I’ve been trying to come up with a way to accurately describe the embarrassment James Harden bestowed upon Enes Kanter last night, but honestly you might as well watch it yourself. Up by thirteen midway through the third quarter, Harden knew that it was time to seal the deal. Catching the ball on the left side of the court, the Houston superstar employed a triple crossover-step back-crossover-drive that left the Oklahoma City center absolutely on skates. “That move is illegal in almost every state, except Texas!” Marv Albert exclaimed.
Harden’s move acted as the cherry on top of the sundae in last night’s blowout 118-87 victory for the Rockets. Though the game started out close, with the Thunder up by two after the first quarter, the Rockets managed to improve every quarter on both ends of the floor. Halfway through the fourth – usually the beginning of crunch time – each team’s MVP candidate had taken a seat and watched the rest of the game from the sidelines. The outcome of the game was no longer up for debate.
Everything seemed to go right for the Rockets in their playoff debut. Harden had an absolutely killer night, totaling 37 points, seven rebounds, nine assists, and three steals on 13/28 shooting. Houston’s big men also had impressive performances: starter Clint Capela had fourteen points and seven rebounds, while backup Nene Hilario dominated the first half with fifteen and five. These combined efforts allowed the team to control the paint on the offensive end, putting Oklahoma City on their heels and paving the way for beautiful layups and explosive dunks. While the Rockets usually excel from behind the three point line, last night they displayed exceptional touch from close range.
The big surprise of the night, however, was Patrick Beverley. The lifelong Rocket has a reputation as a scrappy player, and in Game 1 he did not disappoint. Assigned to guard MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, Beverley accepted the role with tenacity and severely limited his opponent’s capabilities. Westbrook ended the night with an awful shooting percentage of 26% due to the tough defense, and if there’s one thing we know about the Thunder this season, it’s that when Westbrook fails, the team fails. Beverley’s toughness helped the Rockets to hold their opponents to 87 points, a full 22 below their season average. Without him, the game could’ve gone either way.
The Rockets have to hope they put on a similar show in Game 2 on Wednesday, in the hopes of starting the series with a commanding 2-0 lead. They’ve learned that even on a down shooting night, they can trust their centers to get them quality baskets down low, and they’ve seen Beverley’s ability to frustrate the Thunder’s main weapon. Houston’s ideal scenario going forward would be to see three more games exactly like the first one, and move onto the next round healthy and rested. Oh, and maybe let Harden break some more ankles on the way there.
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