NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

John Granato: Media Alert -- the Rockets won, and that is all that matters

Chris Paul was clutch in Game 2. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

You’d have thought the Rockets lost Game 4 by 41 again the way our calls went Wednesday morning. James Harden didn’t do this. James Harden didn’t do that. My goodness. I’m James’ biggest critic and I couldn’t have cared less that he didn’t do anything in the fourth quarter. Matter of fact I’m glad he didn’t. It’s why they won.

Game 5 against the Jazz and Game 4 against the Warriors is why the Rockets brought Chris Paul here. He took over the offense in both fourth quarters and ran it the way it should be run. Yes there was plenty of isolation. It’s what they do. But Paul’s iso and James’ iso are very different.

When Paul runs the offense it seems like everyone stays involved. Sure he will massage the ball sometimes like James does and have to jack up the occasional 3. That happened with 7:17 left in the game and the Rockets down 5. He made it and it was to that point the biggest shot in the game.

Just over a minute later he drove the baseline and threw a beautiful pass to Trevor Ariza who pump faked and dropped another 3 that put the Rockets up 1.

With 2:27 left Paul found Eric Gordon all alone for a dagger 3 that put the Rockets up 5. It’s all they would need to pick up the biggest win the franchise has had in 23 years.

Those two assists were huge but he only had four the whole game. Four assists with 3 turnovers is not a great ratio. He’s normally a lot more efficient but it was an ugly game and a lot of potential assists clanked aimlessly off the rim. And why pass when you’re the game’s best shooter? He was 10 for 20 from the field and 5 for 9 from 3.

I don’t know if you’ve heard but this is Chris Paul’s first conference finals. Those numbers are not the numbers of a guy who can’t handle the big stage. This moment is not too big for him. Maybe it was in the past. You can look at some of his playoff moments and argue that. You can’t make that argument now.

When he came here the question was whether or not he and James could coexist. They both need the basketball to be effective. Isolation is a lonely word. It’s not something two people can do at the same time so they have to take turns.

My radio partner Lance Zierlein made the argument that James was too passive in that fourth quarter. The intimation is that he’s not an alpha and shrivels in big moments. I don’t think that’s a hot take. We’ve got plenty of evidence that James struggles in big moments: the 2012 NBA Finals, the 2015 WCF, Game 6 vs the San Antonio Spurs last year.

You’ll notice in those examples that Game 6 vs the Clippers in the ‘15 WC semis was omitted. He sat the entire fourth quarter while Josh Smith and company brought the Rockets back from double digits to beat them. James shined in Game 7 as the Rockets advanced to the WCF where he had his monumental turnover meltdown in Game 5.

Many of James’ detractors include that Game 6 in his negative bio but I don’t because they won. Other guys have to step up and help. Not everyone can play great in every game every time. We make a big deal out of Elimination James but Jeff Van Gundy pointed out to us that you don’t get to those big games without James. Why are those bad games so much more important than the ones that the Rockets won while James played great?

I don’t think Game 4 against the Warriors the other night falls into that category either. Yes he was just 1 for 4 in the 4th quarter and didn’t even attempt a shot in the quarter until he drove and scored with 4:11 left in the game. Then he missed three straight 3’s, one of which was a wide open look that could have iced the game. Had the Rockets lost it would have been more damning evidence in the trial of James Harden’s big game woes.

But they won. I repeat. They won.

The reason was that James subjugated his game to Chris Paul and let him run the show in the fourth. We’ve been saying all along that James couldn’t win it all by himself. No one can anymore. The last time a team with just one star won it all was seven years ago when Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs over the Heat. That’s the aberration. Not even Michael Jordan won it until Scottie Pippen got there.

Chris Paul is James Harden’s Scottie Pippen and the other night is why he’s here. When James is on the bench or having an off night Paul is there to pick up the slack. He’s a Hall of Famer. But James isn’t Michael. He’s not an alpha dog. Chris Paul is though. He’s always been an alpha dog. James? Not so much. And? Who cares? As long as they win.

Game 4 was a microcosm of James’ career. After trailing early he had a huge second quarter that gave the Rockets a nine-point lead. Without that burst the Rockets get blown out. He was the leading scorer in the game but he couldn’t knock down a big shot in crunch time. That’s a game they would have lost last year or the year before.

Enter Chris Paul.

Exit with arguably the most improbable win in team history. After losing by 41 to a team that had the longest home playoff win streak in league history you couldn’t find many people who thought the Rockets would compete let alone win. By gametime they were 9 point underdogs. You will be hard pressed to find 65-win teams who will get 9 points but the Rockets are a huge underdog that’s now two wins away from taking out the champs.

Maybe it wasn’t James’ finest moment. If they win it all the trophy is going to say Houston Rockets not James Harden. It’s still a team game and the team won. That’s all that matters.




 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Looking to place some bets this weekend? Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Are you lonely? There’s no need to answer those blurbs online for “old-fashioned” Russian women looking to marry American men. Sure they “know how to respect their husbands and treat them like kings,” but who knows what will get off that plane when you greet the new Mrs. You. She may not look like that picture in the ad.

Here’s a better, safer way to find companionship. And I guarantee this new friend will stick with you longer than throwing a long distance Hail Mary for love. Unfortunately, this method may end up wiping out your 401k just the same.

If you listen to one of those weekend radio shows where sports betting hustlers tell you, “Call my toll-free number for a recorded message with our free picks this weekend” – and you think you’re getting something for free – you’re wrong. Once you make that call, they’ve got your number, and there’s nothing, certainly not call blocking or FCC regulations outlawing spam calls (yeah, those work) that will stop them from calling you till death do you part. You’ll have an easier time getting rid of a time share in Galveston.

I have a better way. You want to make money betting football? Listen to my friend Oreste San Juan’s weekly picks.

And bet the other way.

Let me tell you about Oreste. I’ve known this guy a long time, I used to work with him. He’s one of our gang. He likes to bet football.

Trouble is, he’s the worst bettor in the world. He’s horrible. Last week, he played a 5-team parlay. All five of his teams lost. You realized that’s as mathematically unlikely as picking five winners, right?

If he bets $100 on a parlay and loses all five games, what happens if you bet the other way? Here’s what - $759 for a tidy profit of $659.

It’s like Oreste is giving away free money. Think of Sundays as “Opposite Day,” – the opposite of Oreste. You know how pro sports “investment advisors” brag they have a “documented 90 percent win rate?” That’s a bunch of crap, of course. Oreste is honest - “I can’t remember the last time I had a winning year!”

If he loses and you go the other way, you don’t have to be Ed “The Professor” Horowitz to know this is a solid system. It’s like buying short in the stock market without worrying about your guy running back a certain Pick 6 for the win but he drops the ball on the 1-yard-line like an idiot.

Here’s how successful Oreste is in the sports speculation maelstrom. Monday through Friday, working 9 to 5, he is very successful, probably makes more money than the rest of us. He stinks on weekends, that’s all. When the boys go to McDonald’s, he’ll ask if I have any coupons for half-off Big Macs. A few summers ago, a bunch of went to Europe and rode all-night trains from country to country. One night he was in the top bunk over me. At 5 a.m., I heard him yell “&*$%$!” He stayed up till dawn listening to Monday Night Football on Armed Forces Radio and he lost on a last-second field goal.

We were on a bus in Warsaw and Oreste had his phone up to his ear. He was listening to a college football game. He was oblivious to the world. A passenger tapped him on his shoulder. “That guy just stole your wallet and ran off the bus.” Oreste spent the rest of that day at the U.S. Embassy trying to get a copy of his passport.

Enough selling the Oreste San Juan Plan for Prosperity. Here are his four NFL picks for Week 3. Remember, go the opposite way.

He likes the Bears (-3) over the Texans.

He likes the Chief (-6) at the Colts.

He likes the Bengals (-5) at the J-E-T-S.

He loves, loves, loves Buccaneers (-1) over the Packers.

See you at the pay window.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome