WEDNESDAY, 2/9/05 – After a three-day break since their last game on Sunday against the Lakers, Rocket fans were probably worried that a little rust build-up might slow them down against the younger Bulls on Wednesday night. I know I was. Although the Bulls had lost 3 out of their last 4 games, they did beat the Mavericks in Dallas the night before.
It was a nip-and-tuck game through the first quarter, with the Bulls holding a 29-28 edge heading into the second. The bulk of the Rocket points came from three guys: Juwan Howard with 10, T-Mac with 8, and Yao with 7 points.
At the start of the second, the Rockets busted out and went on a 15-0 run to lead 43-29. The highlight was when Dikembe Mutombo sparked a fast break by blocking a layup attempt by Ben Gordon off to the right side of the court where Jon Barry pushed it up the floor and threw a behind-the-back pass to David Wesley for a layup.
But the Bulls made a slight comeback and ended the quarter on an 8-2 run in the last three minutes to close it to 51-43 at the half. Yao had great stats by intermission, hitting fallaway jumpers with confidence, and getting nice feeds from his teammates to score 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
The Rockets were humming on offense, scoring 11 fast break points and only turning the ball over four times. Yao kept it going at the start of the second half, hitting two shots in a row over Eddy Curry to help the Rockets extend their lead to 59-43 in the first four minutes. The Bulls would make a charge, and continue to make charges the rest of the way, but the Rockets would always respond with offensive outbursts to hold the Bulls at bay.
For example, the Bulls cut the deficit to only 9 points at 86-77, but then Houston responded with a flurry of points, including a Scott Padgett three-pointer, a fallaway by Bob Sura at the shot-clock buzzer, a T-Mac floater in the lane, and then a nifty dish by McGrady to Yao in front of the rim for a slam dunk. That made it 97-77, their biggest lead of the game to cap off an 11-0 run. A few points later, and the fans at Toyota Center had free Big Macs when they broke the century mark for the fourth game in a row. They also extended their winning streak to five games in a row, their longest of the season.
The Rockets were led by the usual suspects: Yao with 21 points and 10 boards, T-Mac with 24 points, 5 boards and 9 assists. David Wesley hit three 3-pointers and scored 13. And although Dikembe only scored 6 points, his 13 rebounds, 2 blocks and numerous intimidations really changed the tone of the game when the Rockets made that 15-0 run in the second quarter.
As a team, Houston doled out 29 assists on 41 field goals, shot .500, and turned it over only 11 times. The Rockets are rolling, and they have three more games remaining before the All-Star break. You almost wish there was no break at all for fear it might disrupt their rhythm. But these guys are veterans, one of the oldest teams in the league, and it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for them to maintain an even keel.
And you’ve got to hand it to Jeff Van Gundy for assembling this crew and turning these guys into a seemingly well-oiled machine. He said after last season that he wasn’t done building this team because he still felt he needed guys who could give what it takes. Well, 10 player acquistions later, and we are now seeing the results relatively quick. It’s now understandable why General Manager Carroll Dawson and owner Les Alexander wanted him so badly.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s post-game analysis, click here.