END OF THE LINE

Fred Faour: 5 thoughts on the Rockets' season-ending Game 7 loss to the Warriors

Steph Curry and the Warriors got off the hook. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Five quick thoughts on the Rockets' season ending 101-92 loss to the Warriors:

Die by the 3: The Rockets lost this series because they could not hit wide open 3s. It was really nothing the Warriors did defensively; the Rockets simply could not hit from beyond the arc. At one point they missed 27 straight 3s. That's almost impossible to do; a shot or two has to fall by accident. It was a key factor in the loss. They finished 7 of 44 in Game 7. 

Elimination James: There is a saying in playoff hockey; your best players have to be your best players. Same goes for the NBA. James Harden might have been the Rockets best player, but he sure did not play like it. He scored 32 of the most empty points you have ever seen. He was just 12 of 29 from the field and 2 of 13 on 3s. He also had several bad turnovers that led to easy points the other way. If he plays like regular season Harden, the Rockets win this series.

Third and long: The Rockets continuously were outscored in the third quarter and it cost them the series. They took an 11-point lead into the third and were outscored 33-16 Mondy night, and that was that. 

Bad time to be awful: Trevor Ariza is a solid role player, but the Rockets needed him to contribute at least some offernse. In Game 7, he scored as many points as everyone reading this combined. He was 0-for-12 from the field and 0-of-9 on 3-pointers. Harden will get the bulk of the blame, but even a below average Ariza would have given them a shot.

The positives: The Rockets did something no one else has done since Kevin Durant showed up in Golden State -- pushed the Warriors to seven games. But without Chris Paul, they simply could not get it done. They had their chances, and if just a couple players had showed up, it would have been them playing Cleveland, not the Warriors.

The bottom line: The Rockets had every chance to win the series. With a healthy Chris Paul, they probably do. But Paul is rarely healthy, and he was gone when they needed him most. In the end, it was a fun ride, but it could have been so much more.

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The Rockets got a steal at No. 3 overall. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

With the Astros absorbing their worst loss of the season Thursday night at the Yankees, here's to the Rockets! Wait, what? It's only educated guess work, but in landing Jabari Smith out of Auburn the Rockets had a spectacular night. Heaven knows they have had very few of those the last two years. After having to settle for the third pick in the NBA Draft despite being the worst team in the league again, in Smith the Rockets got the best player in the Draft. Of course Smith could be an epic flop, it’s very inexact science. But Orlando taking Paolo Banchero from Duke first then Oklahoma City selecting Gonzaga beanpole Chet Holmgren second left the "surest thing" two-way player on the board. Through most of the run-up to the draft the six-foot-10 inch Banchero was most commonly projected to the Rockets. It's not as if he would have been a bad choice as a player. Banchero certainly could turn out to be the best player in this draft class. But his game is skewed toward his offensive skills, his fit in Houston would have been quite questionable. The also 6-10 Smith has shown the vastly better outside shooting ability, and is indisputably more athletic and better equipped to defend at a higher level and with more versatility. Jabari Smith is not going to be Kevin Durant or Kevin Garnett. Let's at least call it extreeeeemely unlikely given very few in the history of the planet come close to those guys, still, envisioning Smith providing some KD and KG level moments on both ends of the floor is pretty, pretty, pretty good.

The Rockets' defense was an absolute joke last season. Little to no improvement was shown as the death march of 2021-22 dragged on and on and on to its 20-62 finish. Frankly if Head Coach Stephen Silas can't demand/develop vastly improved D this coming season he'll deserve and need to be fired. The Rockets love Alperen Sengun, and his rookie season offense showed both flair and promise. Defensively he was one of many parts of the joke. Just 20 years old late next month so some improvement should come, but Sengun is slow. Quick twitch muscles, slow. Lateral movement, slow. He’s not long, not a leaper, not thick. Sengun will be hard-pressed to become an average defender. In today's game he's the kind of big who quality small-ball opponents play off the court. Banchero would have been a lousy defensive pairing with Sengun. Smith-Sengun has a chance. Smith as a small-ball center has potential. Christian Wood was a dog, not in a good way. Smith’s character grades are very high.

The seven-foot 194 pound Holmgren has a fascinating array of skills. He could be Rudy Gobert defensively with way better offense, or a skinny guy who can’t hack it physically. Had the Thunder taken Smith at two, Holmgren to the Rockets would have been interesting. Getting Smith to pair with Jalen Green as the tent poles of the Rockets’ still long way to go reconstruction is more encouraging. With due respect to all the other first round picks added in 2021 and 2022, what Green and Smith become individually and as a tandem is what will foremost determine how long the Rockets remain horrible. It could go pretty well for the duo and the Rockets could still be awful for multiple more years. A third consecutive losing season is virtual certainty. By the end of it though at least a few meaningful rays of light at the end of the tunnel need to be peeking through.

As for the other two first rounders added Thursday night, both are interesting darts at the board. Tari Eason out of LSU brings defensive chops and size (six-foot-eight) for his position, a combo that exactly zero returning Rockets have. Jae’Sean Tate plays really hard, but he’s a six-four forward. All their Josh Christophers, Garrison Matthewses, Kenyon Martin Jrs., and David Nwabas add up to very little.

No one smart really believes in Kevin Porter Jr. as a long term winning point guard growth stock. TyTy Washington should get some rookie run at the point. He’s the only non-worthless to the team ex-Kentucky point guard on the Rockets’ roster. Yes, John Wall and his 47.3 million dollar salary are still on the roster.

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