Houston Rockets moment #1: The MVP
Any Rockets fan who watched the team throughout the 2010’s will point to one season that stood out among the rest; the 2017-18 season. This was the most heartbreaking season in the James Harden era of Rockets basketball, as Houston was seemingly meant to win a championship in this year.
However as well all know, the stars would not complete the required alignment for this to occur. After taking a 3-2 lead on the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, Chris Paul would play no further in the series, having severely injured his hamstring.
To make matters worse, the Rockets had a multi-possession lead on the Warriors in both halftimes of the final two games. Their misfortune would meet its sum total in Game 7, where they would infamously miss 27 threes in a row.
A combination of Paul’s injury, terrible officiating, and plain bad luck would keep the Rockets from advancing to the Finals, where they would have been a strong favorite to win the title. But this series of unfortunate events is not what makes their loss so difficult to swallow.
The reason this season was so painful to watch end as it did is that the Rockets had a truly special season with their superstar in James Harden leading the way. It was the first year of Chris Paul’s tenure as a Houston Rocket and the duo of Harden and Paul seemed a match made in heaven.
Harden would finally secure his long-deserved MVP trophy by putting up averages of 30.4 points (the league leader), 8.8 assists, and 5.4 rebounds a game on shooting splits of 44.9 percent from the field, 36.7 percent from three, and 85.8 percent from the free-throw line. Leading the Rockets to a franchise-best 65 win record would put the debate to rest for the season, and Harden would accept his reward in style.
With the help of his new star teammate in Paul, Harden would lead the Rockets to having the best offense in the league and the sixth-best defense in the league for the year, which is easily the best combination of ratings the Rockets achieved for both sides of the floor for the decade. This particular team also had a special level of fight in them, with many a night seeing the team claw their way back into the game for an eventual victory.
Their level of fight would be seen by all NBA fans in the 2018 playoffs, as they would provide the healthy Curry-Durant era Warriors with the greatest challenge that team would ever face. The Rockets simply had enough dog in them to make the Warriors fight tooth and nail for their eventual victory in the series.
It was a team that was truly greater than the sum of its parts. And the largest cog in that machine was Harden himself.
This incredible season for the Houston Rockets will always have Harden’s beard printed all over it, as he was the leader of this exceptional team and became one of only three Rockets in franchise history to win an MVP award. Several of his greatest individual games as a Rocket would also come during this season.
With the 2017-18 season seeing Harden and the Rockets accomplish what they did, it serves as the most important step in Harden’s Houston career towards elevating his status to a new level of legend in the story of the franchise. 2018 is the year that Harden firmly joined the ranks of Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon as one of the Houston Rockets’ Mount Rushmore players, with his MVP award being the largest factor in earning him the honors.
This chapter of Harden’s Houston tenure will always most represent the absolute best times the franchise had with him. It may not be his most statistically flashy season with the team or even his best individual season, but it is the season in which his most important achievements came and is the greatest season the Rockets have had since their last championship in 1995.
Players like The Beard do not come through often, and it could be some time before the Rockets see another player of his magnitude. Harden led the city of Houston to a playoff appearance every season he was there, broke numerous franchise and NBA records, led the team to its most wins in any regular-season, became only the third Rocket to secure an MVP trophy, and left the city with countless memories on the hardwood.
Though his departure was not handled in the most graceful of fashions, basketball fans in the Space City should look back on the Harden-era with fondness, as one of the greatest players to ever touch a basketball made the franchise relevant and competitive for eight straight seasons and supplied a slew of incredible moments on which to reminiscence for years to come.