It’s been a nightmare season for the Houston Rockets, who have fallen dramatically short of championship contender status and are struggling to just make the Playoffs. Going into Thursday’s nationally televised game in Portland, the Rockets had lost seven of their last ten – including a heart-breaking overtime game against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. The Blazers have been the bearers of a lot of recent heartbreak for the Rockets, including a first round upset in the 2014 Playoffs (Dwight Howard’s first season with the team) and two of those seven losses leading into this game.
Houston got some revenge and won this game 119-105 behind a spectacular performance from its bearded superstar – James Harden. Don’t let the score fool you, however, because this game was truly a tale of two halves.
The first half was indicative of how the Rockets season has been going thus far. The defense was almost nonexistent and the players’ body language showed a team that was (once again) giving up on the game. The Blazers took a 64-49 lead into halftime and came out in the third quarter continuing their momentum. At one point, the Blazers had a 21-point lead and all hope seemed lost – that is, until James Harden made his presence felt.
At the end of the game, Harden told a TNT sideline reporter that the Rockets were ‘passive’ in the first half and he ‘just wanted to be aggressive’. His aggression came in the form of doing what he does best – getting to the basket to finish drives and/or draw a foul in the process. Harden had fifteen points in the third quarter and almost single-handedly cut the deficit to seven by quarter’s end. Harden’s back-to-back twenty-five footers towards the end of that quarter seemed to reinvigorate the team and gave the Rockets momentum heading into the final twelve minutes.
Harden seemed gassed at the start of the fourth, and rightfully so considering he played a total of 46 out of 48 minutes on Thursday. The Rockets picked up the slack while Harden gathered himself, especially on the defensive end. Through the first eight minutes of the final quarter the Blazers had only managed to make two field goals and added a single made free throw. By this point, the Rockets had taken a 104-98 lead and seemed to have the game fully in hand.
With 46, James Harden finished with his eighth 40+ point game of the season, continuing his battle with Steph Curry for the NBA’s scoring title. It should be noted though that Harden played good defense throughout the game. Sure, the Internet will find a video of one of his defensive lapses and ridicule him for it (as is always done), but he stayed in front of his man for the most part and anchored this comeback.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Rockets can turn the corner on this nightmare season and make a significant Playoff push. If there’s a time for Houston to get it together, that time is now – after the best win of the season against the hottest team in the NBA and the most exciting comeback since the Rockets pulled off a miracle against the Los Angeles Clippers in last year’s Western Conference Semi-Finals.