2/11/05, FRIDAY – The Rockets started and ended slowly in Indiana on Friday night, but in between they scored enough points to win their fourth road game in a row, 91-83, the longest win streak they have had on the road in almost 5 years. It was also their sixth win in a row, the longest current win streak in the league.
The Rockets quickly fell behind 8-0 and missed their first eight shots. But they recovered and got back into the game by scoring 7 straight points. In addition, Yao was the brunt of Houston’s attack, scoring 11 straight points on an incredible array of shots around the rim, hitting 5-of-7.
The Rockets took the lead for the first time with 2.2 seconds remaining in the first quarter when Ryan Bowen — of all people — hit a three-pointer from the corner to put Houston up 29-28. Man, it looks like everyone on this squad is hitting the three-ball lately.
The second quarter was evenly played, albeit uneventfully, but Houston’s 5-0 advantage at the free throw lane helped them extend their lead 53-46 at halftime, ending the second quarter on a 14-4 run.
The Rockets shot 47% in the first half, but Indiana shot 51%. Houston also out-rebounded the Pacers 19-11, with an all-important 8-2 offensive rebounding advantage that helped them gain an 8-0 advantage in second-chance points.
By halftime, Yao had 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in only 12 minutes of action. He could have had more if he hadn’t picked up three fouls.
In the third quarter, the Rockets went on an 8-0 run in the third quarter, and David Wesley and Bob Sura each hit a long jump shot and a three-pointer to put Houston up 65-54.
The Rockets continued to put on the pressure to open up a 77-62 lead. After three quarters, the Rockets were dominating on the boards 32-17, with a 12-3 rebounding advantagean and a 14-2 lead in second-chance points.
After Juwan Howard hit a jumper to make it 80-67, the Pacers went on a 13-0 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter, helped by Anthony Johnson hitting 9 points during that stretch. Strangely, the Rockets had the same thing happen to them on Sunday against the Lakers when they made their huge comeback. During the Pacers’ run on Friday, Yao picked up his fifth foul and the Rockets missed 5 straight shots. Only when Rod Strickland hit a jump shot did Rocket break the scoreless drought.
Anthony Johnson responded with a shot that made it 82-82 with 7:03 remaining, but then Indiana ran out of gas, missing their final 12 shots, and only scoring one point the rest of the way to finish the game missing 19 of its last 23 shot attempts. Houston wasn’t much better, scoring 9 points the rest of the way to miss 16 of its last 20 shots.
But Jeff Van Gundy didn’t seem to care. They won 91-83, and he was actually clapping for his players after they walked off the floor at the end of the game. Wow.
This game might have been different if Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal finished only with 18 points on 7-of-23 shooting. He averages 26.7 points a game this season. T-Mac only made 5-of-16 to finish with 16 points, but he had 7 rebounds and 7 assists. It just goes to show when T-Mac and/or Yao don’t score bushels of points, the Rockets can get just enough from other players to win.
There were a few key differences in this game, like Bob Sura’s 17 points to lead the Rockets in scoring, and his eight assists.
The other key advantage was rebounding, where Houston won the battle on the boards 47-29, and blocks: Dikembe Mutombo blocked 3 shots and Yao blocked two to give the Rockets a 5-1 advantage in the rejection category.
Yao shot 7-of-10 from the field to finish with 16 points, and could have had more points if he hadn’t picked up five fouls that limited him to just 21 minutes of play. Yao is looking good, folks, turning around his season over the past few games quicker than anyone could imagine…just in time for the All-Star game a week from Sunday.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s post-game analysis, click here.