HOUSTON — The amorphous blob that had been the Houston Rockets organization is starting to look slightly more morphous these days. Hard to tell exactly what they are, but there are some things growing out from it here and there.
The newest appendage to sprout goes by the name Chandler Parsons. He was a second-round draft pick in 2011 and is making like an Armani suit at outlet mall prices. He had 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a 105-103 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday in Houston. His play rescued the Rockets from a series sweep and from one of James Harden’s worst performances of the season, recording 15 points and 10 turnovers.
“I did have a double-double,” Harden joked.
But the Rockets beat the Thunder anyway. It was unbelievable right up until it happened.
The Rockets will still lose the series, probably in five games, but the point around here was never really to win playoff series this year anyway. Nobody in the Rockets organization thought this was a championship contender as currently constructed, but it was important for this team to at least appear headed in a certain direction – preferably the right one.
You’ll recall that wasn’t the case much. The last three years the Rockets kept finishing one spot out of the playoffs with these rosters that only made sense if you viewed them not as actual basketball teams but as collections of basketball-playing spreadsheets. You know, an awful lot of trust has been placed in Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, he of the MIT education and the secretive analytical methods. And at some point there was going to need to be some kind of observable evidence this guy actually knew what he was doing, that he was not building a bridge to nowhere with his Luis Scolas and Chase Budingers and Cole Aldriches. Those teams would get built and torn down and built again.
Nothing, and nobody, was sacred.
By most objective measures the James Harden and Omer Asik acquisitions of last offseason had worked out, but the Rockets still needed something sacred they could all believe in. They needed some sense that they were not all just passing each other in the night like truckers at a roadside saloon.
So this isn’t much, but they avoided the sweep. They get to feel like they really belonged in the playoffs. The eventual loss will hurt more this way, and this was a franchise that needed to be hurt, just to prove it could feel something again.
If the Rockets had lost Monday, they could have written off the series so easily. Oklahoma City is just too good and that’s what happens when too-good teams meet teams that aren’t. But as it is, the Rockets on Monday were talking about the plays that got away in Games 2 and 3. See? They can beat the Thunder. They just need to execute and play their game. That’s how athletes think, anyway.
“We know we can play with these guys,” Parsons said. “We know we can beat these guys.”
That’s not much, but it’s something. The Rockets are the youngest team in the NBA. They were going to have to go through this at some point, and now they can go forward confident that this is a real thing they have going here. A real team with a real nucleus of real players they can really build around.
The plan is working.
Houston is still at least one major acquisition away from contending for a championship, and so chances are Morey is not done flipping assets for bigger and better assets like one of those Craigslist guys who starts off with a graphing calculator and keeps making trades until he’s driving away in a Cadillac.