Lists are fun, and as the decade comes to a close (though a lack of the year 0 means that technically the decade ends at the close of next year) I wanted to make a rundown of players that have made life especially hard for Rockets fans over the past 10 years or so. I feel qualified to break down this era since I started my run at The Dream Shake way back on March 3, 2010. So I’ve been pretty involved with the team over these last decade.
Some ground rules I set for myself:
- No superstars, unless that player goes the extra mile in destroying Houston. Sure, Kevin Durant always drops 30 on the Rockets but he does that to everyone.
- I only looked at 2010-2019. That means that while Jason Terry played until a few years ago, his days of murdering the Rockets had already come to a close at the turn of the decade.
- One or two games does not constitute a killer. There are plenty of examples of players who had a single monster game against the Rockets (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Spencer Dinwiddie come to mind), but I was looking for sustained success against Houston.
So without further ado, here we go.
5. J.J. Barea
The jitterbug point guard has survived into his 11th season of NBA basketball, and it feels like most of his career was built on the back of Rockets heartbreak. A stud out of the pick-and-roll, the diminutive point guard has carved up Rockets teams of all shapes and sizes. While his defense is a huge weakness, Barea has been able to generate enough offense with solid decision- and shot-making ability. Barea’s numbers are better against Houston than his career numbers, and the sample size is large enough to mean something.
When Barea signed a 3-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves after the Mavericks’ championship, it appeared that his days tormenting the Rockets was over and that he would fade into obscurity and out of the league. Alas, that hope was unfounded and Barea returned to the Mavericks and his Rocket-killing ways once that contract expired.
At age 35 and getting only spot minutes for the Mavericks this season in just seven contests, it seems that Barea’s time in the NBA is finally drawing to a close. However, don’t be surprised if we see the magician perform one last trick in one of the remaining Houston-Dallas matchups.
4. JJ Redick
Maybe when your name is J.J., you are an automatic Rockets killer. JJ Hickson did some damage to Houston too, after all.
The terror that Redick inspired over the Rockets during the past decade is a bit different than the others on this list. Yes, his numbers are all better against Houston when compared to his career numbers (actually, his shooting numbers are worse; however, his usage rate shoots up against Houston), but Redick also passes the eye test easily as someone that gave and continues to give Houston fits.
While in Orlando and Philadelphia, Redick didn’t give Houston much trouble since the teams only met twice a season, it was his time in Los Angeles that gets the most attention here. The Clippers owned the Rockets during the four years that Redick spent in Hollywood, including a 7-1 stretch in the first two seasons. History has been re-written by the narrative of Houston’s stunning comeback from down 3-1 in the Western Conference semi-finals in 2015, but make no mistake: the Clippers were a terrible matchup for Houston and the reason was Redick.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were superstars and had their share of big games against Houston, and DeAndre Jordan usually packed and served Dwight Howard’s lunch in those contests, but it was Redick’s talent for neutralizing James Harden that was the difference in those matchups. The Clippers would work until they got Harden on Redick, then ran Redick through screens over and over again. Harden, who’s never been a good defender off the ball, practically gave up midway through the possession, leading to open looks for a deadly shooter. The net effect would be that Harden was then too tired to carry a Houston offense that so desperately needed him to be Superman. Redick has been a willing defender for his entire career, and defended Harden smartly by pushing him towards the paint and Jordan.
During the James Harden era in Houston, we’ve seen our fair share of “Harden stoppers” who happened to have a good game or string of games defending The Beard. However, no player slowed Harden down more in the decade than Redick did without ever putting the clamps on him defensively.
3. Draymond Green
No player embodies what it means to be a Rockets killer like Green. Blessed with outstanding court vision and even better shooters around him, Green has picked apart the Rockets while making a higher percentage of shots against Houston than he does against everyone else.
The Golden State Warriors have been in everyone’s way over the last five years, but no team got as close to beating a full-strength Warriors team as the Rockets did. As crazy as it may sound to anyone that didn’t watch, the biggest obstacle for Houston was never Durant, Steph Curry, or Klay Thompson, but Green. What made Green even more of a threat over the last decade than those scorers was his ability to cover up the few deficiencies the Warriors had. Not many players over the height of 6-6 can stay with Harden and defend the paint.
Green is an irritant and gets away with basically anything when it comes to referees. If he has a technical already, I maintain that he could murder a referee’s child at midcourt and they would swallow their whistles. Nevertheless, you cannot help but appreciate his talent given his lack of size and shooting ability.
2. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook gets on this list in a different way than everyone else, but he’s still had plenty of phenomenal games and moments at Houston’s expense. I could get into how Rockets and Thunder fans have been at odds about Russ since the mercurial point guard was injured on an innocuous play in their first round matchup in 2013. That led to his neverending beef with fan favorite Patrick Beverley. Then there was the MVP discussion in 2017, which Westbrook won to the detriment of Harden. Suffice to say that Russ has been a nemesis for the Rockets and their fans alike.
No play encapsulates the Russell Westbrook experience like this one:
Your first thought is (and should be) “Wow, what an incredible dunk by Westbrook over Clint Capela to seal the win for the Thunder.” But take a second to understand the situation. There’s 7.1 seconds left in the game and the shot clock is turned off. The Rockets have to foul as soon as the Thunder successfully inbound the ball. Instead of waiting for the foul, Russ attacks the rim and gets the highlight dunk. The play is both incredible and stupid. What if Russ missed the dunk? The Rockets would have then had a chance to tie the game with five seconds remaining.
This type of play has been Westbrook’s trademark during his entire career. He’ll drop a 50-point triple-double in the playoffs, but he’ll take 43 shots to get there and doom his team by shooting 2-11 from deep rather than attacking the basket.
Westbrook’s spot on this list could easily go away if he fine-tunes his game into a more efficient style that includes more attacks to the basket than jumpers, but it remains to be seen if the former franchise player in OKC can change his spots. As it stands, Russ has been a Rockets killer in more ways than one.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
With respect to Voldemort’s buzzer beater that will live on forever, the real killer of the 2014 Houston Rockets (and all the years before and after that) was LaMarcus “Olajuwon” Aldridge. In Games 1 and 2 of their first round series, LMA scored 89 points on 35-59 (59.3%) shooting. To really drive the point home, Aldridge did so in the most anti-Moreyball way possible, hitting long two after long two over the hopeless arms of Terrence Jones, Omer Asik, and Dwight Howard.
Aldridge actually cooled off considerably over the remainder of the series, but the damage was done. Houston lost homecourt advantage and never fully recovered, setting the stage for Damian Lillard’s heroics.
Watching these two games still gives me PTSD.
I said at the beginning of this that superstars couldn’t be on this list unless they dominated Houston more than they do against other teams. Even though his career numbers don’t back that up, there are myriad examples of Aldridge being relatively quiet for three quarters only to explode against the Rockets in the final frame. More than any other player over the previous decade, Aldridge has exemplified the perfect Rockets killer.
Okay TDS, who did I miss?
Who is biggest Rockets killer of the 2010s?
This poll is closed
Obviously it’s Luka, you idiot (h/t Xiane)