By Brandon Caldwell / @_brandoc
The Houston Rockets are the literal definition of an Internet troll.
You know, a troll. Not the guy who lives under a bridge and pokes his head out every so often to let you know he’s down there, not that troll. A troll. One who beckons emotional response, someone who in Webster’s speak, “sows discord by starting an argument or upsetting people by posting inflammatory messages or otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”
That, in the smallest of nutshells, describes the Houston Rockets.
Consider this. They employ not one, but two of the most click-bait, on-court-infuriating, off-court-infuriating guys in the league. That number would be three, but Josh Smith, their mercurial wing who shoots with more irrational confidence than four J.R. Smiths, seems to have a pretty low-key life outside of basketball. Their entire outfit, right down to the New World Order-style analytics of Daryl Morey, is a slap to the face of traditionalists, skeptics and pundits.
Last night, that team finally went away. But not until after submitting one of the greatest public displays of trolling ever witnessed.
The Rockets, a team that had no business being in the Western Conference Finals, finally bowed out in a 14-point loss to Golden State that was closer than the score indicated. When they’re on fire, they turn in earth scorchers like the 128 points they put on the Dubs in Game 4. When they’re off, you see nights like losing 115-80 in Game 3 or the pitiful back-to-back stink-jobs they offered in Los Angeles against the Clippers in the third and fourth games of that series. They’re inconsistent. They’re a roller-coaster. They’re the most fun Houston Rockets team since 1995.
Corey Brewer plays with a disjointedness that begs for him to play with training wheels. Terrence Jones is afraid to finish at the rim with any force. The team employed Joey Dorsey for God’s sake and still, still can say it put up the third-best regular season in team history — and the Rockets were the second-best road team in the NBA this year. Troll, annoy, win. Troll, annoy, win.
You know the adage of how if another team employed someone, you’d literally detest that person but you’d cheer willfully if said person was on your team? The Rockets have 15 of those guys, and the city of Houston has embraced them. Even through Tiger Knees, abrupt steals and finishes, Trevor Ariza tried to will the Rockets back from the dead one more time as he and a band of others had done so a series prior against the Clippers. Jason Terry, someone who has thrown up more Cs in his lifetime than a WC video shoot, was driving to the basket, taking threes and looking like his Atlanta/Dallas hybrid. The Rockets live on three-pointers, analytics and looking for the perfect space in-game to take their best shots.
It’s a real-life fantasy basketball team operated like a fantasy basketball team. Infuriating, yet feasibly rewarding given all the right breaks.
Somehow, James Harden turned in an absolute cluster of a Game 5, a game some have quaintly referred to as a “cripple-double.” A cluster so outrageous you’d think he took a trip to the infamous Oakland Hyatt before pre-game. My Bay Area sources say the Hyatt no longer exists, but him committing an NBA playoff record 13 turnovers can only be properly explained by an out-of-body experience or a troll much greater than even him doing magic.
Harden, much like his center Dwight Howard, is maligned for what he is perceived to be. Harden drives to the lane, looking for limbs to attach himself to like a UFC fighter out to win a fight on points, and draws contact every time. He throws his head back on nearly every foul as if he was the one shot in Boyz N The Hood and not Morris Chestnut. Howard, despite playing an entire season in Los Angeles with a bad back, has gotten hit with the “soft” tag, even though his playoff numbers deem that inaccurate.
At 25, Harden submitted the most consistent Rockets playoff stretch by somebody not named Hakeem Olajuwon. He was on par with Steph Curry for two games, dominated him in one and got smoked in another. They played relatively evenly for five games, two of which could have easily been Rockets wins if not for late-game blunders. Thirteen turnovers may be what people walk away from the Oracle with on Wednesday night, but it’s definitely not the nail in the coffin. He was bested by a better troll, simple as that.
These Rockets, the “it’s not over until you kill us dead” Rockets had a little bit of the '93 Rockets in them — the group that lost a dubious Game 7 in Seattle before that Sonics team lost to Barkley and the Suns. Hakeem Olajuwon was nine years into a career that saw one early Finals appearance and then entire teams wiped out by drugs, fights, scandals and more. There’s cogs in the machine, two that you can at least build around, and a head coach who’s far more motivator than Xs and Os. They’ll survive for the future and then come back to stare the Warriors or the Thunder or the Spurs or the Clippers in the face again in the playoffs, looking for redemption.
The Warriors-Rockets series started with predictions, MC Hammer toying with Rockets' fans emotions on social media, the unearthing of rap’s greatest, most positive troll in Lil B in regard to basketball, and the crowning of only the fifth different winner of the West in 16 years. It was fun, and even more maddening to happily root for the biggest troll in the NBA playoffs, a team so good that you think it should be terrible and yet it surprises you every time.
Troll on, Rockets. See you in October.
A Houston-based editor-in-chief of Day and a Dream and editor of Houston Style, let it be known that he still owes Eddie some wings from Frenchy's.