But if they are really going to become more than a sideshow and challenge the real order of true contenders at the top, they'll need Beverley's defensive teeth, grit and attitude.
This is regular-season award, of course. "We've just got to figure it out".
Harden said after the Houston Rockets' 118-87 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday evening in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
Indeed, Harden has a much better team around him. Defensively, OKC has to lockdown on James Harden, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, all deep ball snipers. Westbrook finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in 33 minutes, with an uncharacteristically poor plus-minus rating (minus-25) to go with 9 turnovers. He was brilliant. He slashed through the Thunder and patiently dissected them. There was nothing to suggest it was anything worse than reckless, but that didn't matter to Russell Westbrook's torn meniscus then, nor does it matter to the Thunder guard now.
"That's my job, to get those guys easy shots", Westbrook said of his teammates. It is crucial that Adams and Kanter dominate the boards, both on offense and defense.
Houston led by 11 points late in the third quarter in that matchup on November 16, by 13 in the third quarter when it won at Oklahoma City 102-99 on December 9, and by 18 before holding on for a 118-116 home victory on January 5.
But Rocket hustler Patrick Beverley saved the ball while jumping out of bounds and a few seconds later got the ball back for an open 3-pointer. Butler scored 10 consecutive points to put the Bulls back in front early in the fourth, the first of three lead changes in the fourth quarter. Thunder big men Enes Kanter and Adams combined for 14 points on six of 13 shooting, plus eight rebounds.
As Houston transitioned this series-opener from legitimate competition to bench-emptying mode, bolstered with unabashed confidence, the Rockets' starting tandem appeared to inhabit an altogether higher realm of basketball consciousness than their counterparts.
James Harden was absolutely scintillating and played perhaps the best playoff game of his career.
Still, this is far from over. The game has evolved to favor three-point shooting, and the Rockets successfully have proven this notion. Heck, a year ago the Thunder lost Game 1 to the Spurs before winning four of the next five. Here are three adjustments that must be made if the Thunder are to succeed in this series.
Yet, with Beverly in tow, Victor Oladipo's output dwindled (17-44 FG in 3 losses vs. Hou) as Westbrook's number of forced attempts (27 FGA) rose.
The Thunder closed the season leading the league in rebounding rate, yet the Rockets finished with a 56-41 advantage on the glass and a 62-38 edge on points in the paint.
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