1. “James Harden has to dominate for the Houston Rockets to succeed.”
By James Harden’s standards, which are much higher than just about anyone’s, he had a poor outing in Game 2. In 35 minutes, Harden made only five of his 16 field goal attempts and went 2-of-11 from beyond the arc.
The Beard’s 21 points were the lowest total he’s had in a game since a March loss to the LA Clippers when he scored 16 on 4-of-17 shooting and 0-of-8 from downtown. Unsurprisingly, the Rockets lost that game by 15. Thursday was a completely different story, however.
Suddenly, benching James for some rest isn’t immediately turning into an offensive drought for the Rockets. With guys like P.J. Tucker, Jeff Green, and Austin Rivers hitting shots, Houston has more than enough firepower to beat anybody in the league at any time. So far, they’ve been doing just that in the playoffs.
2. “The Houston Rockets don’t play defense.”
While criticisms of Houston’s defense in the past has been warranted, those days are long gone now. The Orlando bubble Rockets have ramped up their defensive efforts in a huge way, particularly in the first two games of the playoffs.
During the regular season, the Rockets allowed 114.8 points per game, which was 23rd in the league. After two games against Chris Paul and the Thunder, Houston has been over 11 points more stingy. Giving up just 108 and 98 in Games 1 and 2, the Rockets have only allowed 103 points per game in the series so far.
As discussed in the ESPN broadcast of the game, Mike D’Antoni has added some wrinkles into Houston’s defensive schemes to confuse the Thunder, and it’s been working like a charm. The Thunder have noticeably looked frustrated often in both games as a result.
The Rockets have often used a man-to-man defense that appears to be a zone defense, which has been keeping Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from putting their full playmaking skills on display.
As a team, Houston had eight steals in Game 2, led by three apiece from Robert Covington and James Harden. It’s become clear so far in this series that the “lazy defense” Rockets are a thing of the past.
Next: No. 3