard dropped 40, Rubio’s defense could have been huge and the series might still be rolling now had he been healthy.
- Mid-range shots have a place in the Rocket offense.
Game 3 was a turning point for the Rockets not just in the series, but in their whole playoff run. Their ability to go from strictly a three-point/lay-up/free throw team to adding another layer to their offense in a mid-range game highlighted by CP3 was a big reason why the team won the series. Utah’s three-point defense clobbered Houston in Game 2, but when Game 3 rolled around, their versatile attack caught Utah by surprise and before they knew it, Utah was trailing by 30 after the first half.
In the next series, the Rockets will be able to use their mid-range game to change the tempo of the game and it could be the factor in whether or not Houston gets the job done against Golden State.
- Ryan Anderson’s place in the rotation is muddy.
As mentioned by Max Croes after Game 3, Anderson is out of the Houston Rockets rotation. Anderson played in the first two games but Mike D’Antoni elected to give minutes to Gerald Green in favor of him, as he should have. Green was playing better and he was a better fit defensively against a Jazz team stock full of wings.
D’Antoni also said prior to Game 5 that we could see Anderson back in the series against Golden State as he would be a better fit against them than Utah.
D’Antoni saying matchups are the reasons Ryan Anderson hasn’t been on the floor much for this series, but should play a bigger role if they are able to advance and meet Golden State #Rockets pic.twitter.com/TSpwREg7MB— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) May 8, 2018
It would be nice if MDA wasn’t a stubborn 67-year-old Taurus (Happy birthday, MDA), but he only plays nine guys in the rotation at best. Adding Anderson to a 10-man rotation like we saw in Game 2 of this series is an option in theory, but I’m not sure he would actually go through with it.
- This is not the last we have heard from the Jazz.
This team has some real nice pieces around Donovan Mitchell and Quin Snyder is one hell of a coach. Even after Gordon Hayward left for Boston, Snyder still coached his team one game further than they made it last year.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rockets and Jazz meet in a rematch in next year’s playoffs.
- The Rockets still have a lot to work on if they want to be NBA Champions.
Eight down, eight to go. At times though, the Rockets flashed reasons why the team won’t be the champions when it is all said and done. CP3 needed to carry Houston to win Game 5, and the Rockets went straight-up cold in Game 2. The bench did not showcase their best performances in this series. The room for error in this series was still wide because they were much better than their opponent, but that room for error in the Conference Finals will be very narrow as the Warriors come to town.
- This is the best Rockets team since the 1994 team, and they will challenge that title in the next series.
This is the eighth time in franchise history that the Rockets have made it to the Conference Finals, and never have the Rockets breezed their way through the playoffs like they have in this postseason. Each playoff run beforehand needed either a six- or seven-game series in order for the Rockets to advance to the Conference Finals, but the Rockets have done that this year with a pair of five-game series, probably because they are very good.
The 1993-94 team is regarded as the best team in franchise history, but this record-breaking team has the chance to stand toe-to-toe with that team. This next series will determine if they are one step below or if they are ready to take that leap into the Rockets stratosphere.