Throughout a disappointing season, the Houston Rockets will find themselves missing the postseason for the first time in nine seasons. Since the blockbuster trade that sent James Harden to Brooklyn, the Rockets were forced to navigate through numerous obstacles that were too big for the team to overcome. Despite being eliminated from playoff action, there’s optimism that the franchise’s new direction is bright due to their young talent.

James Harden and the Rockets' Playoff Succes

James Harden, Rockets

Since Harden’s arrival to Houston in 2012, the Rockets have been playoff contenders from the get-go. The franchise started as a sixth seed in the 2013 playoffs. But once Houston brought in phenomenal talent to surround Harden, the team was able to compete in two conference final series in this past decade. Harden was surrounded by high-caliber players in Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, and others throughout the years.

The Rockets have contributed to many playoff games over the past seasons. From overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to a blocked shot in an intense game seven matchup, Houston has pulled together some strong performances when things looked impossible. There are many moments from the Rockets’ playoff streak where they made history with clutch performances.


2017: Harden’s First Round Duel with Russell Westbrook

The 2016-17 season was a back and forth matchup between James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The two both were having  phenomenal seasons that year to where the NBA was close to naming both players Co-MVPs. Due to Westbrook notching the first triple-double season since Oscar Robertson, he won the edge over Harden winning the trophy.

Westbrook becoming the favorite to win the MVP Award did not sit right with Harden. He quickly reminded the world that the award is based on being a championship contender as well. Westbrook’s Thunder finished the regular season with a 47-35 season, clinching the sixth seed in the West. Losing the award gave Harden motivation to play aggressively through the first round.

Harden delivered 34 points in game one as the Rockets obliterated Oklahoma City by 31 points. The momentum continued to be on their side as they headed to Chesapeake Energy Arena for game three. Despite Westbrook having the edge in game three, Harden’s Rockets would win an intense game four with a 40 point fourth quarter. Houston would head home for game five and closed the series out with a 105-99 victory.

Harden averaged 33.2 points per game in the series compared to Westbrook’s 37.4. Even with Westbrook having a 51-point performance in game two, it was clear to many that Harden’s Rockets was a more complete team. Houston would advance to the conference semifinals, where they would eventually lose in six games to the San Antonio Spurs.


2020: Game 7 revenge matchup vs. Chris Paul

Years after Harden and Westbrook’s duel in the playoffs, the two eventually became teammates. Westbrook was traded to Houston in exchange for Chris Paul, who was coming off two seasons as a Rocket. The Rockets finished the season with a 44-28 record as they clinched the fourth seed in the NBA Bubble.

The Thunder came into the series exceeding the expectations that were placed on the team. Led by Paul, the Thunder clinched the fifth seed evening the same record as Houston. Throughout the series, Oklahoma City proved to the Rockets that they were worthy of playing competitive basketball in a playoff atmosphere.

In an intense game seven matchup, both teams battled to the end to advance past the first round. The Rockets as a team played exceptionally defensively and did a great job at communicating on that end of the floor. But as Houston grabbed momentum in the game, the Thunder matched their energy with terrific play on both ends as well.

As the game winded down to the last possession, it was a situation where the veteran team made the hustle plays to finish the game. With seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Harden made a game-winning block on Luguentz Dort to finish the Thunder in a 104-102 victory. The Rockets would advance to the second round against the Los Angeles Lakers, where they were obliterated in five games.


2015: Overcoming a 3-1 deficit vs Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers looked as if they were prepared to reach their first Western Conference Finals appearance. Led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the team was rolling as a whole and were dominating Houston on offense. As Houston headed back home for game five, the team looked to fix all of their flaws to give themselves a chance to win.

The Rockets came out of game five with a 21-point victory over the Clippers. The famous game of the series was game six, where the Clippers looked as if they were ready to close the series. Luckily, the Rockets were able to get great production from supporting cast members like Terrence Jones, Josh Smith, and Jason Terry. The terrific bench contributions is what shifted momentum to a Rockets’ late-game rally over Los Angeles.

The Rockets would go on to win game seven on their home floor in impressive fashion. The momentum from the past two games continued over as Los Angeles didn’t have an answer. The victory would allow Houston to advance to their first Conference Finals in 18 years.