Rockets 113, Grizzlies 101 - A Year

By Forrest Walker on December 31, 2018

On the last night of the benighted 2018 calendar year, the Houston Rockets told us a story. Not to give away too many spoilers, but it ends with greatness, has some iffy parts in the middle and ends with James Harden's historic greatness finding controversial ways to lift up his team. This has been 2018, and hopefully it will never be 2018 again.

The short version of both this game and the 2018 calendar year is that James Harden is one of the all-time greats and the Rockets are good. The longer version? Let's get into the longer version. In one of his most iconic games ever, James Harden scored 43 points on a mere 8 made shots due to shooting a career best 27 free throws. Alongside his 10 rebounds, 13 assists and 9 turnovers, this paints the most James Harden picture imaginable. Those who hate his game will find endless reasons to throw up in this performance, and those who enjoy his play will be over the moon.

Both camps will be forced to agree that the Rockets and their reigning MVP won the game.

It's behind his brilliance that the Rockets won 71 games including playoffs in this calendar year, going back to an amazing close to the NBA season last year to an astonishing 10-1 close to the calendar year this season. This is his team, and their success is inextricably linked to his ability to defy all sense and reason on the hardwood. It's clear that he's at worst the second-best player in Rockets team history, and he has some times to make a very compelling case for number one. This is his team, from now until not just his tenure with the teams ends, but until the next all-time great suits up for the Rockets.

Like 2018, this game was exuberant and dominant until in the second half it suddenly wasn't. The Grizzlies started to force their way back into the game just as, not coincidentally, James harden began to make mistakes. His superhuman abilities can only do so much, and with his total minutes ending at 41, it was no surprise that he would look gassed as the game lurched on. A 23-point halftime lead would shrink down to a mere 11 as the clock would down, and the Grizzlies Forced the Rockets to work for this win that seemed so in the bag.

In the end, however, they were able to steady the ship and end on a confident, though exhausting note. The defense looked better, though not elite as last season. The offense was humming, mostly through the actions of James Harden. The team went on a number of runs, but almost let it slip away due to complacency. It could have, perhaps even should have gone much worse for the Rockets. Nevertheless, here they are, standing though bloodied at the end of the game and the end of the year.

They aren't back to the truly heroic pace they began the season on. They lost Chris Paul and are waiting for James Ennis and Eric Gordon to return from their respective injuries. Their vengeful rout of the NBA at the start of this calendar year was cut short by a Chris Paul hamstring strain, and they nearly let that upend them again this season. It was a long, grueling slog against brutal opposition, but the Rockets won tonight. They won, and despite some struggle, the overall judgement can only be that they were the better team.

They will be shouted at for drawing too many fouls. They will be called chokers, called boring, called many things. But Harden will also be called MVP for the next five months, and perhaps even more if he continues as he has lately. The Rockets have struggled in a way that is both unique and embarrassing, but in the last 11 games they've done more to right that ship than any reasonable person thought possible.

2018 was a year of struggle, both forseen and unforseen. The Rockets are not better off for it, as nobody ever is. It has been a grind and a degradation for this once-historic team to limp and fall, starting with the closing minutes of Western Conference Finals game five. 2019 will not suddenly surrender to the Rockets, as it will not to anyone else. If this gets better, it will not be because of the clouds clearing and skies becoming sunny. If they, if we make 2019 a better year than 2018 it will be because of necessity, of grit and steadfastness. And make no mistake: there is every chance that 2019 will be better. It's going to be a slog, as it always is.

But with how rough 2018 was, the Rockets look ready for whatever 2019 tries to rain upon them. It won't be easy, but there's a chance to win next year.

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