HOUSTON >> James Harden and the Houston Rockets are feeling great heading into the Western Conference semifinals for one big reason.
They don’t believe they played well so far despite downing the Russell Westbrook-led Thunder 4-1 in the first round.
“That’s what’s exciting,” Harden said. “We can play 10-times better, especially offensively.”
Houston will face either San Antonio or Memphis in the second round. The Spurs lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 on Thursday.
The Rockets set an NBA record by making 1,181 3-pointers and led the league with 14.4 3s a game during the regular season. That sharp-shooting hasn’t translated into the postseason, where they rank eighth by making just 9.6 3s a game and are last with a 28.4 3-point percentage.
“We shot so bad … and we were still able to win a game and we’ve been doing it all series,” Patrick Beverley said after Houston’s 105-99 win in Game 5 .
Houston hasn’t been known for its defense in recent years. But after harassing Westbrook into poor shooting in the fourth quarter throughout the first round while also shutting down Oklahoma City’s secondary options, the Rockets are looking forward to how good they can be when their shots start to fall.
“We’re a force to be reckoned with … we’re winning games off defense and that has been our Achilles heel the whole entire season,” Beverley said. “But it’s like we’re turning the switch. If we can combine … defending and hitting our 3s, the sky’s the limit for this team.”
The Rockets got some big games from Lou Williams and Eric Gordon in the first round, but are still looking for Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza to have breakout games. Anderson averaged 13.6 points a game during the regular season, but has managed just 7.4 in the playoffs. Ariza’s numbers have also fallen off, dropping from 11.7 to just 6.4 points a game.
“We’ve got so many guys that can step up and make plays that haven’t got going yet,” Harden said. “And that’s I think why I’m excited because those guys are going to step up and make big shots in the next series.”
Harden doesn’t exclude himself when pointing out that the Rockets haven’t played well in the playoffs so far. He’s quick to note that his shooting has been a bit off despite leading the team in scoring in four of the five games and ranking second only to Westbrook in points a game with 33.2.
He was 0 of 7 from 3-point range in Game 4 and made just 2 of 13 attempts on Tuesday night when Houston hit just 6 of 37 3s.
“I think (Harden) played terrific in trying to figure out what we needed to do,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We were 6 for 37. We figured out another way and that’s how we have to do it. That’s what he does — he finds another way. He was just relentless in getting to the line because the shots weren’t falling. I think that was the difference.”
Another difference for Houston in this series was the relentless play of Beverley. He averaged 11.6 points a game, but was arguably Houston’s second-most valuable player because of his hustle and defense on Westbrook.
“Pat brings that every single night. He brings it and that’s what we love about him,” Harden said. “He’s a dog especially on the ball and his offensive game has gotten a lot better, been knocking down the 3-point shots. We need him to be that way. That’s what makes us who we are.”