TIME TO BUY IN

Lance Zierlein: But this time it’s different with the Rockets

With Chris Paul joining James Harden, these Rockets are worth believing in. Houston Rockets/Facebook

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. That’s the old saying and it basically means that at a point, you are responsible for buying into something you know to be wrong or fraudulent. Unfortunately for the Houston Rockets, many local fans view James Harden (and by proxy the Rockets) as a “fool me twice” entity they are having a hard time completely buying in on.

And you know what? That’s fair. The Rockets have been a very competitive regular season team for most of the time that James Harden has been with them and he was a well-deserved MVP runner-up for two of those seasons. However, reputations and memories aren’t built on the first 82 games, they are built upon the the games and playoff series thereafter. Harden’s reputation has spawned the nickname “Elimination Game James” which acknowledges his continued shortcomings in the biggest situations come playoff time.

Harden’s talent is undeniable, but his ability to lead the organization through adversity and into greatness is something that has eluded him. James is a scorer. James is an elite scorer. James is an elite scorer with a willingness to get other teammates involved. These are facts, not opinions. However, as we saw with Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in the playoffs, regular season greatness and postseason greatness can be mutually exclusive.

But this time, Rockets fans, it feels different.

The addition of Chris Paul has given the Rockets another player capable of scoring and creating for others, but it’s also shifted the potential dynamics of the team come playoff time. No longer is it a “Harden or Bust” scenario. If Harden is in the midst of one of his turnover sprees, Paul can not only take over the ball-handling duties, he can lead the team. I think we can all agree that leadership and overcoming adversity has been one of the areas where the Rockets have come up short in the playoffs.

This incarnation of the Rockets has three players in Harden, Paul and Eric Gordon who are capable of scoring thirty points per game. This Rockets team has better depth off the bench including better defenders. This team just looks and feels different. While they aren’t a great defensive team, they are better in the half-court and more capable of getting stops when needed.

I’m not here to tell you that the Rockets are the favorite to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I am here to tell you that they are built to match up with them better than they ever have been because it’s no longer James Harden vs. the world. Buy-in and enjoy the season, Rockets fans.

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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