Houston Rockets: Chris Paul says loss to Bucks shouldn’t sway MVP race

Chris Paul #3 and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Chris Paul #3 and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets lost a big game to the Milwaukee Bucks, but Chris Paul says one game shouldn’t sway the MVP race.

Tuesday’s game between the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks was an important game for many reasons.

It was a clash between James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two leading candidates for MVP. Even more importantly, the Rockets needed to win the game to keep their place as the third seed in the Western Conference.

Unfortunately, Houston didn’t bring their A-game to Milwaukee. The Bucks pummeled Houston on the boards, out rebounding them 60 to 46. Their defensive strategy against Harden, guarding him on his left side and forcing him to drive into traffic, held Houston’s offense at bay and allowed the Bucks to sweep the season series 2-0.

By forcing Harden to drive, Milwaukee’s defense naturally has to quickly collapse to keep Harden from getting all the way to the hoop, forcing him to give up the ball. This is a sound defensive strategy, unless of course the Rockets are hitting their shots, but they couldn’t hit anything.

The Rockets shot just 16-52 from the 3-point line and they attempted only 7 free throws. If there were ever a formula on how to beat Houston, clearly successfully limiting their airspace on 3-point shots and keeping Harden off the line would be the foundation of a winning strategy.

The Bucks did a good job of keeping Houston off the line, but the Rockets had tons of open 3-pointers, they just missed their shots. Gary Clark, who made two 3-pointers in just under 10 minutes of play, made the same amount of 3s as James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon combined. It was an ugly game for Houston to say the least.

As for the head-to-head matchup between the two MVP candidates, well, both players had below average games. James Harden finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists, but he shot just 9-of-26 from the floor. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 19 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists, but committed 5 turnovers.

Neither player had a career night, but the Bucks won, which could make some lean towards Giannis as this year’s MVP. However, one game shouldn’t decide the MVP race, as Chris Paul was quick to remind us, via ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.

“James went on a historic run. Know what I mean? Obviously, I’m biased about the MVP and whoever or whatnot, but those of you that decide it on head-to-head games with a few games left in the season, good luck with that. Happened to me in ’08.”

As Paul said, Harden went on a historic tear earlier this season, scoring at least 30 points in 32 consecutive games. Additionally, Harden is leading the NBA in points per game by a wide margin and he has turned into perhaps the best post defending guard in the game.

Narrative has a lot to do with who gets the MVP Award, but we can’t let one game drown out what Houston has accomplished this year. The Rockets started the season 11-14 and had the second worst record in the Western Conference, but now they’re fighting for the third seed and are just 4 games behind the Golden State Warriors.

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A big part of Houston’s turnaround happened while Chris Paul and Clint Capela missed significant time with injuries, leaving the Rockets extremely shorthanded. If it weren’t for Harden’s extraordinary efforts, the Rockets could be outside of the playoff picture right now. No player has been more valuable to their team’s success this season than James Harden.