Rockets: James Harden gives ultimate compliment to Russell Westbrook

James Harden Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
James Harden Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Russell Westbrook is in his first playoffs with the Houston Rockets, but James Harden has already praised his role on the team in a big way.

The Houston Rockets did their best to tread water without their superstar Russell Westbrook on the court, but his presence alone made a big difference in Game 5 of their opening-round series. Even on the sidelines, Westbrook was a huge vocal presence for the Rockets, but the team has an extra gear when he suits up.

In his return to the Rockets Saturday, Westbrook did as expected — easing himself into his playoff debut without pushing himself too hard. In the process, he still tallied seven points, seven assists, and six boards while not turning the ball over for the first time in over four years.

More important than putting up big numbers, though, was the leadership he brought to the floor as Houston’s starting point guard and bulldog. James Harden, who’s led the Rockets’ to eight straight postseasons, explained what Russ means to the team after Game 5.

James Harden on getting Russell Westbrook back: "Extraordinary….He's our leader and we all know what he does for the take of basketball and for our team."

— Salman Ali (@SalmanAliNBA) August 30, 2020

The Houston Rockets have an edge with Westbrook

While his work is almost always shown in the box score, what Westbrook brings to the Rockets every day is more valuable than that. The level of intensity Russell brings is needed from every team with championship goals.

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Houston had the same type of energetic, passionate guard with Chris Paul when they nearly made the NBA Finals in 2018 before the injury heard around the world halted that effort. Now equipped with a younger, more explosive guard to complement Harden and an army of shooters, the Rockets look poised to make another deep run.

James Harden has achieved just about every individual accomplishment he can for the Rockets so far, but he’s always shown the humility of a role player. Calling Russell Westbrook the leader of the team goes a long way toward team chemistry on a team that’s already bursting at the seams with it.

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Boasting the first-ever backcourt made up of former MVPs, there’s no reason the Rockets shouldn’t go all the way this season. A fully-recovered Westbrook is the key to that happening, and he looks well on his way to being back to his usual self.