James Harden took just 12 shots in the Houston Rockets’ 117-109 Sunday night defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers. He hit 6 of them and finished with 27 points, but the Lakers ran a trap and sometimes a zone in order to take the ball out of his hands and delay his decision making.
Russell Westbrook had perhaps his worst game of the postseason, shooting just 4-15 from the field for 10 points, committing 7 ugly turnovers and often looking completely out of sorts and out of control out there on the court. Russ is at his best when he plays with organized chaos. This was just chaos without the organized part. And he somehow took 3 more shots than Harden.
L.A. is daring any Rockets not named James Harden to beat them, and Houston is going to need more production from their bench group if they have any hopes of downing the top-seeded Lakers in this series.
For the second straight game, Houston’s reserves underperformed. Danuel House had a solid showing, going for 13 points and 5 rebounds on 5-10 from the field, but was the only Houston bench player to tally any scoring whatsoever.
Jeff Green, who, to his credit, had some big playoff moments in the first round, finished with 0 points, 0 rebounds, and 3 assists in 22 minutes.
Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore also put up goose eggs in the scoring column and combined for just 10 total minutes of action. They were 0-3 from the field combined.
Perhaps most notably, the cumulative plus-minus of Houston’s bench was -58. Yes, you read that right. Green was a -26. House was a -17. Rivers was a -18 in 7 minutes of action. That’s actually quite a feat. A negative one, but a feat nonetheless.
The Lakers, meanwhile, put up 41 combined bench points, led by 16 from Markieff Morris and 13 from Kyle Kuzma. Those two combined to shoot 12-15 from the field. L.A.’s bench was a cumulative +56 for the game.
The Rockets’ reserves were simply outclassed, and it happened for the second straight game. Even in Houston’s 112-97 Game 1 victory, the Rockets’ bench was outscored 33-17, with 10 of Houston’s points coming from Rivers.
Houston’s best shooter on the year, McLemore, has played a grand total of 7 minutes this series, with head coach Mike D’Antoni reluctant to give him too much run due to defensive deficiencies.
Houston has some additional bench depth, but don’t expect them to get any court time any time soon. DeMarre Carroll and Luc Mbah a Moute have been darlings of Rockets Twitter, but the chance of seeing either one on the hardwood are slim to none, and slim just left the building.
No, Houston’s rotation is set in stone, so if things are going to change, the Rockets need some consistency from the current crew.
Los Angeles is gambling right now that no one on Houston outside of The Beard can beat them, and at least after Game 2, they appear to be right. Eric Gordon, to his credit, has stepped up, averaging 23.5 points and shooting 50 percent from the floor for the series, but particularly with Russ struggling, this is the time for the bench to get their act together.
Westbrook: Right now I’m just running around. I gotta look at film figure out how to be effective.— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) September 7, 2020
Prescription: More minutes for McLemore and more consistency from Rivers and Green.
Uncle Jeff has always looked like one of the league’s best players one night and then one of its worst the next night, but he was fantastic versus Oklahoma City. He’s scored 7 total points in two games versus L.A.
Rivers always has that quick first step, but he goes as his three-point shot goes. He had it in Game 1, going 2-3, but went 0-2 in Game 2.
Danuel House has been Houston’s best bench player, redeeming himself for last year’s underwhelming postseason. He’s currently averaging 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds on 36 percent shooting from deep in the playoffs.
If Houston’s other three bench players can get it together, the Rockets will be in business. If they continue to struggle, however, Houston could be in trouble.