They quickly put that to rest. Harden and Paul meshed nearly seamlessly last season, their first together. In hindsight, apprehension about the pairing seemed silly.
But as Houston has increasingly slowed the pace and isolated – usually with Harden – since acquiring Paul, maybe there has been tension.
There was something of a clash of styles brewing throughout the Rockets season, with members of the team — most notably Paul — having spirited discussions with Mike D’Antoni about the offense and pushing for more movement, league sources told The Athletic.
Harden and Paul had tense moments with one another throughout Game 6, culminating in a verbal back-and-forth postgame that went into the locker room, sources with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic. Sources said the verbal exchange between Harden and Paul was regarding the ball distribution throughout Game 6. By the time the remainder of the locker room was ready to talk, Paul and Harden had gone their separate ways, with Paul swiftly making his way to the postgame podium.
The Rockets’ offensive style generally works well. They led the league in points per possession last season and ranked second this year.
Their scoring slipped in the playoffs, but that’s also when defenses tighten. As I’ve written before:
The biggest reasons the Rockets lost the Warriors in their second-round series:
1. Golden State is an all-time great team.
2. Houston depleted its roster through spending cuts.
Nothing else is even close.
Can the Rockets’ offense become more effective? Maybe. Harden is an elite isolation scorer, but when he pounds the ball all possession, it’s harder for his teammates to get into rhythm.
When one of those teammates is a player as good as Paul, it probably makes sense to incorporate him more. As great as it’d be if this didn’t matter, players getting more touches also usually leads to more defensive engagement.
But don’t discount the advantages of Houston’s iso-heavy style. It cuts down on turnovers and better positions players to get back on defense.
Generally, I believe altering Houston’s offensive style would make only small gains at most. A system change also carries big downside risk from an offense that’s already flourishing.
Instead of pointing fingers at each other, the Rockets’ players and coaches should look toward owner Tilman Fertitta. His reluctance to pay the luxury tax matters far more than Houston’s offensive style.
The Rockets’ defense was their major shortcoming. Better personnel would help. More depth would help, as top players could rest more and defend harder when on the floor.
But those things are expensive, and Fertitta hasn’t paid up.