Today, the 2014-15 Houston Rockets season came to a bittersweet end as the Golden State Warriors advance to the NBA Finals to face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Well, with this one it’s time for me to ponder back on what happened over the last year. After all, it’s been four months since I last posted an entry here.
It all began with how the season before this one ended, when Damian Lillard sent the Rockets and Red Nation home early with a three point dagger that broke a lot of hearts. I have to admit, I was severely heartbroken afterwards. It was tough to end a season like that. I had to go all-black on all my social media accounts afterwards.
Anyways, then came an off-season to “remember”. Rockets unloaded a lot of players like Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) and Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) in the chase for Miami’s Chris Bosh who was a free agent. Unfortunately (Fortunately), that didn’t pan out as Bosh decided to stay with the Heat for a hefty contract. Then came the bolting of Chandler Parsons to Dallas after the Rockets did not match the Mavericks offer sheet.
But for all the significant roster subtractions, Rockets brought in Trevor Ariza who last played for the Wizards and entered into a second stint in a Rockets uniform after spending a full year back in 2009-10. They also brought in the veteran Jason Terry. They drafted Clint Capela and Nick Johnson in the draft. They brought in Kostas Papanikolaou and Joey Dorsey from the Euroleague.
No one knew what was going to happen next. Pre-season predictions by the media gave the Rockets the 7th or 8th seed in the Western Conference and a first round exit to match.
Before you knew it, in October, the season was rolling along. These Rockets surprised us all, they went 6-0 to start the season good enough for a share of the lead in the Western Conference. Then the streak was snapped against Golden State. They finished November at 13-4. Then in December they made some roster changes. Gone were Tarik Black, Francisco Garcia and playoff hero Troy Daniels. But they brought in Corey Brewer from the Timberwolves and signed Josh Smith after being waived from Detroit. They finished 2014 with a 22-9 record. Come 2015, they finished January at 33-15. They made roster changes as they brought in Pablo Prigioni and K.J. McDaniels. Gone was another fan favorite in Isaiah Canaan. James Harden was named to the All-Star Game and later became a starter after vote-winner Kobe Bryant went down with an injury. He played well in the All-Star game, he took part in the Three Point Shootout in a losing effort. Patrick Beverley won the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. While Kostas Papanikolaou had been given a stint in the Rising Stars Challenge. February ended with the Rockets at 40-18. Then in March, they ended at 50-24 at the same time clinched a playoff berth. Then on the last day of the regular season. They managed to win the Southwest Division title for the first time ever and finished at 56-26. Good enough for the #2 seed in the Western Conference.
All the while, this team was carried by James Harden who came out and led the Rockets through some tough stretches all season long. Attacking the rim, scoring stepback jumpers, lighting it up from three point range, distributing the rock at will to put up a legendary run in the race for the season MVP while stepping up on the defensive end. Then everyone on the roster chipped in to the cause with the “Headband of Brothers” in Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Jason Terry. Donatas Motiejunas had a breakout season. Trevor Ariza was a defensive force. Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley had some good games when on the floor. The Rockets also became the most prolific three point shooting team in NBA history as they made 933 three pointers during the season.
But this season came along with adversity as they were riddled with injuries all season long. Dwight Howard missed half of the regular season to multiple injuries. Patrick Beverley was in and out of the line-up before eventually losing him to a wrist injury. Donatas Motiejunas also went down before the playoffs. Terrence Jones missed significant time. And of course, there were some terrible defeats along the way.
Also came the media and other NBA fans’ displeasure of what the Rockets have accomplished all season. Turning them into the league’s villains after that title has been settling in Miami the last four season.
All was now set for the Rockets playoff run to begin when they opened the post-season faced off against I-45 and Texas triangle rivals in the 7th seeded Dallas Mavericks. The Rockets took care of business in the first two games at home. Then in Game 3, James Harden put up a master performance to send the Mavericks to a 3-0 hole. Dallas would respond in Game 4, but the lack of synergy within the Mavericks team caught up as the Rockets took the series for their first playoff series win since 2009.
Next up for the Rockets were the 3rd seeded Los Angeles Clippers who came off a thrilling 7 game series to knock off the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers stunned the home crowd as the Rockets went flat-footed in Game 1. They evened up the series in Game 2. But suffered two straight losses in Los Angeles as they now trailed 1-3 in the series. They responded in Game 5 to extend the series. In Game 6, Clippers had a 19 point lead in the 3rd quarter, as it looked like they are now setting up for a date with the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. A Game 7 back in Houston was slipping away. Then came one of the most heart raising comebacks in NBA playoff history. As the Rockets went on a 48-17 the rest of the way to force a Game 7 back home. In Game 7, they completed the comeback as Red Nation was given a nostalgic trip to the Clutch City era of the franchise as for the second time in franchise history and the ninth time in NBA history, they came back from a 1-3 deficit to win the series. They also advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1997.
Then came a date with the best team in the league, the MVP in Stephen Curry, his Splash Brother Klay Thompson and the rest of the Golden State Warriors whom they failed to beat once during the regular season. Rockets fought hard in the first two games in Oakland, but suffered heartbreaking defeats in both games as they only lost a combined 5 points over the Warriors. Then as the series shifted to Houston, the Rockets got caught flat-footed as they fell in Game 3 by 35 points sending them in a 0-3 hole. In Game 4, they finally got over the hump as they forced a Game 5 in Oakland beating the Warriors for the first time this season. Then in Game 5, they had opportunities to steal a victory and send the series to Game 6. It was evenly matched through 3 quarters, but the Warriors proved to be the better team and at the worst moment, James Harden had his biggest cold spell of the season. Ending the Rockets season.
Now here are some thoughts.
Yes, it was indeed a tough and heartbreaking way to bow out. I mean, the emotions of the outcome has been overwhelming to bear and ponder upon. It was not the storybook ending we wished for. The “What if’s” are still in my head. We were 7 wins away from an NBA championship. But when I look back at everything again, I cannot help myself but to be proud of what this team has accomplished this season. This has been the best season the Rockets have ever played out in the 13 years I have been a member/soldier of Red Nation. And to think nobody outside of us in Red Nation thought they would go this far into the season. I’m still glad I get to see them play out until the end of May, because at this point of the year in previous years, the off-season is under way. They overachieved and exceeded expectations.
Give our coach Kevin McHale and his staff a ton of credit. Sure, we’ve been all around his head as fans all season long. But he did a great job this season. He had bright moments this season coaching this squad. Give our general manager Daryl Morey credit. He turned around a tough off-season, by bringing great pieces in-season to get to where we are right.
As for James, Dwight, Josh, Trevor, Jason, Terrence, Corey, Pablo, Patrick, Donatas, Kostas, Clint, Nick, K.J. and Joey. You all made Red Nation proud. Thank you for all that you have done over the past year. Come back stronger next season!
In capping off this entry. I would like to thank all the members of Red Nation that I have met over the years whether its at home in the Philippines, Houston, the rest of Texas, Hawaii, Arizona, Norway, or anywhere else around the world. Each and every one of you made it special for me to be a Rockets fan. I had a blast talking to each and every one of you for the team we all love and root for. For sticking through all good and bad that has happened over the past year. Thank you for allowing this crazy 21 year old kid from of all places the Philippines to be a part of a great family. Stay tight, and I’ll see you guys next season.