Rockets 122, Warriors 121 - Possibility

Photo by Mark Downey Lucid Images/Corbis via Getty Images

There was always the possibility the Houston Rockets could win their season opener on the road, on ring night against the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. It was a laughably slim chance, but it existed. We know how this season is going to turn out, but there's always some possibility that it might turn out differently. Tonight, that potential for an upset was realized. Tonight, the Rockets did what they always could have but never should have been able to do. Tonight the Houston Rockets opened up their season 1-0 after a victory over the Warriors. For one night this season, possibility remains alive.

All the myriad question marks about the Houston Rockets remain. We are one night in to the NBA season and nothing has been foreclosed. We aren't sure James Harden and newly joined star Chris Paul will truly mesh. We aren't sure that new wings PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will be the difference between a second round exit and a trip to the finals. We have one answer, though. The Rockets are capable of beating the Warriors, for one game, on one day. And the other open questions are a blessing, because the answers could still be glorious and powerful. Their promising pre-season stint has now, officially, continued into the games that count.

The best player for the Rockets was, of course, as ever, as always, James Harden. His line was as gaudy as ever, a game-high 27 points on 23 shots to go with 6 rebounds, 10 assists and a mere three turnovers. He was a +1 in his 36 minutes on the court, and that was presumably the one point that counted at the end of the night. The Chris Paul experiment is still in its early stages, and tonight it was abandoned before the end of the game. Paul was reportedly playing through a knee injury, which may explain why he was sitting on the bench while Harden completed the finishing touches on this game. Paul shot only 2-9 for a mere 4 points to go with his impressive 11 assists. To assume he can't work with Harden after a mediocre first game in which they beat the odds-on title favorites would be the height of folly, however. This isn't over by a long shot.

Before moving on let's give a truly blinding game ball out.

Game Ball incoming

Game Ball will be given to: Eric Gordon

Eric Gordon came out with a fury this evening, giving us a glimpse of how scary Houston's backcourt could truly be. He shot 9-16 for 24 points despite the fact that he missed all six of his three point attempts. He viciously dunked all over the Warriors on two separate, non-consecutive occasions and generally shredded the opposition. His effort and awareness were incredible and his chemistry with the team has only gotten better. If he can stay healthy and rested, he should be the favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year for the second season in a row. Eric Gordon was a joy to watch, and this win is in no small part due to his heroics.

The quiet heroes of the night were PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Houston's newly signed defensive specialists. If they were looking for glory and a chance to prove their value, it looks like they found it. Both of them looked ready and able to stay with even the best offenses, and they contributed on offense as well. They each shot an identical 6-9 (with identical 66.7% from deep) and came away with a combined 34 points on the night. Last year, the Rockets had one "three and D" player in Trevor Ariza, who of course also does much more. This year, they added two more. It sounds ludicrous to say after giving up 121 points, but the Rockets have a shot at being a formidable defense this season and these two are a big reason why.

As for the rest of the team, Ryan Anderson got busy on the boards, adding 8 crucial rebounds, which is a hopeful portent but possible mirage. Trevor Ariza only hit a third of his shots, and was overall extremely up and down out there. Sometimes he looked like Houston's rock, other times he looked incapable of playing against Golden State. Hopefully against less brutalizing opponents his prowess will better manifest itself. Clint Capela looked great on defense, but was generally unable to do much on offense except finish lobs. Ultimately this is all he should need to do, but it would be nice to watch fewer ungainly drives and moves to the rim from Clint.

Of note, Warriors forward Draymond Green hobbled off the court with a strained knee at the end of the third quarter, opening a hole in their offensive and especially defensive lines. A win remains a win, but his absence must sting for the Warriors. It doesn't seem to be a bad injury, but it shows how crucial and irreplaceable Green's skill set is.

Of course, a key player being hurt at exactly the wrong time is another possible outcome in this season. We had wondered what a Warriors loss and a Rockets win might look like, and we got a preview tonight. Despite looking disjointed and a step slow half the night, the Rockets pulled through to steal a win in the end. Those who subscribe to a more old-school view of the sport might even say that Harden and the Rockets had enough willpower to gut out a win at the end of a close game, but I certainly can't think of anybody who has suggested that this is an actual problem Harden and the Rockets face. No, the most important thing we can learn from tonight is that the waveform has not yet collapsed. There are still incredible, sky-high possibilities for one more day. It was barely possible that the Rockets could come away from Oracle with a 1-0 record.

Tonight, barely possible was enough.

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