SUNDAY, 2/27/05 – So hot they were burning in flames going into the All-Star break, on the turn of a dime the Rockets have gone ice cold. A Rockets team plus new point guard Mikes James played a Utah team minus Carlos Boozer and still couldn’t finish. While James impressed, the Rockets continued to struggle without the help of Bob Sura.
The first quarter was promising as the Rockets took an early lead. David Wesley cut through the Utah defense for four quick points. T-Mac, who of late has not been playing to his top level, stepped up in the first and scored 11 points. Yao also had his way with the Utah defenders and got position deep in the paint, nearly at will. Although he missed some easy shots early on, the fact that he so easily distorted the Utah defense was a positive sign.
But inexplicably, the great flow and control of the game the Rockets exerted in their 8-game winning streak and for most of the first quarter disappeared, and what looked like a blowout by the Rockets turned into disappointment. Yao picked up two early fouls and sat out with 4 minutes left in the first, and the Rockets offense and rhythm left with him. On a positive note during this time. former and returning Rocket Moochie Norris sans afro returned to the line-up and played a surprisingly high number of minutes.
But after that it was a slow painful death. The Rockets, who lead by as much as 10 points in the first, fizzled with Yao Ming out and Moochie in, allowing the Jazz to pull within 2 to end the quarter. For the rest of the second, the Rockets’ regular 3-point shooting went south, hitting a combined 0-11 for the first half. The Rockets went into halftime half tied, 42-42.
The third quarter signaled the slow decline of the Rockets whose narrow lead was slowly but surely being chiseled away by Utah. Matt Harpring was huge for the Jazz, scoring ten points with a nice display of jump shots and layups. Wesley scored the team’s first three point shot deep into the third and his first points since the first quarter, following by a T-Mac trey, to introduce hope for a Rockets’ push. But Raja Bell killed any hope Houston had with 10 points, all from long range shots, including two momentum killing three-point shots. Yao had the chance to pull Houston within one to close the quarter but badly missed a jump shot under the basket for a miss.
In the fourth, the Rockets tried to keep pace but the Jazz and Harpring were too much, who scored another 10 points in the quarter. Yao, who was having an atrocious rebounding night, fumbled the ball too many times and wasn’t given the ball when he had open shots. James hit two three pointers late, but alas, it was too little, too late. The Rockets lose 92-99.
How did Yao do?
This was probably one of Yao’s worst games. His rebounding was bad, with many balls just slipping through his hands. Blame his sub-par offense on the complete lack of touches and passes from teammates.
It is almost predictable that T-Mac will pass it out to the perimeter shooter on the Yao/T-Mac pick-and-roll instead of to Yao. With cold-as-ice three-point shooting (5-of-20) it is easy to see why Houston lost the game. But Yao’s offense was off as well. In one play Yao regained control of his own rebound and covered a good 10 feet with no defenders, only to lay it up and miss instead of dunking.
Mike James showed potential with a good offensive presence. His lack of rebounding hurt the team and showed that he’s no Bob Sura. He scored 19 points but also had more turnovers (4) than assists (3) and only grabbed 2 rebounds.
In the past coach Jeff Van Gundy often blamed losses on a lack of effort, to the media and players’ annoyance. But for today’s game JVG is right on. A game that could have, and should have, been won was lost because they just didn’t have that x-factor. Maybe it was overconfidence or the lack of Bob Sura. Whatever it is, with the most challenging schedule ahead of any NBA team, they need to fine that x-factor and fast.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s post-game analysis, click here.