Game 1 of the Rockets' first-round series against the Thunder didn't mark Danuel House's first career playoff minutes, but the 2020 postseason does mark a new chapter in House's career.
The Texas A&M product played sparingly in both the end of round one against Utah and the start of round two against the Warriors in the 2019 Western Conference playoffs. He didn't play in any of the final four games vs. Golden State, and in the games directly prior, House looked like a fish out of water. The bright lights of the playoffs appeared to impact House to a significant degree.
"Last year's playoff performance I was kind on hard of myself," House said following Houston's Game 2 win over the Thunder on Thursday. "Knowing that my feet has gotten wet, all I want to do is contribute. Last year I felt like I let people down, including myself."
The struggles of the 2019 playoffs haven't carried over to Orlando. House was arguably the Rockets' best player in Thursday's blowout victory, scoring 19 points while adding nine rebounds. House's confidence often jumps off the screen, with quick-trigger triples and audacious forays into the lane serving as staples of his game. We didn't see much of either in the 2019 playoffs. Thursday night featured House at his very best, bursting with confidence in the Rockets' starting lineup.
House's energy proved infectious to Houston's second unit on Thursday, even on a night in which the Rockets made just 19 of 56 threes. Houston's bench led a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter with James Harden on the bench, bursting past Oklahoma City with an increased pace and a swarming collection of wings. We wondered before Game 1 whether the Rockets could survive without Russell Westbrook. They now appear to be just fine even without Harden.
"The guys just took it upon themselves to guard," Harden said postgame in reference to the bench's fourth-quarter run. "We felt they were getting tired and we kept pressing the gas on them. That was a game changer for us."
Harden remains the Rockets' engine, and it's frankly hard to see Houston advance past either Los Angeles team without Russell Westbrook. But Thursday's win added further encouragement surrounding the state of Houston's non-MVP pieces. House appears ready for an impact playoffs. Jeff Green, Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore form an impressive bench trio. Daryl Morey has constructed a dynamic rotation around his pair of superstars, creating what could be the best team of the Harden era. House should continue to be a critical piece throughout the Rockets' extended stay in Orlando.