Last night the Houston Rockets upset the Golden State Warriors 122-121 in a thrilling shootout to kick off the regular season. Free agent signings Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker provided a great spark off the bench with 14 and 20 points respectively, to compliment reigning sixth man of the year Eric Gordon and his 24-point effort. It was a great win, and more importantly it was at least the beginning of the answer to the biggest question surrounding the Rockets all offseason:
How will Chris Paul and James Harden look on the floor together?
Well, the short answer is – at the moment – not great. Not terrible, but not great. Paul and Harden seemed to stick to what they know best, which is a lot of iso ball. If one had the ball, the other seemed to sit off in the corner and let them do their thing. Paul went 2-9 from the field (0-4 from 3-point range) for 4 points to go with 11 assists and 8 rebounds, but left the game near the end of the fourth quarter with knee soreness. Harden, meanwhile, dazzled in his debut, turning in a 27 point, 6 rebound, and 10 assist effort.
They ended the game with a combined 21 assists, but the growing pains were fairly evident. Paul found himself in rather unfamiliar territory by playing off ball the majority of the time the two shared the court.
At the moment it’s very obvious that Paul realizes that this is Harden’s team and seemed fine acquiescing the ball handling duties for the time being while he adjusts. Paul was eventually pulled out of the lineup in favor of Gordon near the end of the fourth quarter because of the knee, and when questioned by reporters in the locker room about the benching showed zero frustration. That was a good sign, because it shows that he realizes how talented the Rockets’ lineup is.
At the moment it’s simply too early to grade the Harden/Paul experiment, especially with Paul playing hurt. Injuries are going to be part of the norm with Paul, as they have been throughout his career, but when he’s healthy, he’s still one of the most dangerous point guards in the league.
I personally don’t expect there to be much of an issue. Harden and Paul are far too talented and basketball smart to not make this work.