The Houston Rockets mean business, that much is certain from their stellar postseason performances thus far.
Not only did they ease past the Oklahoma City Thunder led by an overbearing offensive talent in Russell Westbrook in the first round, but they took care of the San Antonio Spurs on the road in Game 1 of the second round in emphatic fashion, too.
What a win last night in San Antonio ⤵️
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) May 2, 2017
The victory over the best defensive team in the league was one thing, but the manner of how they dealt with the Spurs really got people talking. It was essentially men against boys and Gregg Popovic’s men, the epitome of experience, are rarely on the wrong end of this cliche.
The game ended 126-99 to the Rockets, a deficit that ties the second highest margin of victory in playoff history. Not many teams can boast that they had held San Antonio, a 50+ win team, to just 39 first-half points. Houston’s offensive strategies to shoot early and often saw them drain a postseason franchise record 22 threes, shattering their opponents defensive structure. The Spurs looked lifeless on both ends of the court when usually there aren’t many teams who play with such comfort and composure.
This is a real score in an NBA playoff game. Second round. pic.twitter.com/TuWoKhAh82
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) May 2, 2017
Of course, this was only a Game 1 result and does not in any way determine the winner of this series, but a blowout of this margin on their home court would’ve likely rattled the Spurs.
With this victory, the Rockets seemingly stepped out of second gear and made a strong statement to the rest of the league; they’re not playing around, they’re serious. Their ability to shoot threes in plentiful bunches compliments their offensive-minded game plan well.
Their bench plays a massive part in their success also. Throughout the course of the regular season, Houston built themselves a reputation for having one of the deepest rosters in the entire league as Mike D’Antoni set about constructing a sturdy supporting cast for MVP candidate James Harden. This was only strengthened with the addition of Lou Williams in midseason, with the Rockets donning two Sixth Man of the Year candidates in their second unit.
However, it was not Eric Gordon nor Williams who provided the most significant spark off the bench during the first round series with the Thunder, it came from an unlikely source; Nene. During the series, Nene formed an effective one-two punch with Harden off the bench, averaging 13.6 points on 84.8-percent shooting — he missed just five shots all series.
— NBA (@NBA) May 2, 2017
If the Rockets can get past the Spurs, a probable Western Conference Finals match-up with the Golden State Warriors awaits. Attacking the paint would be their best bet of dismantling the Warriors, and their bench depth would see Houston catch up on any lost ground when the second unit’s are out. All in all, a series between the Rockets and Golden State would be an enthralling spectacle, and one that would capture the attentions of the entire NBA world.
For now, the task is simple; get past the Spurs. If they can achieve this, then the question resonates, are the Rockets legitimate contenders? While many view the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Warriors as the only likely teams to make it to the Finals, Houston are not to be counted out, they are a dark horse that aren’t to be underestimated.