Space City Scoop’s Awards: Honoring the Houston Rockets
With the All-Star break now upon us, we present the first-ever Spacey Awards, created to honor the best of the Houston Rockets’ season so far.
From scoring 159 points in a regulation game to losing another by 29, from an early eight-game winning streak to a four-game January skid, there’s never been a dull moment for the Houston Rockets this season.
The Russell Westbrook experiment has had mixed results so far, although appears to be trending upward as he adapts more to Mike D’Antoni‘s system. In his eighth year with Houston, James Harden has shown no signs of slowing down, averaging 35.3 points, 7.3 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game so far.
Although the Rockets had some rough patches that included frustrating losses to the Sacramento Kings, Detroit Pistons and Golden State Warriors, they still find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race at 34-20, which has them at fifth coming out of the All-Star break.
The Beard and the Brodie have co-existed as well as you’d expect longtime friends to, much to the dismay of many offseason critics that said the new dynamic backcourt would have problems. P.J. Tucker has also shown consistency alongside the team’s two superstars, while Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore have had some impressive stretches among some bad games.
As a fun way to recognize the interesting season the Houston Rockets have had so far, I’ve created some awards to hand out to players, moments and even fashion choices from the beginning of the season until now. Here is the first edition of Space City Scoop’s own Spacey Awards.
Next: Best Supporting Cast
Best Supporting Cast
The Houston Rockets Bench on Nov 30
Going into their first matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, the Rockets were confident after getting revenge on the Miami Heat one game earlier. Houston badly needed to pay Miami back after being down as much as 41 points against them and ultimately losing by 29 in their first meeting.
In one of the most dominant performances in franchise history, the Houston Rockets were up by as many as a whopping 58 points and put up quarters of 38, 43 and 46 all in one game. When the massacre was over, James Harden scored 60 and dished out eight assists in just 31 minutes, allowing for extended garbage time for the bench.
The bench was ready and willing to do their part as well, scoring a season-high 47 points for the Rockets behind 16 from Chris Clemons and 14 from Austin Rivers. Rivers also dished out four assists and pulled down six boards in his 32 minutes while Gary Clark pulled down six of his own. Houston would go on to win the game in dominant fashion, 158-111.
Considering Clint Capela sat out this game, the bench played a key role in making sure Atlanta never even made the game close for the entire second half. The November 30th bench unit wins the first Spacey Award for Best Supporting Cast for their strong contributions across the stat sheet.
Next: Best Moment
James Harden’s 4-point Play in LA
There’s no reason to sugarcoat it — if you’re a fan of the Houston Rockets, Patrick Beverley is at or near the top of your list of most annoying players in the NBA. He gets in your face, claps, stares you down, flops, and seems to get away with an awful lot of fouling. Make no mistake, it’s effective.
Every team contending for a championship needs an intense guy like Pat on their squad. The LA Clippers are certainly huge contenders for the NBA crown this season, which made James Harden‘s moment at the Staples Center in November that much sweeter.
In a November 22nd showdown from Los Angeles, the Clippers were looking to avenge a loss in Houston just nine days before, when James Harden’s 47 points pushed the Rockets past them by a score of 102-93. The rematch was close throughout, with the Rockets taking a four-point lead into the final frame.
As the nationally broadcasted game entered the final two minutes with Houston clinging to a one-point lead, James Harden then proceeded to do this:
This is a world-class move even in a pickup game at the local gym, but the fact that The Beard did this to two of the league’s premier defenders is what made this moment so special.
Both Paul George and Patrick Beverley pride themselves on being elite stoppers. Beverley has had two All-NBA Defensive Team selections while George has four of his own. Still, James pulling off a crossover stepback that ended up with Pat and Paul fouling him and colliding into each other, all while the ball swished through the hoop, was legendary.
What topped off this moment was Harden pointing to both defenders while sitting on the ground after his shot went in.
While the Clippers would overcome this play with a run in the final two minutes to take the game, the Rockets would take the third game against LA on Dec 19 from the Staples Center.
Next: Biggest Rockets' Villain
Biggest Rockets’ Villain
James Capers (Crew Chief Official of Dunkgate)
In one of the most bizarre events ever to occur in the NBA, the Houston Rockets got the short end of the stick during an early December matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. Enjoying a 97-71 lead going into the fourth quarter, everything seemed lined up for the Rockets to win their third straight game after victories over Miami and Atlanta.
A few minutes into the final frame, a combination of a lack of defensive discipline, a terrible, game-swinging missed call and Lonnie Walker IV were too much for the Rockets to overcome in a game where they led by as many as 22.
That terrible, game-swinging missed call by the officiating crew became the story of the game for the next few days, as a made dunk by James Harden was never added to the scoreboard for Houston.
In an event that, as far as I know, has never happened in the NBA, Harden had a breakaway dunk that managed to go fully through the rim, get caught in the net and then swing back around to the top of the rim.
It was such a confusing display of basic physics that Harden himself even chased down the “rebound”, unaware of what happened. The unusual play also confused the officiating crew led by James Capers, who missed the made dunk entirely, as much of the crowd did.
Where the officials really went wrong, though, was when they refused to review the play to make sure they got the call correct. The two points would have made Houston’s lead balloon to 104-89 with 7:50 remaining in the game, but instead, the score remained at 102-89 with the ball belonging to the Spurs.
Coach Mike D’Antoni could be seen protesting the referees’ decision but to no avail. After the game, the officials released a statement saying that Mike didn’t officially challenge the call within the allotted 30 seconds, but that’s hard to believe when looking at the footage of the game.
Behind a superhuman effort from young Spurs guard Lonnie Walker, San Antonio forced overtime and ended up winning the game 135-133 behind 28 from Walker. Given that the blown call cost the Rockets two points and they ended up losing by two, the team decided to file a formal protest with the league that fell on deaf ears.
There have been several occasions where more clarity is needed on a made or missed basket since the incident, which have resulted in immediate reviews by the officiating crew, which is what should have happened on December 3rd.
Due to his poor decision-making that could have cost the Rockets a victory over a state rival, James Capers earns a Spacey for the biggest Rockets villain.
Next: Worst Pregame Attire
Worst Pregame Attire
Westbrook’s Ornamented Pants & Grandma Sweater
Was there any doubt that Russell Westbrook was going to win this category? The Brodie has had countless pregame looks that have raised eyebrows throughout the years, from a Robot Steve Urkel look to a construction worker to… a regular Steve Urkel Look.
Westbrook has had a tendency of mixing up his look dramatically since he came into the league and clearly loves having a diverse fashion sense, even launching his own clothing line. Still, just as in basketball, everyone has their off nights. November 13th against the Clippers was one of those nights for Russ.
We start with the light pink grandma sweater that only has lower buttons as if something out of Mister Rogers’ collection. Probably unnecessary, but okay, let’s say we give that a pass. What exactly is happening with Russell’s pants here?
There are at least 30 wide loops hanging off of every part as if he’s just begging to get caught on everything he walks by. Westbrook’s pants on this night would be an excellent and easy-to-catch prize in a claw machine game, but I think it might be best to retire them as a viable clothing option.
Of course, this is all in good fun. Russell’s indifferent attitude to what the general public thinks about him is what makes him such an admirable athlete and a perfect fit for the city of Houston.
Next: Best Individual Play
Best Individual Play
Russell Westbrook’s Behind-the-back Shammgod Layup
Two days after Russell Westbrook returned to Oklahoma City for the first time this season and lost 113-92, he bounced back in a big way at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In addition to dishing out a game-high 10 assists, Russ shot 10-of-23 from the field and 9-of-10 from the line to finish the game with 30 points. Backcourt teammate James Harden was the only one that scored more in the contest, with 32.
Well after the game had gotten away from Minnesota and the Rockets were in control, Westbrook turned a half fastbreak into his own highlight reel with this beauty:
There are several things to break down here, starting with Russ’s behind-the-back move that left Jeff Teague in the dust. As if that wasn’t enough, Westbrook proceeded to bust out the Shammgod on 6-9 center Naz Reid before laying the ball in off the glass on the opposite side.
If you aren’t familiar with the Shammgod crossover, which was created by former Washington Wizard God Shammgod, now’s the time to educate yourself.
Russell has made the move numerous times in his career, but combining it with a behind-the-move and acrobatic falling finish made it that much more impressive. If, as you’re running back down the court you see James Harden playing air guitar, you know you did something special.
Next: Most Surprising Rocket
Most Surprising Houston Rocket
On his third NBA team in seven seasons, Ben McLemore wasn’t expected to be a big part of the Houston Rockets‘ rotation. An unfortunate preseason injury to Gerald Green, however, opened the door for the 6-3 shooting guard to earn more minutes with the club, and he hasn’t disappointed.
As of the All-Star break, the 6-3 guard is the team’s most accurate 3-point shooter, making 38.1 percent of his shots from downtown. The 10.2 points per game he’s averaging for the Rockets is the highest he’s averaged since his sophomore season with the Sacramento Kings when he was putting up 12.1.
From November 30th through December 16th, McLemore put up eight double-digit scoring performances in nine appearances that included games of 28, 27 and 24 points. Over that stretch, he put up an average of 17.3 points per game and Houston went 6-3.
With the recent all-in commitment to small ball the Rockets made by trading Clint Capela for Robert Covington, Ben’s role as a sharpshooter will remain crucial to the team’s success. He will continue to get open looks in the Rockets’ fast-paced offense headed by Westbrook. If he can make the most of those looks, McLemore can be a real difference-maker for Houston.
Next: Biggest Scapegoat
When teams hit rough patches, it’s only natural to question the leader and their methods in an effort to explain why his guys aren’t getting desired results. Fans are guilty of it, the media is guilty of it, even we are guilty of it.
After being crushed 129-100 in Miami in just the sixth game of the season, there were already some calling for a new head coach for the Houston Rockets, despite the team still being 3-3. It’s certainly an overreaction after six games, but at the same time, it’s healthy for a championship hopeful to have high expectations of their head coach.
Mike D’Antoni has had his share of playoff woes in the past with some very talented teams dating from the early-2000s Phoenix Suns to his recent Houston squads. Still, whether it be due to injuries, running into juggernaut teams or bad Xs and Os, D’Antoni has been unable to make it to the NBA Finals over his 13 seasons as a head coach.
The feeling that seems to be surrounding the entire Rockets’ organization this season is if Mike doesn’t lead the Rockets to championship glory, he won’t be returning next year. It’s just speculation, of course, but given how small windows for winning a ring usually are, it’s not farfetched to think Daryl Morey would move on after another disappointing finish.
The highly-publicized and criticized new extreme take on small ball is the brainchild of Morey and D’Antoni, and all of their chips are in on it paying off for the organization. If the experiment fails, there could be more than one scapegoat on the Rockets come the offseason.
Next: Best Individual Game
Best Individual Game
James Harden puts up 60 Points in 31 Minutes
The November 30th game against the Atlanta Hawks makes a second appearance in the Spacey Awards due to the performance of James Harden. Coming off games in which he scored 32 over the Mavericks followed by 34 in a revenge matchup with the Heat, the Beard went berzerk against the struggling Hawks.
In three quarters of action, Harden shot 16-of-24 from the field, 8-of-14 from the 3-point line and 20-of-23 from the free-throw line. All in all, James played for just under 30 minutes in the contest, leading to a 60-point, eight assist performance.
By the end of the third quarter, Harden had led the Rockets to an insurmountable 127-73 lead over Trae Young and the Hawks, allowing for extensive bench minutes for the likes of Gary Clark, Isaiah Hartenstein and Chris Clemons.
Spreading Harden’s scoring efficiency over the course of 48 minutes, he was on pace to score 92 points if he were to hypothetically play the entire game a la the old school days of Wilt Chamberlain. James’ ridiculous game wasn’t only the best individual Rockets’ game this season, it was one the best in his career.
Next: Best Team Play
Best Team Play
Superb Ball Movement Leads to a Capela Dunk vs. Spurs
The Houston Rockets had one thing on their mind on December 16, 2019: revenge. After blowing a 22-point lead to the San Antonio Spurs 13 days before in the infamous Dunkgate game, Houston had a chance to get back at Gregg Popovich’s club.
The first half wasn’t promising for Houston, as San Antonio got out to a 35-21 lead after one quarter and led 72-53 at the break. The superstar duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, however, turned things around for the Rockets in the second half.
By the time the fourth quarter came around, H-Town had trimmed a 25-point deficit down to six, trailing 89-83. With the Spurs up by five with just under two minutes gone in the final frame, the Rockets executed their best demonstration of ball movement all season to cut the lead to three.
The play starts with a strong drive by Westbrook where he’s met at the basket by 6-foot-11 LaMarcus Aldridge. Russ wisely dishes the ball off in midair to a waiting Ben McLemore on the wing, who immediately swings the ball to Danuel House Jr.
At the top of the key, House takes advantage of DeMar DeRozan‘s closeout momentum by driving right past him to the bucket, where Aldridge is again lying in wait and jumps to contest the shot. All of the scrambling the play caused leads to Clint Capela getting the slip on Aldridge and Derrick White, leading to one last pass from House allowing for a one-handed Clint slam.
On a team that’s averaging the second-lowest assists in the league at 21.4 per game, plays like these make the Rockets that much more enjoyable to watch.
The Rockets ended up completing the comeback, winning 109-107 over the Spurs behind 59 points from Russ and James.
Next: Best Team Win
Best Team Win
The Rockets Dominate in Utah Without 3 Starters
Let’s set the table for just how improbable a Houston Rockets win in Utah was on January 27th: Utah had won 21 of 23 games including four straight, Houston had just lost in the Mile High City a day before and Clint Capela, Russell Westbrook and James Harden were all unavailable.
Yet, as the old saying goes, that’s why they play the game. Despite being 14-point underdogs heading into the matchup, the Rockets played with poise, discipline and beautiful ball movement for all four quarters against Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz.
Eric Gordon had the game of his life in Utah. In 38 minutes, E-Money scored a career-high 50 points, eclipsing his previous high of 41. Something that’s an even better sign for the Rockets: Gordon demonstrated he’s not just a spot-up shooter and is still more than capable of being aggressive.
The veteran guard tied a career high in free throws made and attempted in a game, shooting 16-20, while nailing six of his 11 shots from beyond the arc. Danuel House and Austin Rivers each contributed 21 points off the bench to help pace the Rockets, while P.J. Tucker added nine points and 10 rebounds.
When all was said and done, the Rockets led by as many as 17 points and came away with an unlikely 126-117 victory over the Jazz that likely left many Vegas bettors shaking their heads.