Last night was supposed to be a clash of the titans. The leading MVP candidates, seemingly neck-and-neck in a race divided by the Red Sea of NBA Twitter, were supposed to showcase their top-tier abilities and give a clearer answer as to who's more deserving of regular-season performance glory. Houston's (reigning MVP) James Harden and Milwaukee's Greek God Giannis Antetokounmpo have been placed under a microscope this year due to their otherworldly hooping abilities and since the wait for the playoffs is in full swing, this was supposed to be an invigorating matchup for the dullest part of the season, but instead a lot of questions were left unanswered. Let's see if I can answer my own questions; maybe you have some of the same.
Despite his poor performance, did this game actually showcase how valuable James Harden is?
Short answer, yes. Harden put up 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists on 9-26 shooting (1-9 from three) in 38 minutes and the Rockets lost by 14. You may be wondering how such a lackluster game could help Harden's MVP case, but if you're as enamored by The Beard as Ralph and I have been this year, you look for every reason to gas him up. It looked like he was recovering from a long night at a filthy Kenosha strip club for pretty much the entire game, but what happens in Wisconsin, stays in Wisconsin.
I guess what I'm trying to get at is that if Harden has an off game, it's significantly harder for the Rockets to win (unless Chris Paul has a Point God performance, which he didn't last night). It was a similar scenario two weeks ago during Houston's 106-104 loss to the Warriors, as Harden shot 2-12 from three and Chris Paul (almost) willed the Rockets to a win. Yeah, I'm pretty biased but I think bad performances can really put a player's value on display.
Is Giannis the next Shaq?
Shaq has already granted Giannis his "Superman" nickname, but (I believe) Joel Embiid is a better comparison for the most physically dominant player ever. I think Giannis is the next... Giannis. He's that extraordinary and there's little doubt in my mind that he'll go down as an all-time legend. I'm not always a fan of comparing current players to old, at least when a player has a unique skillset; Giannis is a prime example of this. I've been lucky to be able to go to a decent amount of Bucks' games over the last few seasons, and seeing Giannis' meteoric rise to superstardom has been one of the genuinely sickest storylines to emerge from the league ever. Giannis put up 19 points and 14 boards last night on 7-15 shooting, and that's considered a bit of an anomaly. That's how dominate he's become, and remember, he's only 24.
Rounding up a decimal point or two, Giannis' per-36 minutes statistics are very prime Shaq-esque: 30 points and 14 rebounds on 58% shooting. The way he plays in the paint reminds me of The Big Diesel, but how Giannis gets there with his 7'3 wingspan is unlike anything I've seen on a basketball court before. I really, really want Harden to be named MVP but if Giannis were to walk away with it, it's beyond well-deserved.
Do the Rockets need to worry about their supporting cast in the playoffs?
I don't think it's outrageous to say the Rockets are probably a bit worried about how well their starters not named James, Chris, Clint and bench players are going to perform over the duration of the playoffs. In last night's loss, CP3 poured in 19 points and collected 9 boards and 4 assists while crossing DJ Wilson off the face of the planet. Clint Capela (one of my favorite centers) added 17 points and 11 rebounds. Those are the kinds of lines Houston needs if they want to take down the Warriors, but it'd be nice for Chris Paul to bump up that assist total. He's the Point God, however, so that's not going to be a problem.
Danuel (I meant to hit "U") House is back up from the G League after getting his contract situation figured out and has been making a difference from behind the line. Besides a bad shooting night against the Spurs, House has been steadily draining threes; he was 5-9 from behind the arc last night, one of the lone impactful supporting efforts. A man whose shoes get more attention than his elite hustle, PJ Tucker, had a rough night in the 36 minutes of action he saw. His defense was solid, but he only managed 3 points on 1-9 shooting; Tucker also added 5 boards and 2 dimes. Former Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon was abysmal, going 0-7 from the field (0 points) with a rebound and an assist. He ran around for 23 minutes and worked off all the cheese from Mar's Cheese Castle because he told Mike D'Antoni they just HAD to stop there. "The Humboldt Fog is to die for." Not only that, but Eric Bledsoe tore him up on defense whenever Gordon was assigned to him. Houston was missing Kenneth Faried's energy against a large Milwaukee team so that has to be kept in mind. Houston got out-rebounded 60-48 last night; Faried would've helped a lot. The Rockets are by no means a shallow team depth-wise, they just need everyone to come out and perform come playoffs.
Iman Shumpert. You're a pretty good rapper. The "Fade" music video was artistically interesting, but look, stop taking fast break pull-up threes. They're gonna cause me to have an aneurysm.
Are the Bucks ready to make a Finals run?
I'm well aware that the Bucks are currently the best team in the league. They're 56-19, first in the East, and four games ahead of the Raptors. If they were in the West they'd have a six game lead over the Warriors. So yeah, they're fucking good. The regular season and playoffs are different beasts, though, and while I'm not doubting the Bucks' ability to achieve success in the postseason, you gotta win to back up the expectations. Giannis is yet to advance to the second round in three career playoff appearances and Milwaukee hasn't won a playoff series since 2001. This team feels different, though, and the Bucks have the right coach, the right roster, and an entire city behind them. Seriously, Milwaukee looked like it was rocking last night. Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, and Donte DiVincenzo are all out right now and it's a massive blow to Milwaukee's depth, but everyone except Donte should be back for the playoffs. Even if they aren't fully healthy round one, there's nobody the Bucks should fear at the eighth seed.
The Raptors, Sixers, and Celtics (if they advance far) are going to be tough matchups should Milwaukee face them, but I'm confident they can beat anyone. And I mean everyone; even the Warriors (gasp). They showed they could beat the Rockets last night with a thin roster; they have a lot of potential to do damage. Hell, they already have.
So, who's the MVP?
Come on. We both knew who I'm going to say: James "MFMVP" Harden. The MFMVP stands for Muh Fucking Most Valuable Person. That being said, Giannis is beyond deserving of the award. Paul George's performance as of late has made this a two-man race (in my mind, at least) and it's going to come down to the wire. It's been really hard to get a feel for who has the majority of supporters; it's the opposite of the 2016 presidential election. It's picking the best of two awesome players, not between "the lesser of two evil pieces of shit".
Harden is averaging 36.2 points per game right now. I mean, what else do you want him to do? Obviously you can't win based on strictly offense and that's perfectly fine because Harden has become one of the better defensive guards in the league. Start giving his defense the attention it deserves. Chris Webber was giving it some love last night, shoutout Chris Webber and the Michigan Wolverines. The Rockets would be pretty bad without Harden and the Bucks would probably still be a playoff team in the East without Giannis. Houston also got off to a pretty rocky start this year and now sit four games out of the first seed in the West. That absurd 30-point streak fueled it, and it showed that James Harden is the best player in the league. Remember when Melo was on the Rockets?
I've had so much fun watching Harden play basketball this year and I think it's fair to say he's my favorite player in the league. I'm just gonna come out and say this right here, right now: JAMES HARDEN IS THE FOURTH-BEST SHOOTING GUARD TO EVER DO IT. He's also the 2018-19 MVP. If everything plays out according to plan (in my head), the Rockets will beat the Bucks in the Finals and Harden will win Finals MVP after averaging 75.6 points per game over five games. A man can dream.