“The season from the beginning wasn’t going our way,” James Harden said. “We had too many distractions, a bumpy road this entire season.”
A team with fantastic chemistry in Golden State won the first-round series 4-1. Klay Thompson led the way with 27 points as the Warriors, minus Stephen Curry, shot 54.9 percent from the floor. The Rockets played the Warriors without Curry four times this season, winning just once. Harden was the only offense for the Rockets, scoring 35 points on 12-of-23 shots from the field. The Rockets' star guard was alone, very alone on the offensive end in noisy Oracle Arena.
Dwight Howard, potentially playing his last game with the Rockets, finished with eight points and 21 meaningless rebounds, missing 10 of 13 shots. Trevor Ariza, dreadful in this series, missed 7 of 8 shots, including all seven of his 3-point attempts.
Donatas Motiejunas finished with seven points and Patrick Beverley, playing with a sore hamstring, finished 1-for-5 for two points. Jason Terry, the man who guaranteed a victory in Game 5, missed all seven of his shots.
So where was the other offense for the Rockets? Well, Michael Beasley, the late-season signing by GM Daryl Morey, finished with 11 points, but needed 13 shots to do it.
It was just a bad night for the Rockets, who finally ended a dysfunctional, chemistry-poor season.
“That’s going to happen,” Terry said regarding distractions. “I’ve been around this thing a long time. You will be faced with all types of adversities and how you come through those is a sign of the type of team you have. Our team was just not strong enough mentally to get through those adversities and learn. A lesson for [Harden] as a star of a team, you have to deal with certain issues and still be able to be mentally tough to bring your level of play up with your team and get them to where you want them to go. It happens.”
The chemistry between Howard and Harden disintegrated over the course of the season; Howard, dismayed with not getting the ball enough, and Harden, not trusting in what the center could do.
Terry felt like the two could have made things work -- in a different system. But it was this same offensive system that led the Rockets to the conference finals last season.
Now, it’s over with. Howard will become a free agent this summer, seeking a big-money contract he likely won’t receive from the Rockets.
Most in the locker room didn’t make a plea for the center to return next season.
“I mean, ultimately it’s his decision,” Harden said. “But you know obviously we love Big Fella here and I guess he’ll go back with his family and figure it out.”
Howard declined to talk about his future and didn’t respond when asked whether he would speak with his teammates about returning.
Maybe his silence said everything, but Howard too was truthful about the chemistry.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted to go,” the 30-year-old center said. “We had a lot of ups and downs and I’m sure all of us are going to take some time to reflect on what we can do to better ourselves.”
Whatever the front office does with this team, it will start with interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, well-liked in the locker room and by his bosses. But in a bottom-line, cutthroat business, Bickerstaff needed more wins to guarantee certainty from owner Leslie Alexander.
“Give JB a lot of credit. He did what he could do,” Terry said. “We just didn’t have the chemistry needed. It’s one thing to put the pieces together on paper, but it has to be a tight-knit bond with a group of guys to do something special, and our group just didn’t have that this year.”
With a chance to make a case to keep Bickerstaff as coach, the Rockets’ players didn’t respond in the proper way.
Now they enter the offseason with uncertainty.
“Riding the roller coaster that we rode this year is not how you find consistency,” Bickerstaff said. “There were too many ups and downs. So you end up a .500 ballclub because we let opportunities go.”