Time to lean on the other guys

The James Harden streak is over, and that is a good thing for the Rockets

Kevin C. Cox

I'm glad it's over.

There. I said it.

I'm glad James Harden's streak of 30 point games ended on Monday night.

Sorry Hardenites or whatever James Harden fans are called.

I was sick of it. It's a nice personal achievement but basketball is a team sport. And it was boring. Iso ball sucks. I hated it during the Steve and Cuttino days and I hate it now.

You can't tell me that a team with one of the best point guards of all time can't move the ball around and get guys open looks. Case in point, the Warriors game. Without James, Chris Paul had 23 points and 17 assists and led a team that was overmatched talent-wise to a 118-112 win.

I'm going to divide this season into three parts. The crappy start to the season, the #unguardabletour season and the gang is back together season.

The crappy start to the season was well, crappy. Coming off the 65 win season they began this one 12-14 which was inexplicable. They just plain sucked. It's a time I would rather not dwell on. It's best to leave these things in a dark place in the deep recesses of your mind and never touch them again.

Then there was the #unguardabletour. It has its place in Rockets history. I'm not going to put it up there with all time Rockets achievements. It was a great individual achievement. James got a bunch of national media attention which was nice. They were 21-11 during that stretch which was good too but not spectacular. They did have a bunch of injuries which meant they had to rely on James to carry the load. He did.

Those days are over and they are healthy again playing better basketball. Since the All-Star break and the return of Clint Capela and the resurgence of Chris Paul they look different. They look cohesive offensively. They look like a winner and they're doing it with James struggling, further proof that they are better playing team basketball as opposed to iso ball.

The win over the Warriors without James was eye opening. No they're not better without James but they have proven this past week that they are not nearly as reliant on him as was previously thought.

In their last three games they beat the Warriors without James and they beat the Hawks and Hornets while James was less than stellar. These past two games while the Rockets were scoring 119 and 118 points James has shot just 34% from the field and under 10% from 3. He's made just 1 of his last 21 three-point attempts. That's bad. Real bad.

Yet the other guys are picking him up. Against the Hornets the other guys shot 52%. Against the Hawks 46%. That's really good. This notion that James has to do it all himself has got to change. He doesn't, not with a heathy supporting cast. They can make shots if you put them in position and give them opportunities to make shots. When you only get a couple shots a game it's hard to get into any kind of rhythm. The more shots you get the better the chance you'll make them.

Plus it's just more fun to watch. James dribbling out the shot clock at the top of the key is brutal. It's not going to end but they can cut back on it and let Chris Paul drive and distribute. He's making $40 million a year for a reason.

I'm not saying they're last year's team. They're different. They're different than they were two weeks ago. And that's a good thing.

Rockets take 2-0 lead, bury Jazz 118-98

3-pointers from Rockets Game 2 versus Utah

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Houston squared off against the Utah Jazz Wednesday Night for game two of their Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup. The Rockets started strong and, despite a lull in the third quarter, capably blew out the Jazz for the second straight game to take a 2-0 series lead.

Hot Start

Have you ever put too much lighter fluid on a BBQ pit and stood too close to light it? The result is essentially what the Utah Jazz experienced shortly after tip-off. Houston fired 46% (6-13) from three point range in the first quarter, while Utah continued their abysmal long range performance from game one with an 8% (1-13) output. Stifling defense in addition to James Harden's 17 points contributed to the Rockets jumping out to a 39-19 lead after the first quarter.

Doing it all

As one can safely assume, Harden wasn't finished scoring after the first. Utah continued to push the left-handed Harden to the right in order to slow him down, a tactic that proved wildly unsuccessful. Harden keyed off of Jazz defenders shading to the left and instead of his typical step back three-pointer, he simply stepped to the right. He used his dribble toward the basket to once again find open teammates, and attacked the boards with intensity. Harden finished polishing off the Jazz with 32 points, 10 assists, and 13 rebounds, good for his third career playoff triple-double and the eighth in Rockets playoff history.

Outmatched from three

If the Jazz fail to advance the narrative will center around their inability to convert from beyond the arc enough to keep up with the Rockets. Houston finished an impressive 40% (17-42) on the night while the Jazz conversely could only manage 21% (8-38). It's impossible to keep up with the Rockets when shooting that inefficiently, and if it continues Saturday night, the Jazz will almost certainly find themselves in a 3-0 hole.

Rockets player of the game

James Harden: 32 points, 10 assists, 13 rebounds

Jazz player of the game

Ricky Rubio: 17 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals

Next up

The Rockets travel to Salt Lake City for game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Saturday at 9:30 pm, central.

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