3/1/05, TUESDAY – What happens if you remove one valuable guard like Luol Deng from the Bulls lineup? Probably the same result as when you remove a veteran guard like Bob Sura from the Rockets line-up: a huge collapse.
In the first minute of play between the Bulls and Houston at Chicago’s United Center, Deng injured his ankle and did not return the rest of the game. Houston took advantage of his absence, went on an offensive tear and never looked back, winning 119-89.
You wouldn’t have thought this kind of victory could have happened considering the Bulls had won 6 of their last 7 games, 11 of its last 12 games at home, and had a very respectable record of 29-24, the same record as Houston’s record less three wins.
Because of Deng’s injury, T-Mac exploited the mismatch by taking his replacement on the defensive end, Kirk Hinrich, to the hoop and scoring 10 points in the first quarter, including a sweet alley-oop on a fast break to T-Mac for a beautiful layup. Yao had 8 points in the quarter, scoring on 3-of-3 shooting from the field. The Rockets also made 9 of their last 11 shots in the quarter to finish with 70% shooting in the quarter and lead 36-24.
In the second quarter, the Rockets opened up a 20-point lead, 48-28, after Mike James hit a jumper. After Dikembe Mutombo picked up his third foul of the game, Yao entered the game and immediately picked up his third foul by fouling Eddy Curry with 6:12 remaining until halftime.
As an indicator of how things were going for Chicago, Curry stepped to the line and missed the two ensuing free throws. That made it four missed free throws in a row by Curry. The Rockets took advantage, hitting more shots to bump the lead to 52-28. Curry was fouled again, and missed his first free throw, making it 5 misses in a row. But he hit his second, bringing them to 52-29.
The Rockets kept pouring it on. Jon Barry then hit a jumper, and after a T-Mac steal, Barry pulled up for another one of his three-pointers on a fast break to put the Rockets up 57-33. By halftime, the Rockets led 66-39, the most amount of points they have scored in a first half all season long.
By the intermission, Mike James had been sensational, having scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting. T-Mac’s mismatch against Hinrich led to 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. The Rockets shot an amazing 61% from the field compared to Chicago’s 39%.
Houston also hit 5-of-8 from three-point territory, and had an 18-0 advantage in points off turnovers, only turned the ball over three times, and had a 9-0 lead in fast break points.
After halftime, the Rockets scored 5 straight points after James hit a three-pointer, pushing the lead to 71-39. Yao, who started the second half, picked up his fourth foul only one minute into the third quarter, forcing him to check out.
You had to be really upset if you were a Yao fan. He just can’t keep himself from committing silly fouls, but at least his team was winning despite him. Not a good sign if you’re trying to keep yourself an essential component of the offense.
The Rockets run since the start of the first half was extended to 9-1 before Bulls’ coach Scott Skiles decided to overhaul his lineup and replace every player on the floor since the Rockets lead was 75-40.
Having played only 7 minutes in the game because of foul trouble, Yao came into the game at the start of the fourth quarter, surprising since the Rockets led 97-65. He proceeded to hit a fallaway jumper to draw oohs from the crowd to push the Rockets lead to 99-67.
Yao continued to redeem himself from his early foul troubles by drawinig more oohs from the Chicago contingent, pump faking on Othella Harrington, then doing a quick 360 spin move that no other 7’6” guy has ever done and faking Harrington out even more, then took two steps toward the hoop and threw it down one-handed, pushing the lead to 101-67!
That was the highlight of the quarter as the Rockets cruised to their huge 119-89 victory. The Rockets finished shooting 55.5% from the floor, a slight decrease from their incredible 59.4% after three quarters. That was an amazing stat, considering the Bulls lead the league in opponents field goal percentage, limiting opponents to 41.9% shooting.
T-Mac finished with 32 points and 7 assists after only three quarters of play, not needing to play a minute in the fourth. The surprising star of the game was new point guard Mike James, who scored 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting and 4-of-5 three-pointers. He also did what point guards should do, dishing out 5 dimes.
And although Yao only played 12 minutes, he finished with a respectable 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, but he only grabbed three rebounds. Fortunately for Yao, he got plenty of rest leading up to Wednesday night’s game in Washington against the Wizards.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s post-game analysis, click here.