TUESDAY, 3/22/05 – It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a win. Houston overcame lots of mistakes on Tuesday night to still hold on and beat the Miami Heat 84-82 in Houston to halt their 12-game winning streak.
The Heat have been a scoring machine during their streak, averaging 103.1 points per game. But Jeff Van Gundy’s defense proved to be too much for the Heat to handle, who scored 21 points under their scoring average.
It was a defensive battle from the start, with Miami also holding the Rockets scoreless until 8:14 remaining in the first quarter until Yao hit a fadeaway over Shaq to make it 4-2, Miami.
It looked like the Rockets main deficiency since Juwan Howard got hurt a few games, power forward, was going to continue to be a problem in this game when Howard’s replacement, Clarence Weatherspoon, missed his first two shots from the left baseline by jacking up two air balls.
But ‘Spoon improved, hitting his next four shot attempts throughout the game (including a nice running hook shot in the lane, and a long jumper from the top of the key) and hitting all four of his free throws to score 12 points total. You have to give him credit for recovering so well after the air balls. He even had a couple of steals and two assists in a crucial part of the fourth quarter to show that he can be a worthy replacement while Juwan heals. Weatherspoon, at 6’4”, even guarded Shaq a few times!
Speaking of Shaq, he and scoring sidekick Dwyane Wade got off to a slow start, missing their first six shots collectively in the first quarter, and as a team Miami only made 4-of-16. Meanwhile, T-Mac took it strong to the hole a couple of times and scored on highlight reel dunks that brought the house down!
After the first quarter, the Rockets held a surprising 20-16 lead against the Eastern Conference’s best team, and were out-rebounding them, too.
The second quarter was a different story, with Shaq and Wade getting on track and scoring 10 points and 9 points, respectively. Shaq even faked out Yao so bad on a spin move for a layup, it was one of Yao’s most embarrassing moments this year. It was so fast, he didn’t seem to know what hit him.
Houston struggled in the second quarter shooting 25%, and the Heat took advantage by turning a 7-point deficit in the first quarter into an 11-point lead, 41-30. The Rockets made a slight run to close the gap to 41-36 at halftime, but the stat sheet looked awful. 31% shooting by halftime, 0-for-10 from three-point territory (David Wesley was 0-for-5 on three-point attempts).
What kept Houston in the game in the first half was T-Mac’s 12 points, 8-for-8 team shooting from the free throw line, a 25-20 rebounding advantage (Dikembe Mutombo had 7, six offensive; Yao had 5), and only six turnovers.
In the second half, Yao picked up his fourth foul with a little over 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter, and had to check out of the game. The Head led 53-49 at the time.
With Yao out of the game, that’s when the Rockets made their move. The Rockets went on a 12-2 run, thanks to the Heat missing four free throws in a row (two by Shaq), to lead 61-55 at the end of the three quarters. It could have been 63-55 if Dikembe hadn’t missed two free throws at the end of the quarter to snap an amazing 18-for-18 streak from the free throw line.
By the time Miami’s Alonzo Mourning tipped in a shot at the 9:47 mark in the fourth quarter to the Rockets lead to 63-57, the Heat had missed 9 shots in a row and hadn’t scored in 7 minutes.
The Rockets maintained their lead, and pushed it to 80-72 with 40.5 seconds remaining when Mike James hit a big three-pointer that seemed to ice the game.
Not so fast.
Miami’s Damon Jones hit a three-pointer to close it to 80-75, and after the Heat fouled James intentionally, James went to the line and missed both free throws!
On the ensuing Miami possession, Jones hit a wild three-pointer, and was fouled by James during the shot. Jones went to the line and closed the gap to 80-79 with 14.3 seconds remaining, putting thoughts of Choke City into Rocket fans’ heads.
The rest of the game turned into a free throw shooting contest, with David Wesley hitting two big free throws and Wade missing a couple of his to seal it for the Rockets.
How’d Yao do?
Yao was largely ineffective in the second half because of foul trouble, playing only 7 minutes in the third quarter and one minute in the fourth before fouling out. Although he scored 12 points (5-of-11 shooting) and grabbed 5 boards, the Rockets made their run to win this game without him. Shaq easily outplayed Yao, scoring 23 points and grabbing 16 boards.
Instead, Yao’s substitute, Dikembe, was amazing. Although he scored 8 points, more importantly he kept possessions alive by grabbing 15 rebounds, eight that were offensive.
Coupled with Mutombo’s rebounding was Houston’s stellar defense. The Rockets limited Miami to only 30 points in the paint while Miami average 44 points, third best in the league. Those 30 points allowed in the paint are right at Houston’s league-leading average.
But the Rockets were lucky to win this game. They committed several mistakes that could have cost them, like Mike James missing all four of his free throws in the fourth quarter, the Rockets missing 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch, and Rocket defenders fouling Eddie Jones and Damon Jones on three-pointers, resulting in two four-point plays in the same game! I don’t even know if that has ever been done before.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s post-game analysis, click here.