James Harden and Clint Capela looked good. Like really good. Like messed up the Western Conference two seed good.
The “Unguardable Tour” added one more stop for Harden in the Toyota Center with a setlist of 38 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. The step back three had the crowd mesmerized while a 29 point lead in the fourth quarter let Harden sit for the final four minutes.
Most importantly the Nuggets cycled through defenders and even attempted the “force right” defense employed by the Milwaukee Bucks at points. The result was step back after step back and 14 free throws from a nonstop series of drives.
Capela went for 17 and 15 against arguably the All-NBA First Team center, Nikola Jokic. Rockets fans can breathe a sigh of relief as the performance washes away a few poor outings over the past three weeks. While he didn’t cage Jokic entirely, he did create trouble for the mercurial big man which disrupted the regular flow of Denver’s offense.
Recent history suggests an 18 point halftime lead would be lessened or eliminated in the third quarter, but Houston broke that trend. They led the entire game from the second quarter on and put the game out of reach without ceding any ground.
Playoff implications abound with this victory.
It’s unlikely, but the win hands Houston the home court tiebreak against Denver with a 3-1 season record against the potential two seed. It’s worth noting that the only game the Rockets dropped was played without Clint Capela or Nene. Jokic predictably dominated that game.
It also puts the Nuggets a game-and-a-half behind the Warriors. This has serious playoff implications. If Houston continues its recent play they should be able to secure the third seed in the Western Conference from Portland. That’s not a guarantee as there’s tough games left, but theoretical. If that’s the case then you’d want the Warriors to maintain the one seed to avoid a second round matchup with the perennial Western Conference champs.
People can say “it doesn’t matter when we play the Warriors,” but it’s an unquestionably more easy path to the Western Conference Finals without playing them in the second round. The only rational justification for the second round matchup is a concern that reaching the Conference Finals triggers a Clint Capela bonus which puts the Rockets over the salary cap. But we’ll let BimaThug and Daryl Morey worry about that for now.
Some additional thoughts:
- Iman Shumpert had his best game as a Rocket (or at least that I can remember). Make no mistake, I don’t believe he should be in the playoff rotation and trust him taking a three less than Kenneth Faried right now. But, he had a very solid game posting 7 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists.
- Shump was outshined by Austin Rivers. Who I believe should be in the playoff rotation over him. After a few weeks of streaky shooting Rivers posted 15 points on 6-10 shooting and a +34 PLUS/MINUS.
- Danuel House laid an egg this evening with zero points on 0-5 shooting and zero rebounds in 20 minutes.
- Kenneth Faried and Gerald Green sat out the game in street clothes.