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.


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Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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