The Houston Rockets had the third-best record in the NBA this year, and James Harden was an MVP candidate, if not frontrunner, for most of the year.
You wouldn’t have known that Thursday.
With their season on the line, the Houston Rockets were embarrassed in front of their home crowd, losing Game 6 of the Western Conference semis, 114-75, to San Antonio. The Spurs led by seven after the first quarter, by 19 at halftime, by 23 through three and won by 39.
It was ugly.
Was this just a case of Houston shooting poorly from three-point range (13-of-40)?
“No, it was more than that with the Rockets,” ProBasketballTalk editor-in-chief Kurt Helin told Paul Nanos, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Their decision-making was off. James Harden was passing up open threes to dish balls to the corner to guys who weren’t really looking. There were really strange decisions by Harden. They were just, as a team, missing shots they often make, but this ran deeper. There was a strange malaise. They didn’t even look like they (were playing with) nervous energy, let alone playing desperate. They just looked like it was Tuesday night in Milwaukee.”
Mike D’Antoni was criticized for not making in-game adjustments, but Helin isn’t sure what D’Antoni could have done to fix a 39-point loss.
“I don’t know what adjustment D’Antoni could have made in this game that would have changed anything,” Helin said. “It was execution, it was Harden not making good decisions, it was guys missing shots – if you’re close and you can tweak some things, that’s one thing, but that wasn’t what happened at all. His team got shell-shocked and didn’t know how to deal with it. Maybe they can turn this into a learning experience for next year. This is kind of the first year under that system, but they just got run.”
By a team playing without its best player. Indeed, with Kawhi Leonard nursing an ankle injury, LaMarcus Aldridge scored a game-high 34 points for San Antonio.
What do we make of the Spurs resting Leonard? Was that a sign of disrespect for Houston?
“I think it’s a little of that, but I think it’s mostly a roll of the dice by Popovich,” Helin said. “I can have 80 percent of Kawhi tonight or I can have 95 percent of him on Sunday, and if I need him for a Game 7, great. If not, then I’ve got him for Game 1, and I got to have him against Golden State. But look, if you roll that ankle, it’s so easy to roll it again for a while. That ligament is stretched out and it’s just so easy to tweak that thing. I think they were just concerned he’d make it worse. And the Spurs have that Patriots thing about them where they’re like, ‘All right, next guy up.’”
The Spurs will face Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. Game 1 is Sunday at ORACLE at 3:30 p.m. ET.