Ahead of Friday’s practice, Mike D’Antoni preached three words during his media availability via Zoom. Effort. Heart. Spirit. Entering Game 5 down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Rockets did not receive the memo as they fell 119-96, Saturday night, inside the AdventHealth Arena in Orlando.
With the loss, Houston’s dreams of leaving the NBA Bubble with the Larry O’Brien trophy came to an end during the Western Conference Semifinals, losing 4-1 to the Lakers. For the first time in his coaching career, D’Antoni has been eliminated from the post-season in less than six games.
The Rockets opened the night flat for the second straight time. Houston missed nine of their first 12 shot attempts — which included six botched layups from inside the restricted area.
After scoring just six points from the field in Game 4, James Harden had a bounced back performance with 30 points shooting 12-for-20 from the field. The narrative that Harden does not show up in big games should be put to rest despite Houston’s elimination. In the midst of collecting six rebounds and five assists in the process, Harden played 42 out of the 48 minutes in the loss.
“It’s very frustrating, especially with the amount of work that I put in. I’m going to keep chipping away and keep going and going until I can’t go anymore. I feel like we’re a piece away.” — Harden
Outside of Harden, it was a rough night for the rest of his teammates — especially for Russell Westbrook. His struggles throughout the series carried over into Game 5 with only 10 points shooting 4-for-13 from the floor. The only other player outside of Harden who had a solid offensive outing was Jeff Green, who added in 13 points off the bench.
It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Lakers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored the first three points of the game, and Los Angeles jumped out to an early 22 point lead during the first quarter. LeBron James, who is going to his ninth conference finals since 2011, scored 29 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in the win. Kyle Kuzma added in 17 points (5-9 FG, 3-6 3PT) in 27 minutes for Los Angeles.
He’s great [Westbrook]. He brings it every night and he’s good. You’ve gotta put everything in context. We were rolling, he was rolling, you lay off 4 and a half months, you come back, and these are not normal circumstances. But overall, he was great.” — D’Antoni
With another post-season run ending in heartbreaking fashion, the question for the Rockets as they head to the offseason becomes, “What’s next?” Houston’s all-star backcourt is tied up for the next three seasons, and Harden says he feels that the team is one piece away from a championship title.
However, coaching seems to be the biggest question surrounding the Rockets as their season come to a close. D’Antoni is currently a free agent with his contract expiring and based on the events of last summer, it may take a miracle for the 2017 Coach of the Year winner to continue calling Houston his place of service.
“I’ve gotta let this one sink in a little bit. We’ve got a great organization, great city, great fans, the team is great. So, we’ll see what happens. I couldn’t ask for a better situation for 4 years. Hopefully, it keeps going.” — D’Antoni