Rockets 75, Spurs 114 - Eulogizing the 2016-2017 Houston Rockets

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I mean, what is there to really say?

James Harden was a total no-show, the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs put on a total basketball clinic, and the Houston crowd basically had no reason to get loud at any point in this game (but hey, they got those free t-shirts and a Travis Scott… pep talk?).

LaMarcus Aldridge finally had a big game (34 points, 12 rebounds), Johnathan Simmons looked like Kawhi-lite, and the Spurs dominated the glass. Meanwhile, Ryan Anderson continued to be the worst player in Toyota Center history, and Eric Gordon and Lou Williams pulled off a dual-disappearing act not seen since The Prestige.

I’m not going to talk about this game anymore; it’s too depressing. Oh, and the final game ball of the year goes to Clint Capela, for actually bringing some energy.

Instead, I’m going to reflect a bit on just how tremendous this season was. This Houston Rockets team overachieved well beyond expectations, finishing 14 games above Las Vegas’ preseason expectations (41 wins). That 55-27 record ties for Houston’s fourth best in wins and winning percentage. Despite being predicted to narrowly make the Playoffs (41 wins would have tied for the final spot), the Rockets held the third-seed in an always-tough Western Conference. Hell, the Rockets even finished with the third best record overall – ahead of the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The offseason moves of letting Dwight Howard go, hiring Mike D’Antoni as head coach, and signing both Anderson and Gordon to big money deals left the Rockets in a state of uncertainty, at least according to basketball pundits and experts across all media. Instead, D’Antoni moved James Harden to point guard – unleashing his full potential – and instilling a system that allowed Gordon and Anderson (among other shooters) to thrive.

And, despite his unbelievable struggles in the last seven periods (including overtime of Game 5), James Harden was a legitimate candidate for Most Valuable Player for the second time in the last three seasons. After last year’s train wreck of a season, he would win Comeback Player of the Year if that award existed. Harden re-dedicated himself to basketball and to being a leader for this team. Sure, there were moments where that leadership waned, but his teammates wouldn’t have thrived if he didn’t go completely nuclear.

Without James Harden being one of the absolute best players in the NBA this season, the Rockets wouldn’t be in contention for FOUR major end-of-season awards (MVP, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and Executive of the Year). He deserves a ton of the blame for the way this season ended, but he deserves even more credit for putting the Rockets in this position in the first place.

The Houston Rockets are ahead of schedule with their re-tooling, and this season is a major step in the right direction to becoming serious championship contenders. This was an incredible season. Don’t let the final two games make you think differently.

As Gregg Poppovic said in his post-game presser, “they’re not just dangerous… they’re good.”

On a personal note, this was easily the most fun Rockets season I’ve gotten to watch since my obsession started in 2004-2005. And it was a blast to have covered it in such incredible depth, and in Red Nation Hoops’ first full season of coverage no less!

Many thanks to everyone who contributes to Red Nation Hoops for putting out great content, and an even bigger thank you to anyone who read anything on the site.

On to next season! Has free agency started yet?

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