TUESDAY, 4/5/05 – What a heartbreaker. In tonight’s game against the Warriors the Rockets were competitive the entire time but could not muster enough defensive power to earn the victory. In a game where all of the Rockets did well, the Warriors did exceedingly well. Behind a career night from Baron Davis the surging Warriors simply beat the Rockets for the win, 122-117.
While the Rockets have been struggling of late and plagued with a variety of injuries Yao’s swollen calf, T-Mac‘s hip, Jon Barry ‘s sore back, etc), the Warriors have been on a roll, winning 8 of their past 9 games, including wins over Seattle, Phoenix, and the Kings.
Heading into the final weeks of the regular season, the older Rockets are feeling the pains more than a younger Warriors team that will not make the playoffs.
The first quarter started at a quick pace with the Warriors taking the reins. Center Troy Murphy, who was rock-solid for the Warriors in the previous match up, started the game with a quick three and was followed by Baron Davis’ two-point jumper. On a steal from McGrady, Davis assisted Jason Richardson for one of his slam dunk contest-winning jams. At this point the Warriors lead 7-0 and had the sold-out Oakland crowd on its feet.
But Jeff Van Gundy‘s constant plea to stick with the game plan in good times and bad finally sunk in as the Rockets started playing their game. The Rockets came back from a strong start by T-Mac. While the Rockets wanted more touches for Yao, the Warriors doubled and triple-teamed him throughout the quarter. Yao was constantly defended from the back and front, even when he didn’t have the ball! The Warriors challenge in the paint was a dare to shoot from the outside. While the Rockets shot fairly well, mostly behind T-Mac and Sura, six first-quarter turnovers laid the foundation for 26-18 Warriors lead.
The second quarter was more competitive. Yao came out strong and scored six points and had a nice block of Richardson. In a highlight-reel worthy play, Yao got the ball deep in the paint and dunked it while surrounded by three Warriors’ players!
Unfortunately, Zarko Cabarkapa, whose three point shooting proved to be a nightmare in the last matchup between the teams, came out strong and drained two three-pointers. But the Rockets played their game with T-Mac being his usual self, scoring effortlessly from outside and by slashing inside. However, Baron Davis matched him tit-for-tat, including the last nine points for the Warriors to maintain their lead.
Near the end of the quarter Sura was upset about a non-call and was walking down the court when he inadvertently bumped into Warrior’s coach Mike Montgomery. After being called for a technical, he was led off the court by a Rocket’s security guard whom Sura also pushed away. The first half ended with the Warriors leading 53-50.
Starting the third quarter the Warriors stopped guarding Yao as much so they could put more coverage on T-Mac. The single coverage freed up Yao in the paint where he had a field day with Adonal Foyle, shooting a variety of hooks and post up moves for easy points. T-Mac also had a huge quarter as well, scoring 12 of his game-high 44 points. Sura, who was booed on nearly every possession, was 2-2 from the three point line.
But the story of the quarter was Baron Davis, who seemed invincible on the court. Not only did he score 17 points from all over the place, but he also distributed the ball to his teammates for easy buckets. Davis ended the game with a career-high 40 points and 11 assists.
T-Mac pushed the Rockets forward with an incredible shooting display. By the end of the third the Rockets were down 89-84 and the momentum and energy seemed to be with the older and more experienced Rockets team.
But the confidence of knowing how to win in the fourth can often transform to arrogance and laziness. The lesson from the last game against the Warriors was, “Live by the three and die by the three.” The Warriors remembered, but the Rockets forgot. Down by 5 points at the start, the Rockets relied on three-point shots that never dropped. The Rockets shot 10 three point shots in the fourth, but only hit two. In desperate need for high percentage points, the Rockets fed Yao in the fourth and he delivered, scoring eight points in the quarter.
Jason Richardson attempted another highlight dunk over Yao but was fabulously rejected. You know that if he would have made it to posterize Yao, Sportscenter would have replayed it a hundred times. Conversely, those even more amazing rejections don’t get the attention they deserve.
But the high offense of the Rockets was not balanced with a strong defense and the Warriors never relinquished their lead.
How Did Yao Do?
Yao’s all around game today was excellent. He was aggressive around the basket, grabbing offensive rebounds for dunks, blocking shots, and defending well. Yao finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks, on 8-12 shooting and was 7-7 from the line. He had the type of game where he was solid in every area, and you wish he had on a consistent basis.
One area that has been lacking of late is David Wesley. Such an integral factor of the winning streaks that resulted in the Rockets having the best away game record, he has lost his shooting touch.
Tonight he shot 3-13 from the field and 1-6 from the three point line.
The Rockets are now only one game ahead of the 7th spot in the West.
As a side note, status was given for injured Rockets power forward Juwan Howard. While recovering and doing exercises in a pool, Howard is still expected to be out at least 4 weeks. While it is possible that he will be active during the playoffs, from all coaching indications, his recovery is not expected.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s post-game analysis, click here.