Saturday, May 11, 2019

Houston Rockets, YOU have a problem

Houston Rockets, YOU have a problem.
It seems now that the only way Chris Paul and James Harden are ever going to appear in the NBA Finals are in a State Farm commercial and even in one of them Harden won’t man up and take any blame.
Jerry West lost six times to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals over an agonizing eight-year period and I don’t recall him sniffling about “fair chances” and “missed opportunities” as much as Harden has in the past week or so when it comes to his arch-nemesis the Golden State Warriors
In Game 6 of an NBA Western Conference semifinal Friday night against the Warriors – a home game the Rockets were expected to win from Las Vegas to California where Kevin Durant was nursing the world’s most famous strained calf muscle – the Rockets had the momentum, a seven-point lead, and the ball en route to a fundamental 3-on-1 fastbreak for an easy basket. But, instead of getting a dunk and a 91-82 lead and forcing the Warriors to call timeout, the Rockets pulled the ball back at the 3-point line where they live and die. And there they died. They had the Warriors on the ropes with Durant out of the series and Curry out of sorts. Their missed opportunity was a product of their own stupidity.
Rather than leading 91-82 with 11 minutes to play, the Rockets were outscored 20-9 in the next seven minutes when Curry swished a 3-pointer for a 102-97 lead.
What’s the Rockets’ excuse this time? This is a team who looks for a foul more than the FBI. And complain when they don’t get it. Last year, they neglected the fact they blew double-digit leads in Games 6 and 7, instead loudly and relentlessly blaming the injury on Paul for allowing the Warriors to win Games 6 and 7 in their series. And, we learned a year later, they were secretly blaming the refs for the Game 6 loss based on observations and analytics they created themselves.
The Rockets couldn’t wait to play the Warriors in the playoffs this year and they didn’t hide that fact from anyone. They flew into Oakland three days before they figured they would ultimately play the Warriors in Game One. Then the team that couldn’t wait to play and the Warriors went back to Houston without winning a game for all their wait and preparation.
Of course, they blamed the refs again. In Game One, Harden wanted a foul called on a potential game-tieing 3-pointer when he launched his legs at the basket like a baseball player sliding into second base – and thought the ref should have called the foul on, well, second base. Then in the mad scramble that followed Harden’s missed shot, CP3  -- Complaining Prick times 3 – got another technical foul that was probably four years overdue from all the bitching he did during playoff games against the Warriors when he was with the Clippers.
Mind you, I loathe the New York Yankees for all the years they destroyed the dreams of the Boston Red Sox and their fans, but I have never grown to dislike a team so fast as I have watching the Rockets play the Warriors the past two years.
Throughout this past series, especially in defeat, the Warriors and in particular Steve Kerr and Kevin Durant went out of their way to praise Harden and the Rockets team for their effort and their greatness. They were sincere with their praise and it was obvious the Warriors have immense respect for the Rockets.
Maybe I’m wrong and hearing the wrong stuff, but it seems to me that the Rockets and Mike D’Antoni, Harden and Paul – who had the playoff game of his life Friday night and STILL lost to the Warriors -- never gave the Warriors any credit in this series beyond the obligatory “they’re a great team.”  
Can a team be poor winners and sore losers at the same time?
When the game ended, it appeared Harden immediately walked off the court in Game Six without shaking anyone’s hands on the Warriors. It’s probably a good thing because he may have flopped to the ground and expected three free throws as a parting gift.  It was a chance to show some class. Instead, it was – to quote Harden – another missed opportunity.
Fear the Beard? No, fear the smear. Harden is one of the greatest scorers in NBA history and he is perhaps the most clever player in the game because it has gotten the art of drawing a foul down to a science.
And he walks off the court in a huff to end an incredibly competitive and compelling series?!
Afterward, Harden was asked if he knew how the Rockets in the off-season could get past those missed opportunities in the team’s obsession to get past the Warriors in the playoffs. He said he knew exactly what the team needed to do but of course he kept it a secret. My guess is the Rockets Analytics Department will compile its own “data” and ask Donald Trump to exercise his presidential privilege and ban the Warriors from the playoffs.
Actually, after hearing Stephen A. Smith’s anticipated loud rant following the game, his first take was the “disgusted look” on the face of the Houston Rockets’ owner when he left the court much sooner than Harden – before the game even ended! Translation: Mike D’Antoni is likely to be the scapegoat for another playoff loss to the Warriors. Or the owner is going to spend his money to hire Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to find someone to blame.
Whatever it is there is one thing that the Houston Rockets cannot deny any longer: They have a problem and it’s not with the referees or the Warriors.
Look in the mirror.


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