MONDAY, 3/28/05 – Although T-Mac finished the fourth quarter in San Antonio on Sunday afternoon with just one basket, who can complain after seeing him collapse to the floor with a very painful hip strain injury just 3 days ago in New Orleans?
Well, after the Utah Jazz saw what he did to them on Monday, they probably want to break that hip, his leg, his knee, and his ankle. You get my drift. T-Mac exploded for a magnificent game that no one will forget anytime soon as he redeemed himself from Sunday’s fourth quarter against the Spurs, beating the Jazz 99-85.
Unlike the previous game in San Antonio, the Rockets got off to a great start, with Yao hitting the first shot of the game, and making 4-of-6 for 9 points in the first quarter. T-Mac did a great job getting him the ball in great position down low, and Yao converted those passes for nice baskets. T-Mac hit all three of his jump shots and scored 8 points in the first quarter.
The problem was that the Jazz, without Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer, were hanging tough without their All-Stars, as the Rockets defense couldn’t contain Matt Harpring (10 points) and Kirk Snyder (5) to keep it close at 24-22.
The second quarter was just as tight as the Jazz kept hanging tough and only trailed 45-42 with about 2:30 remaining until halftime. T-Mac continued his hot shooting up to that point, having scored 13 of Houston’s 21 points, mainly on long jumpers where he was unconscious, including a stretch of 9 points in a row.
But he was just getting warmed up.
T-Mac went on to score 9 of Houston’s next 11 points, including a long bomb from the parking lot for a three-pointer to score his 10th of 12 field goal attempts. Then on his final trip down the floor, he hit another unbelievable fallaway trey, this time falling out of bounds as he scored the 22nd point of the quarter.
T-Mac finished first half 11-of-13 from the field for 30 points, and outscored the Jazz 22-20 all by himself. Wow. I don’t think we’ll see a shooting display like that one for quite some time, even from T-Mac.
Stevie who? Cuttino who? Kelvin who?
With T-Mac’s pinpoint shooting, the Rockets were shooting an amazing 64% from the field by halftime. The Rockets also cleaned up their ball handling from the Spurs game by turning it over only four times compared to 10 times for the Jazz, and they had a 15-4 lead in points off turnovers.
The Rockets also had a 6-1 advantage in steals. The only thing that was keeping Utah in the game, especially in the first quarter, was a 19-12 rebounding edge, and a respectable 47% shooting.
In the third, T-Mac hit a couple more shots to add to his total, and the Rockets had their biggest lead at 66-58 and appeared to be cruising to a victory. But then the Jazz made an 8-0 run to close it to 66-58 with 5:42 remaining.
Utah guard Kirk Snyder finished off a 16-2 run in the last 4 minutes to close it to 68-65 with a layup, and was fouled on the play. Foolishly, that’s when he came over to the Rockets bench and taunted them. Well, that little stunt made Jeff Van Gundy go ballistic, and he gave Snyder a mouthful, the maddest I’ve seen Gundy get since his leg-clinging days with the Knicks. On a bullshit move, the ref called a technical on Van Gundy, but not on Snyder! Pull your head out, ref! Unfriggin-believable!
After Snyder made his free throw that closed the deficit to 68-66, Snyder checked out of the game and Jazz coach Jerry Sloan gave him a tongue-lashing on the bench. That jerk deserved it.
After Snyder’s stupid shenanigans, it seemed to invigorate the Rockets, who went on an 8-2 run, giving them a 76-68 lead at the end of three quarters. T-Mac had cooled off, scoring “only” 7 points in the quarter. Yao wasn’t a factor, missing one shot and scoring zero.
The Rockets had an 82-72 lead with 8 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, so the question that remained was if the Rockets could be mentally tough, unlike their San Antonio experience the day before, and close this game out.
They did, scoring another 7 straight points to lead 89-72, and went on to win 99-85 thanks to 9 points and hustle by Mike James, and another 7 points by T-Mac who finished 44 points on 15-of-21 field goal shooting, and 11-of-16 from the line. He also had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals. Man, oh man!
Yao’s 15 points were somewhat quiet since he only scored two points in the second half. But he picked it up in the blocks department, racking up another 3 rejections, including a nice block of Mehmet Okur at about the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter as the Rockets sealed the W.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s post-game analysis, click here.