You can get into the percentages and the math embedded into NBA playoff history, look at the Rockets' 2-0 deficit they find themselves in against the Golden State Warriors, and cry and lament about how close they were to stealing a game on the road. You can point to and openly sob about the fact that 93 percent of the teams that go up 2-0 in the NBA Playoffs go on to win their series.
Or you can shove all of that aside, and choose to believe, with actual evidence on your side put forth just one week ago, that this team is special, that this team has the necessary character to withstand the punches that come with playing a team that's lost only three games all year on its home floor. Quantitatively, yes, the Houston Rockets trail the Golden State Warriors 2-0 in the NBA's Western Conference Finals, this is factual.
This is also factual — the Rockets were a few plays away from winning both of these games. People, this is a good thing. Would you rather have them coming back to Toyota Center having just been tattooed twice in Oakland, like the so called experts thought they would be? Eleven days ago, this team lost 128-95 to go down 3-1 to the Clippers. For some reason, that's the team most of America expected against Golden State.
America was wrong. So wrong. This series hash't even started yet. The Rockets have come to play, the Warriors know it. Win Game 3 and you're fine. Lose Game 3, and it wasn't meant to be anyway. Cheer up, Houston. You got a squad.
As for last night, let's list a few of the winners and losers….
4. Dwight Howard
Oh, America, as much as I love you, one other thing that we can also put to bed —- the whole "Dwight Howard is soft" thing. If you are saying that after last night, you're an idiot. A mouth breathing, drool spewing troglodyte is what you are. On a sprained knee and clearly hobbled last night, Howard gave the Rockets 19 points and 17 rebounds in the most crucial spot of the season. More importantly, his presence on the floor was the glue that held everything together on a night where Kevin McHale probably couldn't have cobbled together a makeshift lineup without his two stars, given how poorly his role players were playing. This series is just getting started, and Dwight Howard isn't going anywhere.
3. Andrew Bogut
Credit, though, where credit is due. In Game 1 of this series, Andrew Bogut was in foul trouble and when he was in the game he wasn't good. In Game 2, he was a presence at the defensive end of the floor, blocking five shots and clogging the lane, essentially taking one of the two areas of the floor the analytic-heavy Rockets like to do their damage. Given that they went 7-23 from the other area they enjoy (three point range), they needed an otherworldly midrange night from James Harden just to hang in the game.
2. The Clutch City Chefs
We need some comic relief this morning after that heartbreaker. I love me the Clutch City Chefs. Any time we get two white dudes in aprons and beards (real or fake) trash talking an entire Bay Area via rap lyrics, I'm in. Barry and David Stagg, you rule….
1. James Harden
This was the game we've all been waiting for from James Harden. 13-21 from the field, and a 13-21 in which the Warriors threw everything at him, and they had no answers. If there's one shame in the loss last night, it's that Harden's effort went for naught, and that the final play of the game will be the big take away in this world of sound bites and short attention spans. Harden was amazing, and by the way, on that final play, I'm with Kevin McHale — I have zero issue with Harden putting his head down and going off of the defensive rebound. Honestly, as hot as he was, I was hoping Harden would just rise up and shoot as soon as he had a look at the other end, even from three. (Of course, if he missed then he'd be second guessed for not going to the hoop, because everyone on Twitter has a basketball IQ of 200 after a play is over.) The mistake for Harden wasn't the lack of a timeout use, the mistake was passing the ball to someone else (in this case, howard) when that person wasn't going to take the final shot. If there's a spot for a timeout, it was there. But you can't fault James Harden last night. I'm just glad he's back.
4. Brian Davis, David Mayo, Kevin Ding, Matt Pinto
Who are these four guys? These are the four idiots who voted for James Harden for All-NBA second team. Not first team, second team for the MVP runner up. Not coincidentally, two of these spanks (Davis and Pinto) are from OKC, so I'm assuming Russell Westbrook was their pick. I'd love to hear the explanation on how Westbrook accomplished more than Harden this season. In Westbrook's defense, he seemed cordial repping the Thunder at the NBA lottery proceedings on Tuesday night.
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3. Josh Smith
So how long until we're allowed to get mad at Josh Smith again? How much equity did his nearly singlehandedly saving the season in Game 6 against the Clippers buy Smith? If there were a dashboard for basketball emotions and one of the gauges was for Josh Smith Stupidity Tolerance, he ran that bad boy from "F" to within a few millimeters of "E" last night. Smoov was a "5 miles to the gallon," gas guzzling RV of basketball idiocy last night. He chucked up eight shots in the first four minutes of the game, 17 overall for the night, and had a couple brain fart turnovers sprinkled in as well. Let's be clear — the Rockets need Josh Smith on the floor in this series. The GOOD Josh Smith. But they need to have a talk with him about creating his own offense, because he can't. Finish on breaks, shoot when your open, play defense, hit the open man. Keep it simple, gas guzzler.
2. Pablo Prigioni
The issue with the Rockets at the point guard position isn't that both guys (Prigioni and Jason Terry) are a hundred years old. I mean, yes, that is an issue, but to me, the main issue is that you don't know which guy is going to show up each night. Jason Terry was awful in Game 1, but McHale rode him for way too long, hoping the Jet from the three previous wins would show up. Prigioni, on the other hand, looked okay in Game 1. So you go into Game 2 feeling like you may have at least have a temporary solution at the point guard position ("Hey, if JET doesn't look all right, Pablo is ready to go."), and then Pablo comes in and looks like he's TWO hundred years old. How dire is the point guard inconsistency right now? Nick Johnson got to chase Steph Curry around for three minutes….and I was okay with it. That's not good.
Before the series, the oddsmakers had the Warriors as high as a -1000 favorite in this series. If I were a bettor who had them at -1000 right now, I don't know if I'd be breathing a sigh of relief or chugging whiskey out of wagering fear. These two teams are clearly very evenly matched in this format. And by the way, the Rockets have comfortably covered five straight spreads now, by an average of 14 points a game. The Rockets are a one point underdog on Saturday night, for what it's worth.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.