Dec 31, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard J. Harden (13) waves to the crowd after a made three-point basket against the New York Knicks during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
There were plenty of highlight reel moments for the Houston Rockets in 2016-2017. Here’s our top 5 favorites.
Before we get started, I’ll lay out a couple of ground rules. A list is nothing without parameters. First, I’m going to try to diversify a little bit. A good argument could be made that the five best plays of the Houston Rockets’ 2016-2017 campaign were step back threes from the Beard. But this is a Rockets list, not a James Harden list. These kinds of things are all subjective anyway.
Second, these are plays or moments, not entire games. As wonderful as Harden’s 53-point triple-double was against the Knicks, that doesn’t count for this list.
Lastly, I only included highlights from the regular season. I didn’t really plan on that being a rule but I ended up with only regular season plays so now it’s a rule. Okay, enough boring talk. Let’s get started.
Next: 5. Harden's fancy assist to Harrell
Dec 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward M. Harrell (5) and guard J.Harden (13) celebrate after a play during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
5. When James Harden diced up the Clippers’ scrubs just for the fun of it
By the time this play happened, the Houston Rockets were up by 19 with four minutes left in the game. Doc Rivers had already called it a night and let Brandon Bass onto the court. Harden, for no good reason other than entertainment, turned a regular play into a highlight one by dishing through his legs to Montrezl Harrell.
Harrell added to the fun by removing the city of Los Angeles from the map with a thunderous dunk that would put him at 26 points for the night. He finished with a career-high 29.
This play would have ranked higher if it hadn’t taken place at such a meaningless point in the game. If Harden did that with the game on the line I don’t know if anybody would have lived to tell the tale. But still, it’s impressive.
Next: 4. Harden's step back three to beat Utah
Nov 19, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket against Utah Jazz center J. Withey (24) and forward J. Ingles (2) in the second half at Toyota Center. Rockets won 111-102. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
4. When James Harden created more space between himself and Dante Exum than there is between the United States of America and Australia
There were less than 30 seconds left in the game with the Houston Rockets beating the Utah Jazz by eight. At that point, a comeback wasn’t likely. It would have taken some Tracy McGrady-level heroics to pull it off.
But the Beard didn’t want to take any risks so he took it upon himself to ice the game. Isolated on poor Dante Exum, he crossed over a few times before executing the most beautiful step back jumper I’ve ever seen. Dante didn’t deserve such treatment, but that’s what happens when you find yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Arguably the best part about this highlight is Harden’s reaction. The “give it to me” pose followed by the Lil B cooking dance sports celebration is a deadly duo that only gets used once or twice a year. A fantastic way to end a game if you ask me.
Next: 3. Houston's miraculous comeback against Minny
Jan 11, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Houston Rockets forward T. Ariza (1) during a game between the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. The Timberwolves defeated the Rockets 119-105. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
3. When the Rockets were losing by 17 in the second half but then remembered they were playing the Timberwolves
Okay, Minnesota isn’t actually that bad. Whenever they finally make the leap, they’ll be really good. Karl-Anthony Towns is definitely the best player in the league with a hyphenated first name, and it might not be too long until he’s in the discussion for best player overall. The future is bright for the T’Wolves.
On December 17, 2016, however, the Rockets reminded them of how much ground they have yet to cover. With 2:05 left in regulation, Houston found themselves down by 12. They were on the second night of a back-to-back and were tired. Everything looked short and lethargic until James Harden decided he wanted to win.
Long story short, the Rockets went on to hit four threes in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime. That was enough to swing the momentum and it was over from there.
I know this isn’t a single play, rather it takes place over the course of about three minutes. Even if this bends the rules just a bit, though, it’s worth mentioning. Well, really anytime Trevor Ariza takes a dribble before he makes a three is cause for celebration, but when it happens with less than 10 seconds left on the clock to tie the game, it’s getting listed in a top 5 plays article.
Next: 2. Dekker dunks all over Kanter
Dec 21, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets forward S. Dekker (7) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Rockets defeated the Suns 125-111. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
2. When Sam Dekker threw down the best dunk of his career on the guy every Rockets fan wants to posterize
Is there anything better in the whole world than a basketball player dunking debilitatingly hard on another basketball player? I do not think so. That’s exactly what Sam Dekker did to Enes Kanter and his entire extended family in December.
Here’s a more detailed description of the events: Patrick Beverley grabbed a rebound to start a fast break (FYI that’s how every Houston fast break starts), and Dekker immediately saw his window of opportunity. He ran down the right side of the floor and caught a perfect pass from Bev and didn’t think twice about rising up. Kanter, eager to right the wrong of his missed three (yep, he’s the one who started this whole process), contested the dunk.
The dunk was analyzed by The Ringer’s Shea Serrano, who gave it an 80% score on the Disrespectful Dunk Index. Part of the reason it scored so high was Dekker’s long, icy post-dunk staredown that caused all of Kanter’s mustache hair to fall out. It was my personal favorite moment of the Houston Rockets’ 2016-2017 campaign.
Next: 1. Harden's game-winning heroics against Denver
Apr 5, 2017; Houston Rockets guard J. Harden (13) reacts after making a basket during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: T. Taormina-USA TODAY
1. When James Harden drove past the entire population of Denver to score and then made the game-winning defensive play to beat the Nuggets
Sometimes I forget how amazing James Harden is at basketball. Especially after watching the game 6 meltdown against the Spurs, it’s easy to take his play for granted. If he continues down the path he’s on now, though, the Beard could arguably the best Rocket in history by the time he’s done.
One of the many times Harden proved himself to be a top player in the league was in mid-March against the Nuggets. It had been a back-and-forth affair and the Rockets were down by one point with 10 seconds left. Over that fateful 10-second span, James got a contested rebound, dribbled the ball the entire length of the floor for a wildly uncontested layup, and stole the ball to ruin a beautifully designed play that would have won the game for Denver.
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Harden’s herocis here made up his most defining MVP moment of the season and will likely be one of the best plays of his entire career. It really was that great. He showcased his entire arsenal of skills, from rebounding to playmaking to defense.
This play would have likely made the list even if it weren’t at the end of the game, but the fact that it won the game for Houston pretty much iced it. It was the best moment of Houston Rockets basketball all year.
The Rockets have a lot of work to do and a few roster upgrades to make before they’re ready to seriously contend with the Warriors, but that shouldn’t take away from their sensational 2016-2017 season. They outperformed expectations and have the wins, highlights, and stats to prove it.
Stay tuned to Space City Scoop for more Houston Rockets coverage as the draft and free agency draw near.