All-Star guard and MVP finalist James Harden took plenty of criticism after Houston’s Game 4 loss to Oklahoma City on Monday. He made up for it in a historic 114-80 victory (box score) by the Rockets in Game 5, which made for the biggest playoff win by margin in franchise history.
Harden had 31 points and five assists in just 28 minutes, since he didn’t have to finish out Saturday’s game due to the score. He made 11-of-15 shots (73.3%) overall, including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers (50.0%), and Houston was +28 in the minutes with Harden on the floor.
“I think we were all in attack mode trying to get into the paint,” Harden said of Houston’s offense, led by a 19-of-48 showing (39.6%) on 3-pointers. “Get into the teeth of their defense and get shots for our team. And guys made shots. It was just attack mode on both ends of the floor.”
While Harden was somewhat held in check earlier this series by Lu Dort of the Thunder, the rookie posed little resistance to Harden in Game 5. Dort’s 3-of-16 shooting performance (18.8%) also limited him to just 23 minutes, since he became a major liability on offense.
“Dort’s a great defender, but his aggression sometimes gets the best of him,” said Robert Covington, who had 22 points and seven rebounds on 6-of-11 shooting (54.5%) on 3-pointers. The Rockets were a +36 in Covington’s 31 minutes, which was the best of any player in the game.
“We exploited that a little bit, and the main thing is we’ve just gotta hit [Dort] and continue to get James open,” Covington said. He continued:
Either they’re going to force the switch or it’s going to open up something else. James has been doing a great job of finding guys and making the right plays. Just gotta stay with the gameplan and continue to be effective in that.
I asked Robert Covington about #Rockets setting screens at certain angles or re-screening for James Harden to free him from Dort’s aggression in fighting over/under screens. His breakdown: “[Dort’s] aggression sometimes gets the best of him, so we kinda exploited it a little bit” pic.twitter.com/7Vcj2L6vmI
— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) August 30, 2020
In his postgame comments, Harden appeared most excited by his team’s defense — which limited the Thunder to just 35 points in the second half. Houston outscored OKC by a 66-35 margin after halftime.
“I thought tonight we did it defensively,” Harden said. “We were active. We were engaged, especially in that second half, from the beginning.”
Harden and the Rockets will have an opportunity in Monday night’s Game 6 to clinch the series and advance to the second round.
“James played great,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden following Game 5. “Under control, going to the hole. Shot the ball extremely well. So efficient, and that’s what James does. He’s one of the best, most efficient players in the league.”
Lu Dort defensive rating and net rating by game:
Game 2: 108 DRTG, +5.7 net rating
Game 3: 79 DRTG, +10.1 net rating
Game 4: 120.8 DRTG, -10.5 net rating
Game 5: 128.6 DRTG, -52.6 net rating
Yeah, guys… I don’t think he is having such a great impact anymore.
— Disney Gary Clark (@Itamar1710) August 30, 2020