A heartfelt farewell to these Rockets

Josh Shapiro | Senior Sports Editor

Last Thursday, with little more than a whimper, the Houston Rockets bowed out of the bubble NBA playoffs, falling to Los Angeles Lakers by nearly 30 points in a game painfully reminiscent of previous playoff failures.

The so-called ‘experts’ were thrilled. The Rockets’ loss gave the pundits a huge ego boost, justifying the nearly four years they had spent criticizing small ball, James Harden and advanced analytics. I, on the other hand, was heartbroken. 

Personally, I’ll concede that the Rockets never had a chance this year. After dealing Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, H-town simply didn’t have the talent or all-around shooting to match the Lakers’ front court. But for me, it was never about the Rockets winning it all.

via Creative Commons/Bukowsky18

The Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets.

You see, I didn’t grow up a Rockets fan. In fact, five years ago, I was rooting for the Knicks and Netsmy hometown teams. When I did stumble upon the Rockets, they were already a very good team with 55 wins to boot. One might call me a bandwagoner.

At first, I was entranced by the Rockets’ style of play. I had never seen a team jack up threes with such volume and ease, akin to watching a video game. But my obsession quickly shifted. Behind the almost-gimmicky system were a group of players committed to making all the craziness work and to proving the loud pundits wrong. Players wholike their teamhad been doubted, cast aside and perpetually ignored.

P.J. Tuckera forward who had struggled to find his place in the NBA for nearly ten years, biding his time abroadfound his home in the corner of the basketball court. The scrappy rebounder became a three point marksman, jacking up over two hundred corner threes per season, by far the NBA record. 

Jeff Greenwho had open heart surgery and seemed destined to retire unremarkablyrebounded to post a career year. Ben McLemore, a former top pick, brought passion, energy and a tenacity to the game not seen since his college days. And in the G-League, the Rockets found and bred a young outcast named Danuel House into a fiery 3-point gunner. 

These were my guys. My underdogs. And while yes, it’s true that the Rockets altered the trajectory of modern Basketball—the Rockets’ crowning achievement in my eyes was their ability to churn out players who you could root for. Players who, had their team’s system been anything but wild and out of control yet forgiving, might’ve given up the game before their true talents had shown through. 

In the week since their exit, the Rockets have been majorly shaken up. Coach Mike D’Antoni is gone. James Harden could be on the trading block. It’s very likely that things may never truly go back to the way things were. But take a minute and look around at the bright new stars powering our game. Nikola Jokic is a seven-foot center universally lauded for chucking up 30-foot bombs from deep. You could say the same about Kristaps Porzingis. 

The Rockets have shined a light on a new generation of unlikely heroes. And after all the flak they’ve taken, it’s about time they get the credit they deserve.

So from the East Coaster from Connecticut who happened upon the Rockets by chance and fell in love with this team, thank you. 

 

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