SUNDAY, 1/30/05 – After Sunday’s game in Miami between the Rockets and the Heat, the good news is that far from being demolished by a motivated Shaq, Yao played well against the “Most Dominant Ever.” The bad news is that the Rockets lost another game (104-95) they could have won, and Bob Sura injured his hand and was taken off the court to get immediate x-rays.
In what was to be the twelfth chapter in the Clash of the Titans, both Yao and Shaq were saddled with foul troubles, so it was up to the smaller guys to duke it out.
The first quarter started slow for both big men, with Shaq being called for traveling and Yao missing his first two shots. Barely four minutes into the game, Yao was benched with his second personal foul.
With Yao out of the game, the Heat relied on Shaq’s presence in the lane to draw double-teams, resulting in passes to open shooters on the perimeter. The Heat scoring was spread evenly among their starters, whose speed and athleticism were difficult for the Rockets’ defense to handle.
Luckily, Sura decided to take over on the offensive end, easily cutting into the lane for layups or trips to the charity stripe. Sura ended the 1st quarter with 12 points. Yao was 0-2 with two fouls.
In the second quarter both big men became more active and the game slowed down considerably. Yao had a nice shot over Heat backup center
Michael Doleac to start the quarter, but Shaq came back and stopped the mismatch Yao temporarily enjoyed. The two centers seemed to be motivated to play against each other, with both men scoring four quick points.
Shaq picked up a third foul late in the second quarter, but the Rockets didn’t give Yao any touches during those minutes. The Rockets ended the half down by two points, 48-46.
The Rockets started the second half slowly and seemed to forget that Yao even existed. In a frustrating quarter, Dwyane Wade through sheer speed split defenders and got into the paint at will, drawing fouls or hitting big buckets and scoring 11 in the third quarter. Shaq was surprisingly quiet, preferring to pass the ball to teammates. Yao was on the opposite end of the spectrum, being wide open with single coverage under the basket, only to be ignored by his teammates completely.
Starting the fourth quarter the Rockets were within three points of the Heat. But the game that was within reach soon started to slip away. Two free throws and a 3-point shot from Eddie Jones quickly put the Rockets behind 8 points and resulted in a Jeff Van Gundy timeout.
Yao roared back and grabbed a big offensive rebound only to be fouled hard by Doleac. On the next play Yao received a pass with Shaq guarding him and, in a move we haven’t seen for a while, did a quick turnaround without lowering the ball and shot over Shaq for a bucket. But soon after those plays, Yao collected two bad fouls guarding Shaq.
Dikembe Mutombo came in and rebounded well; tipping to himself three times in a row and drawing Shaq’s fourth foul. Unfortunately, Mutombo could not match Shaq’s strength or Wade’s quickness and picked up two quick fouls himself. Wade, who didn’t play as many minutes as normal due to three fouls in the first quarter, exploded in the fourth, giving the Heat a 12 point lead when Yao came back into the game with five minutes to go.
Yao scored eight more points and T-Mac scored a huge three with 30 seconds left to pull within 5 points, but Wade closed the deal with
two free throws and a nice bucket to end any Rockets hope.
In a daring move by the Heat, Shaq stayed near the basket with Yao the only Rocket near him on an alley-oop play in the last 40 seconds that would have been icing on the cake for Shaq if Yao had not stolen the inbound pass.
Late in the fourth, Sura left the game with an apparent right ring finger injury from trying to guard Shaq. Sura was led off the court to have x-rays done on his hand. If the Rockets lose Sura to injury, it will be a huge blow since the Rockets need the points he provides (21 points on Sunday) from his position. We’ll find out soon enough after the Rockets make a long flight on Sunday up the east coast to take on Boston on Monday night.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s post-game analysis, click here.