Rockets Open Season In Style On Night Of Dazzling Debuts
DETROIT, MI - “That’s why we (bleeping) got him!!!”
Daryl Morey, collected, calm and composed as ever, shouted that emphatic declaration from the stands Wednesday night, letting everyone within earshot in on his emotions while watching Omer Asik swat a shot late in the fourth quarter of the Rockets’ 105-96 victory over Detroit.
Houston’s General Manager was of course making reference to the world-class defense Asik provides that made his signing such a priority for the team this summer. But let’s face it: Morey’s “That’s why we (bleeping) got him!!!” sentiment could have just as easily applied to at least a quarter of the Rockets’ active roster on an unforgettable opening night that set imaginations in Houston aflame.
There was the aforementioned Asik, defending like mad – often the only one on the floor doing so – putting up 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks. There was fellow summer signee Jeremy Lin, sharp, savvy and steady while steering the ship, finishing with 12 points, 8 assists, 4 steals and a team-leading plus-minus of +23. There was newly-acquired Carlos Delfino, draining four fourth quarter triples en route to scoring 15 points while providing Houston with the bench spark it had been so sorely missing during the first three quarters of the game. And, yes, there was James Harden, fresh off a whopping two whole practices with his new team, doing well … pretty much everything earthly imaginable on his way to producing what might be the finest debut performance the league has ever seen.
The final tally for the freshly-signed-for-five-more-years Harden: 37 points, a career-high 12 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals. The only other players in NBA history who have compiled those eye-popping numbers in the same game are guys who need but a single name to be identified: Jordan, Bird and Wade.
“He’s just going to have to step it up to be honest,” deadpanned Lin when asked to share his thoughts on his new backcourt mate’s Rockets debut. “He’s got to get at least 40 and 15 a game.”
Lin was merely joking of course, but after Wednesday’s offensive pyrotechnics it’s funny how no statistical benchmark really seems all that outlandish anymore because, let there be no doubt, 37/12/6/4 – AFTER TWO FREAKING PRACTICES! – is about as outlandish as it gets. Harden could have walked into the cockpit of the team plane Wednesday night, assumed command of the controls and volunteered to fly the club to Atlanta and there likely wouldn’t have been a peep of dissension, such was the awestruck amazement permeating the Rockets’ collective psyche after what transpired at the Palace.
Too much? Going a tad overboard with the hyperbole? Perhaps. But haven’t Rockets fans earned the right to enjoy an evening of overreaction at this point? Besides, no one rational is talking titles or anything of the sort right now. It’s only one game and Detroit bears no resemblance to the dominating Bad Boys of Motown’s hoops halcyon days. The Rockets themselves were quick to point out postgame the myriad issues that must be addressed, and quickly. In particular, there were too many turnovers and, save for the always-inspired efforts of Asik, defense seemed optional for the vast majority of Houston’s players until the decisive fourth quarter.
But just as crystal clear were the many splendored glimpses the Rockets gave of the beginnings of something special, something worth truly cherishing: Chandler Parsons’ all-around game; Asik’s defensive wizardry; Lin’s ability to break teams down off the bounce; Greg Smith’s inspired energy which kept alive several critical possessions; and, yes, James Harden’s absolute mastery of the pick-and-roll.
Remember, this remains a team very much in the embryonic stage of development. The Rockets have the youngest roster in the league so you better believe there will be growing pains along the way. There will be nights when the ball sticks, shots don’t fall and rotations are a step slow. Rest assured, too, that the Rockets will have to work hard to stay ahead of the competition as opponents develop more effective gameplans designed to grind the up-tempo Houston offense to a halt. But it’s there: that indefinable quality that quickens the pulse and kick starts the imagination. James Harden has been a member of the Houston Rockets for a grand total of four days. And in the span of two hours and 25 minutes of transcendent skill Wednesday night, he let the basketball world know that everything’s changed.
“I told you guys the other day that (Harden) looked comfortable and he’s a quick learner,” said Chandler Parsons. “He’s a leader and the first thing he said in practice was tuck in your shirts and let’s go to work. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He works just as hard as everybody else and he pushes everybody else. I’m not surprised at all by the game he had and I won’t be surprised at all if he does it again Friday night.”
Will anyone? The show Harden put on Wednesday night was so masterful and his dissection of the Detroit D so thorough that it’s hard not to get carried away with thoughts of what the future might hold going forward. What happens when he really settles in? What happens when he and his teammates truly coalesce and develop the sort of telepathic understanding that helps them maximize each other’s strengths and minimize each other’s weaknesses? Heck, if he was this devastatingly efficient after two practices, how much damage will he do after three?
The sky truly is the limit.
That’s why they (bleeping) got him.
Greg Smith had a helluva (game) and really had some good minutes for us. He sprinted the floor, got ahead of his guy and got behind the defense, got some dunks and did a really, really nice job. That was big for us. His minutes were big and I thought that’s when the game really changed was at the start of the fourth and Carlos came in and hit a couple 3s – he is a big-game player, too.
We were out of sync at times and then in that fourth quarter we got synced up, we got our guys in the right spots finally, and then we were able to play basketball. For us, familiarity is going to help us a great deal with the ball movement and a lot of the stuff we’ve got to do but for the first time, considering those guys have just had two practices, I’m really happy because they really just gutted out that win.
I just wanted to get out there and play. With all the talking and all the craziness that has been happening the last week, I just wanted to go out there and play basketball. I think I did a good job of incorporating my teammates and making them feel comfortable. We’re going to grow as a team.
(on demonstrating the ability to be the No. 1 option)
It’s a new role for me and I think everyone knows that. My job is just to do the best that I can everyday whether it’s in a game or in practice or off the court, charity events, whatever the case may be – just be a leader out there. It’s a new role for me and it’s going to take time but I think I’m prepared for it.
(on James Harden)
He’s just going to have to step it up to be honest. He’s got to get at least 40 and 15 a game. Nah, I mean that was incredible. That was an awesome performance. We just let him go to work and played off of him and it was really nice. It was really nice to watch and was a really fun game.
(Surprising that there was that instant chemistry after just two practices?)
I would definitely say it surprised me a little bit. I didn’t think we were going to be that comfortable, but he knows how to play the game. What we’re doing isn’t that complicated, it’s just tough to guard because it’s so spaced out.
(how did you feel out there?)
I felt good. This was the best my body has felt in awhile, in a few months. I’m glad I got that first one out of the way and now I know what to expect and know how my body is going to respond, so I’m really excited and really happy about that.
He’s just a game-changer. I didn’t even know he had 37 points and then I look and he has 12 assists, too. He does everything and he’s unselfish. He’s not forcing anything, he’s passing the ball, he’s playing within himself on offense and it’s really fun to play with a guy like that where you can give him the ball in a close game and he’s going to make a play for us.
I told you guys the other day that he looked comfortable and he’s a quick learner. He’s a leader and the first thing he said in practice was tuck in your shirts and let’s go to work. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He works just as hard as everybody else and he pushes everybody else. I’m not surprised at all by the game he had and I won’t be surprised at all if he does it again Friday night.
(On personal performance): “I thought I played okay. I was a little rusty because I haven't played in a while. I'm ready to get back out to it to try and get more and more better with playing the four and getting in where I fit in at."
(On offense): "I wouldn't say the rhythm but just the speed of the game. I had a couple missed layups early."
(On team chemistry): "It was real, real exciting. James (Harden) could really score and a lot of people don't know he can really pass it. It's going to be an exciting season and I'm happy we got the win."
DETROIT PISTONS HEAD COACH LAWRENCE FRANK
(On the turning point): "We gave ourselves a cushion, but you hold them to a 17-point third quarter, then in the fourth quarter they had eight second-chance points, nine points off of turnovers, they outrebounded us 12-3, we gave up 33 middle drives for 48 points. We played at a really poor pace. We lost our rhythm. You go from holding them to a 17-point third quarter, to then the floodgates opening, where we give up a 35-point fourth quarter, that's not a recipe to win."
(On tempo): "I think we just lost our pace. When you watch the amount of times we get into things later than we want to, and the ball sticking, we didn't change what we ran, but just our intent with it. We like to play an up-tempo game as well, but they were just able to do it for longer stretches tonight."
(On defensive strategy): "You can live with (James) Harden going big because at one point prior to him hitting those two threes, they were 3-of-10 from three. Then all of a sudden we give (Jeremy) Lin those two threes because we adjusted our coverage with Harden a little bit to make him a passer, but we just have to be more precise with our angles, the timing of our bumps, and how we close out. The damage in the fourth quarter wasn't really precipitated by Harden as it was by others."
(On the game): "It was a circus out there the whole game. They hit threes and went up, then we came back. We kept going back and forth. We had a good end to the third quarter. They started the fourth real well and made some big shots. From that point on we just couldn't gain control. A couple bad turnovers here and there and then the offense shut down. A young team needs to know that you have to play consistent basketball, and if you don't, this can happen. We have a lot of work to do. Obviously, we wish we could have won this game at home before we go on this road trip. It's going to make it even tougher for us."
(On the difference between the third and fourth quarters): “The difference is that they stuck to their offense and kept us spread out, allowing them to get penetration. If you sagged in they found three-point shooters, if you stayed out they got to the rim and created and-ones and got to the foul line. Their offense picked up at the start of the fourth and they found their rhythm. We couldn’t counter balance that.”
(On Harden’s performance): “We thought he would have had a tougher time as far as figuring out their offense, but they only stuck to a couple plays the entire game, which helped him out and kept him in a good rhythm. We know what type of player James Harden is. The more he has the ball in his hands, the more dangerous he is.”