James Harden is incapable of being stopped and Chris Paul is the kind of point guard every team in the NBA would love to have. But these steamrolling Houston Rockets are more than their reigning Most Valuable Player and the future Hall of Fame floor leader. The Rockets had the best record in the second half of the regular season and managed to overcome such a shoddy start to the 2018-19 campaign also because of the guys assembled to complement the guys who nab the headlines.
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said so prior to Game 3 Saturday night inside Vivint Smart Home Arena. Without the defensive resolve of Eric Gordon, without the toughness of PJ Tucker, without the development of Danuel House, the Rockets weren’t getting back on track. D’Antoni went even further when discussing the impact of the midseason role players added midseason like power forward Kenneth Faried and point guard Austin Rivers.
“They turned our season around,” D’Antoni said.
The Rockets signed Faried after his buyout from the Brooklyn Nets in January and signed Rivers who was waived by the Phoenix Suns in late December after a trade sent him from the Washington Wizards to Phoenix. D’Antoni credited the Rockets front office and general manager Daryl Morey for finding the perfect fits when Houston needed them the most.
While Harden had another magnificent year, once again becoming the MVP frontrunner, the Rockets struggled out of the gate. Long-term injuries to Paul and Clint Capela necessitated some new blood. Faried and Rivers gave exactly that.
“Those two guys came in and won countless games for us,” D’Antoni said. “[They] kept us above water and even gaining ground [in the standings] which we stayed in the hunt at the end.”
Beyond the acquisitions of Faried and Rivers, Houston’s slew of role players helped the Rockets’ impressive end to the regular season as well as the hot start in the postseason. Tucker hit seven 3s in the first two games of the series while Gordon hit six from deep and perhaps most importantly played solid defense on Donovan Mitchell.
“That’s one part of his game that might’ve been overlooked, but he’s so strong and he just puts his chest on people and he’s one of the better defenders out there,” D’Antoni said of Gordon. “I don’t know if he’s gotten better, but by starting him, maybe you see it more. He starts off usually on [the other team’s] best perimeter guy. And he just does a terrific job.”