NBA PLAYOFFS

John Granato: Rockets showed off some new toys in Game 2, and it was like Christmas morning

P.J. Tucker was a big factor. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I don’t want to accuse anyone of lying but since we were kids we were told that some lies are OK: little white lies that keep us from hurting other people’s feelings and lies we benefit from like the ones on Christmas morning.  After Game 1 we were told that that’s who the Rockets were. They were an isolation team. That’s what they did to win 65 games and they weren’t going to change now. Maybe they were still an isolation team last night but you’re lying to yourself if you think that was the same offense we saw on Monday night.

My favorite possession of the season: up 11 with 4:36 left in the first half James Harden runs the ball up the court. Before Andre Iguodala can get set Harden drives into the lane and creates some space. He hits Eric Gordon at the 3-point line. He hits Chris Paul on the wing. Paul drives by Curry and hits James at the left 3-point line. He swings it to Ariza in the left corner who pump fakes the defender and dribbles toward the hoop, stops and hits Gordon who drains the 3.

The crowd erupts.

That was wonderful basketball. That was what this team can and has to do to win this series.

It was so good Charles Barkley actually said something nice about the Rockets. He finally admitted that this team could not only compete but could beat the Warriors. He also said that the Game 2 version did not resemble the Game 1 version. And he was right.

We were told that the supporting cast just wasn’t good enough, that James had to command the basketball, had to do it all because the other guys sucked. Granted, they weren’t very good in Game 1. It was amazing that they scored 106.

Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, Gerald Green and Luc Mbah Moute were a combined 5 for 22. That’s bad. Why would you want to move the ball around and give it to those guys?

Game 2 is why.

While James did James things the other guys got to do their thing too. Back in the day when the Bulls owned the NBA, Michael Jordan knew how to get everyone involved. Of course Scottie Pippin and Toni Kukoc would get their fair share of shots but Mike made sure the role players would get a taste as well. It was a lock that in the first three or four possessions of a big game Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright would get touches in the low post. They might not get any more but Mike knew those touches would keep them engaged the rest of the night.

It’s not that Ariza and Tucker didn’t try in Game 1. But it ain’t easy to hit a shot when you only get three in 48 minutes. It’s tough to get into any kind of rhythm watching James dribble down shot clock after shot clock.

Last night TNT put up a graphic that was jaw dropping. In Game 1 James dribbled 550 times. Curry, Durant and Thompson combined for 549 dribbles. 550 dribbles??!!! That’s a ton but it seemed more like 8000. That’s not good basketball.

After Game 1 Coach D’Antoni told us they weren’t going to change their style after a 65 win season. After Game 2 he stuck to his guns.

“Oh yeah,” he sarcastically told reporters. “We went from the wide open California offense to the triple threat. No. We did exactly what we did. We played harder. We got into them. They felt us physical. We didn’t have that same intensity in the first game. Our guys are great and they learned from (Game 1), snapped back and did the job.”

First of all I think he meant the triple option, not the triple threat. That’s a radio show not an offense.

Second, saying they were the same in Game 1 as they were in Game 2 is like saying Les Miles’ offense is the same as Mike Leach’s. Sure they both use a football and 11 players but that’s where the similarities end.

Quite frankly, that’s a pretty good analogy. In Game 1 James Harden was Leonard Fournette running for 202 yards in a 10-6 loss to Alabama. He got his but no one else was involved. They used all of the play clock and even had some delay of games because they didn’t get out of the huddle in time. LSU has proven time and again they can beat Alabama every once in a great while playing like that but not in the biggest games. And it’s boring as hell.

In Game 2 they turned into a high flying, pass happy offense where they spread it all over the field and got everyone involved. The defense had no idea where they were coming from and guys were running wide open all alone for easy scores. They played up tempo, no huddle. They opened up the run game by throwing passes instead of the other way around. And they scored at will. The only difference is that unlike Texas Tech the Rockets played defense too.

The only similarities offensively in Games 1 and 2 is that they both used a basketball. I’m OK with Coach telling us it was the same. I’ve been lied to before. I knew who bought my Christmas presents. If mom and dad wanted Santa to get the credit I was cool with it as long as I got what I wanted.

Last night was Christmas morning for all of us. We opened up a couple toys called early offense and basketball passes. Let’s play with them for a while.


 

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Correa could be on his way out. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Editor's note: Ken Rosenthal updated his column on Tuesday afternoon.


It has not been the best of times to be a star athlete in Houston. In the last year, Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins were solid off for a warm bucket of spit. George Springer won't be back. James Harden and Russell Westbrook rumors are rampant. J.J. Watt might be moving on as well.

Now, reports are the Astros are listening to offers for Carlos Correa.

Predictably, Astros fans are livid. And if it's true, they should be concerned about the bigger picture.

Trading Correa makes sense - if you have no plans on keeping him after next season, as was clearly the case with Springer. If the Astros can get a haul and replenish the farm system, it would be the right move, especially considering Correa's injury history.

But in the long run, it does not bode well for the direction of the team. All recent indications are that the Astros are going cheap.

They would still be a competitive team without Correa, but it would be yet another indication their World Series window has closed. Alex Bregman could slide over to shortstop, but who would play third? And they only have one starting outfielder on the roster as it is. Putting together a competitive lineup around Bregman, Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez would still be possible, but if the Astros aren't going to spend money, that could be problematic.

The writing was probably on the wall when the team hired James Click as GM from the notoriously frugal Tampa Bay organization. The good news is the Rays have been successful. But this is a new direction for a team that was not afraid to spend big money to make runs at the World Series.

If they lose Correa, they lose a team leader, one of the few players who embraced the villain role in the wake of the cheating controversy and was not afraid to speak out. But he has never lived up to his MVP potential, has battled injuries and will command big dollars on the open market. He is still young enough to become that kind of player, and someone will gamble big money that he will.

Sadly, if this rumor is true, it won't be the Astros.

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