One of the toughest things to do in a game as a coach is to figure out who to play down the stretch. When you have a group that is playing really well together, but one of your best players is on the bench, do you ride it out with that group? Or do you get your best players on the floor to finish the game? I’d say most coaches are going to get their best players on the floor so as to avoid the question “How do you lose that game with your best player on the bench?” But it’s a really difficult decision. You can also put your best players back on the floor, and then look at the box score and realize you had your best player in that game on the bench during crunch time, and someone who was really productive for you didn’t play a lot of minutes. It’s a really, really tough call as a coach.
Kevin McHale made that call last night. I think a lot of people were shocked to wake up this morning and see what the Rockets did to the Clippers in the 4th quarter. They got into a great rhythm as a team and dominated, and they did it with James Harden on the bench. He didn’t play in the 4th quarter other than a 10 second cameo, after scoring 23 points through the first 3.
Give McHale credit for a move that took a ton of guts. To risk losing a game, losing the series and possibly even losing his job – as has been speculated if they don’t win this series – by keeping his start player on the bench is very impressive. He did what he felt was right regardless of how it would be perceived. It would have been much easier to have Harden out there, and if they lost people could say Harden just didn’t get it done. But if they lost with Harden on the bench, it surely would have fell on McHale.
“That group that was out there in the fourth quarter just had great composure,” McHale said. “They had a great sense about [believing] they were going to accomplish something.”
On a side note, do we give Dwight Howard credit for having a 20-20 game on the road when facing elimination, or do we just overlook that until we can find a way to kill him again?
I love seeing a coach willing to take the heat for a decision that might be outside the box. It’s not easy to do.