Don’t die on a hill is a warning for those in combat. Strategically, the smart way to fight is to stake out a position where you have the advantage and are not a target for the enemy. As a practical strategy, it made Chris Paul a prime get in the off-season, coveted as he was by the three point happy Houston Rockets.
Before Chris Paul, the Rockets had been dying on the hill. They had been, as Shakespeare poetically put it, hoisted by their own petard. The way they lived (3-point nirvana) was the way they died and that was seemingly okay when they knew they weren’t contenders. It gave the Rockets an identity and Daryl Morey a philosophy. But the acquisition of Paul, not just because of his toughness and leadership but his ability to create pace with the ball and get players good shots and control actions was the final piece in making James Harden’s basketball prime worthwhile. The Rockets were not going to die on the hill. Not anymore.
The day after the catastrophe, a lot is being made of the Rockets three point brickathon. It was a tsunami of misses that was so blinding, I think at one point, a bad Trevor Ariza miss made me wince. But here are the real facts about the Rockets and their threes. They attempted 42 threes in the regular season. Last night, they attempted 44 threes. It’s not the number of threes per se, but the kind of threes. In the offense threes or desperate and fearful jacks.
As they kept missing and missing, it almost felt as if the Rockets had the same kind of disease relief pitchers do who give up back to back to back homers. Except in baseball, the manager removes the problem. Of the Rockets illness last night, there was never medication. The patient was sick and the doctor told them to stay sick and see what happens.
Last night highlighted the reason Chris Paul is in Houston. The Rockets can’t abort mission when necessary. They are who we thought they were.
It was a miserable way to lose. The Warriors are predictable as a team even if they cannot be stopped when they are on their 3rd quarter juggernauts. The moment the Warriors smell blood and taste weakness they jumpstart the catastrophe. They have the ability to see what the Rockets can’t, what is a Rockets blindness. They continue to push a rock up a hill even when the rock rolls down a thousand times suffocating them. The Rockets don’t have the flexibility in schematics to change.
As much of life is, it was history. All season long when the Rockets couldn’t make threes, they lost. They didn’t have a plan B, a way to rescue themselves and resuscitate life. Without Paul as the conductor and organizer, they didn’t have a second creator though Eric Gordon tried. But he’s not Chris Paul. His game is similar to James Harden’s, at the rim or long ball. He can drive and kick but he’s not delivering the ball in a money spot.
A James Harden team has never beaten a Steph Curry team in the playoffs and although this year was supposed to be different, nothing about it was different.
James Harden still can’t beat Steph. And Chris Paul was injured.
Losing in game 7 to a team that has been in the NBA Finals three years in a row isn’t a failure when you dissect the end result by staring at stats. But if you watched the Warriors these playoffs you noticed pretty quickly it wasn’t the same Warriors. Their bench was anemic. Kevin Looney can’t guard my mother. Shaun Livingston and Nick Young are replaceable. Andre Iguodala’s impact was missing. Kevin Durant had long periods of a disappearing act. These Warriors were not light years ahead of anything. They were ripe for the taking but the Rockets couldn’t do it.
The Rockets were last year’s Rockets once Paul’s hamstring familiarly was Warriors luck. James Harden is the MVP of the league and he is an impeccable scorer and he gets fouls just because someone breathes on him. But Harden isn’t the kind of player that can carry a team in a game 7 ala LeBron and Kobe who won conference final game 7’s on the road. It was the point of Chris Paul. The best of Harden married to the best of Paul.
But Game 7 had the worst of the Rockets.
They fired their weapon repeatedly and it shot them in the heart and out of the NBA Finals. They did not make adjustments when Plan A wasn’t working. They desperately watched as the defending champions did their defending champion thing and their only antidote was to keep shooting unmakeable shots.
On the last Monday in May, the Houston Rockets turned William Shakespeare into a philosopher. The Rockets died on a hill. They did it to themselves.