The Houston Rockets tied their second round series against the San Antonio Spurs at two games apiece with a 125-104 victory late Sunday night. James Harden led the way for the Rockets with 28 points off 10-18 from the field while also picking up 12 assists. The Spurs, without star point guard Tony Parker, saw poor performances from Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge on both ends of the floor. They both managed just 16 points each in Sunday’s loss and had a difficult time defending the Rockets’ offense even without one of Houston’s best big men on the floor. Nene was injured in the 1st quarter of Sunday’s win and did not return to the game leaving Houston to defend San Antonio’s big men shorthanded. After the game, it was revealed that Nene had torn his left adductor in his thigh and would miss the remainder of the postseason. The team is still searching out treatment options for Nene but it is unlikely he will rejoin the Rockets during their 2017 playoff run. With Nene on the shelf, the Rockets must now look elsewhere to find the production that he has provided them all of this postseason.
Nene entered his 15th NBA season this year and his first with the Houston Rockets. Throughout the year, Nene helped spark the Rockets offense coming off the bench and averaging almost 10 points per game. During this year’s playoffs, Nene has averaged 10 PPG and 4.7 RPG coming off the bench. Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said that Nene is one of the team’s X-factors night in and night out no matter who they play, but even Spurs coach Greg Popovich had a few surprising comments regarding the Rockets bench player after hearing about his injury. Steve Aschburner of NBA wrote about the injury and quoted Popovich in his most recent article.
“He’s pretty much on the perfect team for the way they play and what their goals are offensively. He fits in perfectly as a screen-setter and roller. And he has offensive skills on top of it.”
With compliments from a future first ballot Hall of Fame coach, it is difficult to deny the impact that not having Nene available for the remainder of the playoffs will do to the Rockets. Nene had the best playoff game of his career in the first round against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4. He scored 28 points off the bench while shooting perfect from the floor. Without that epic performance, we may not even be talking about the Rockets in this round. Moving forward, the Rockets will look to their starting power forward Ryan Anderson and a few other bench players to see an increased role in this series. Anderson is known more for his outside shot than his presence in the paint, but will likely see more post up opportunities without the availability of Nene. He may even come off the bench with the second team like he did for most of Sunday’s win after Nene was injured. With a limited number of big men available, it makes sense to keep one on the bench in case one gets into foul trouble early. With the series now at a best of three, it seems like two teams are more evenly matched than before the series started. With both Tony Parker and Nene no longer available, it will be interesting to see which team can take advantage of the mismatch. Even though D’Antoni knows Nene is done for this series, he is not ruling out a return if the Rockets advance to the Western Conference Finals. Tim MacMahon of ESPN quoted D’Antoni in his article on the injury and how it would impact the team moving forward.
“I hate it for Nene. He’s been so valuable all year and such a good guy. The good news is I don’t think it’s as bad as I’m hoping it wouldn’t be. I think it’s going to turn out that way. Obviously he’s done for this series. We’re just hoping he gets well quick.”
[Featured Image by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images]