Well, they blew up the gorilla man in Phoenix last night.
Even the Suns’ mascot couldn’t let fans watch what the Rockets did to their team on national TV — a 142-116 beatdown that saw Houston score more points in the first half than the Golden State Warriors managed all game against the Boston Celtics and was the highest-scoring output of any team all season.
— John Richard (@JohnnyS7ORM) November 17, 2017
In Chris Paul’s return to the lineup, the Rockets scored 45 first-quarter points. Paul and James Harden totaled 18 points (on 5-for-5 shooting) and eight assists in the frame. The Rockets shot 7-of-11 from 3-point range and pushed their lead to 22 points on a pull-up triple from Paul to end the quarter.
And then Houston dropped another 45 points in the second quarter. Harden entered the half with 33 points on 5-of-5 shooting from 3, and the Rockets took a 90-65 advantage into the break. Ninety.
Most Points in 1st Half – Shot Clock Era
1990-91 Suns 107
2017-18 Rockets 90 (tonight)
1990-91 Nuggets 90
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 17, 2017
“I thought there was something wrong with the score,” Harden told reporters after the game.
It was already too much for the Suns to bear:
A post shared by Phoenix Suns (@suns) on Nov 16, 2017 at 9:02pm PST
As Houston pushed its lead into the thirties at the tail end of the quarter and put the victory on cruise control for the rest of the night, TNT broadcasters Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller searched for reasons to keep viewers entertained, mock-calling the play-by-play to make the blowout sound more exciting:
That’s why Harlan made Rockets reserve center Zhou Qi’s late-game block of Suns counterpart Alex Len sound like LeBron James’ 2016 Finals-saving chase-down block against Andre Iguodala:
Zhou Qi wasn't the DPOY in China for no reason… pic.twitter.com/1UtVewAzV9
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 17, 2017
When the final buzzer mercifully sounded, Harden had finished with 48 points and seven assists, pushing his season averages to 31.8 points and 10.1 assists — both of which lead the league. (Here’s where we remind you nobody has led the league in scoring and assists since Tiny Archibald in 1972-73.)
Paul collected 11 points and 10 assists in just 20 minutes and change, the Rockets (12-4) took over first place in the Western Conference, and Houston’s point-guard tandem kept the mockery going:
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) November 17, 2017
Even in Paul’s limited minutes in his return from a 14-game absence after tweaking his left knee in the first game of the season, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni saw what he hopes was the best evidence yet that pairing two ball-dominant future Hall of Fame point guards on the same team may actually work.
“I don’t know if he can get any better than that,” D’Antoni said of Paul, via ESPN.com’s Tim McMahon, “but if he does, it’ll be scary. You forget how good he is. He was hurt the last exhibition game and then the first game of the season, and you kind of forget how good the guy is. It’s nice to get him back.”
Ryan Anderson — Houston’s second-leading scorer (24 points on 12 shots, including 6-of-10 shooting from 3) and one of seven Rockets in double figures — didn’t even “feel like we were extra hot tonight.”
That is frightening, but it’s important to remember this performance came against a Suns team that began the season with a record-setting defeat and has lost seven of its last eight games. And even in a game Houston won by 26, the Harden-Paul duo only finished a plus-two in 13 minutes together.
Still, the Rockets cooked up success with a recipe everyone figured would work when they acquired Paul over the summer — staggering the two All-Stars for the full 48 minutes. Paul was plus-10 in eight minutes with Harden off the floor, and Harden was plus-13 in 20 minutes with Paul on the bench.
Also, of Paul's 20 minutes, he will be on the floor whenever James Harden is not. "Those minutes are sacrosanct," D'Antoni said
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) November 17, 2017
So, there’s still work to do, and if the Rockets ever do sort this Harden-Paul tandem out, there’s another gear for the league’s second-best offense (111.3 points per 100 possessions). As it is now, they’re capable of toasting opponents with the same layup or 3-pointer philosophy that made them historically great last season, as they proved on a six-game win streak in Paul’s absence.
Only they can punish you from start to finish with Paul steering the second unit. All but four of their field-goal attempts against the Suns came in the paint or beyond the 3-point line, where the Rockets combined to shoot 41-of-86 and get to the line 38 times for a 67.2 true shooting percentage as a team.
“I think what happens halfway through you get a little disappointed and you just go, ‘It doesn’t matter what we’re going to do here,’” Suns coach Jay Triano conceded, via the Arizona Republic, after the worst loss of his tenure. “And they’re a strange team to play. It’s tough to prepare for playing a team that’s going to shoot as many 3’s and not take any 2’s and get to the rim. And that’s the way they play.”
Meanwhile, in Phoenix …
I go to Suns games to watch the gorilla, he’s funny
— I made a grindr cause the grind doesnt stop (@BrandoGurrola) November 17, 2017
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