SATURDAY, 4/23/05 – At the end of the regular season with Houston winning 7 games in a row, the Rockets were hoping their hot shooting streak and smothering defense would continue into their first round playoff match-up with Dallas on Saturday.
It did, and they pulled off a big 98-86 victory in Dallas to stop their 9-game winning streak while also taking a 1-0 series lead.
Tracy McGrady was incredible, scoring 34 points after playing every minute in the game (47) except one. He did it all. Dunks. Slashes to the basket. Bank shots. Layups. Steals. Assists. Rebounds. There are only a few franchise players in this league, and T-Mac is one of them. The Rockets gamble to pick up the so-called malcontent last year is paying off big time. Eat your heart out, John Weisbrod (Orlando Magic GM who traded T-Mac because he didn’t think he had what it took).
Not to be forgotten was Mike James, who ‘only’ scored 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting, but they were all huge buckets. More on that later.
Yao got into foul trouble (again) and played only 20 minutes, scoring 11 points and grabbing 8 boards. Luckily T-Mac was able to make up for the diminished scoring punch, but with James hitting big shots and Dikembe Mutombo doing a great job (again) subbing for Yao, the damage of Yao being on the bench most of the game was minimized. Mutombo grabbed 8 rebounds, and was fouled three separate times under the basket after grabbing boards in traffic, and he converted on 6-of-7 free throws.
As great as Houston’s offense was, shooting a respectable 47%, the Rockets’ defense did all of the little things to hold Dallas to 35% shooting, including 4-of-21 in the crucial fourth quarter. NBA MVP candidate and scoring extraordinaire Dirk Nowitzki was limited to ‘just’ 21 points on 5-of-19 shooting. The ESPN announcers were getting on Dirk for not stepping up. But give credit to defensive specialist Ryan Bowen and T-Mac for doing a good job on Dirk.
Here’s a recap of the key moments for each quarter in the game:
The game started off closely contested. Dirk drove the lane and dunked one on Yao, but David Wesley came back to hit a jumper, and then T-Mac responded by driving around a Yao pick, going strong to the hole, and throwing down a one-handed jam over Shawn Bradley to put the Rockets up 14-12.
T-Mac’s dunk started a 10-0 run that created some separation from the Mavs, giving the Rockets a 24-14 lead. That run also took the Dallas crowd out of the game for awhile.
The Rockets held a 26-16 lead after the first quarter, partly due to a big rebounding edge (15-7) which held the Mavericks to one shot per possession. Offensive rebounds contributed to the Rockets having an 8-2 advantage in second-chance points. And T-Mac hit 3-of-5 shots for 6 points.
At the start of the quarter, T-Mac nailed a beautiful three-pointer to put the Rockets up 29-16 (I just love looking at the flight of T-Mac’s three-pointers; they just seem to hit nothing but net each time). That bucket started a 10-4 run, giving the Rockets their biggest lead of the game, 39-20. That run included David Wesley hitting in succession a long two-pointer (his toe was on the three-point line) and then a trey from the exact same spot right afterwards.
T-Mac had 11 in the first quarter. Two three-pointers, a jumper in the lane, and then a highlight reel hustle play by following up a missed shot in the lane and grabbing the rebound between two Maverick players, elevating and twisting in mid-air underneath the basket and laying it in, and getting fouled! After the play, T-Mac responded with the same fist pump and intensity we saw earlier in the season against San Antonio when he pulled out that famous victory after scoring 13 points in 35 seconds. T-Mac converted on the penalty free throw to give Houston a 46-28 lead.
But the Mavericks then went on a 9-2 run to cut it to 48-37 before Mike James hit a big jumper to stop the bleeding after a nice fake move. The Rockets took a 52-40 lead into halftime, and we all knew Dallas was going to make a run to either make it close or take the lead. It was just a matter of when.
T-Mac made another unbelievable play with 8:48 remaining when he was double-teamed behind the three-point line by Nowitzki and Michael Finley. With the shot-clock winding down, T-Mac elevated and launched a fallaway jumper 3 feet from behind the arc and swished it as the buzzer went off! A huge collective gasp was heard in American Airlines Center immediately after that one! That amazing shot put the Rockets up 59-44.
The next Houston bucket was scored by T-Mac when, from a stationary position on the left side of the court behind the three-point line, he blew past Nowitzki and drove baseline for a flying left-handed dunk that was poetry in motion! The Rockets led 61-49 at that point, and Ryan Bowen hit a long jumper (bonus points from a defensive guy), then T-Mac hit another jumper to give Houston a 65-49 lead.
But then Houston started fouling too much, putting Jason Terry on the line once and Nowitzki three times, allowing them to score 7 straight points and cut the lead to 65-56. Even worse for the Rockets, the 9-point deficit got the Dallas fans back into the game.
Leading 68-61 and needing a big shot to hold off the Mavericks, Mike James came through again and hit another big shot as he was leaning to his left, keeping Dallas at bay. The Rockets finished the third with a 70-63 lead.
Having picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter and having to sit out the remainder of that quarter, Yao started the fourth quarter with a bang. On the first possession, he blocked Jerry Stackhouse’s shot emphatically, then came back down on offense and hit a right-handed jump hook to give Houston a 72-63 lead.
But Yao picked up his fifth foul on Dampier with 10:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Dikembe had to come in for Yao once again.
That’s when Jon Barry hit a huge three-pointer to extend Houston’s lead to 75-66. A controversial call happened less than a minute later when Stackhouse shot a three-pointer, but T-Mac was called for a foul, putting Stack on the line for three free throw attempts. He made all three, cutting the lead to a miniscule four points, 75-71. But T-Mac was livid on the foul call, and for good reason. The replays showed that T-Mac touched Stackhouse’s hand after the ball had already left his hand, which should not have been a shooting foul. Obviously the Dallas crowd was really into it!
But that’s when Big Shot Mike (James) responded with another jumper, then scored immediately afterwards on a layup, and then hit a long jump shot to push Houston’s lead to 81-73. Where would the Rockets have been without James in this game?
After James scored those six points in a row for Houston, T-Mac drove to the baseline and whipped a ball across the court to Barry, who was standing open behind the three-point line, and Barry drained the trey to extend the lead to eleven, 84-73 with 5:52 remaining. Give credit to T-Mac for a great assist. (If it had been Steve Francis on that play, chances are he would have thrown in out of bounds over Barry’s head).
T-Mac basically sealed the deal on two consecutive possessions a couple minutes later. On the first possession, he drove to the hole and put up a tough running hook shot in the lane, was fouled on the play, and the ball dropped in after hanging on the front rim for a second. T-Mac converted on the free throw to give Houston an 89-76 lead. Then on Houston’s next possession, Bowen came up with a big tap rebound to give the Rockets possession, and later in that series T-Mac shot a twisting fadeaway as he was coming down to the ground to swish it, and he was fouled! After the penalty free throw, the Rockets led 92-78 with three minutes remaining.
The Rockets took care of business the rest of the way, winning 98-86. It didn’t matter that Yao fouled out of the game with 1:12 remaining. Some of Yao’s fouls were questionable, but for the most part, he let his team down by picking up silly fouls. The Rockets were lucky to escape with a win, thanks to T-Mac saving the day once again.
In that pivotal fourth quarter, the Rockets shot 10-of-17 compared to Dallas’ 4-of-21. T-Mac scored 8 points on 3-of-5 shooting, as did Mike James. Jon Barry scored 6 on 2-of-3 shooting.
Other honorable mentions:
Even though the Mavericks threw everyone on T-Mac and still couldn’t stop him, I cannot mention enough how big Mike James was in this game. His speed going to the hole and ability to hit those key shots were crucial in staving off the Mavericks’ momentum several times in the game.
Credit also goes to Dikembe for being a more-than-adequate substitute for Yao who endured all kinds of foul troubles.
And Ryan Bowen, somewhat of a surprise starter, played an excellent game against Nowitzki. He made him take tough shots, hit a couple of baskets himself, and came up with key rebounds and steals.
Give credit to Jeff Van Gundy for matching up Nowitzki with Bowen most of the time, and also putting T-Mac on the Blonde Bomber as well. And the Rockets’ defense must have shocked the high-scoring Mavericks, whose 35% shooting is way below their season average. On top of that, the Rockets also had 10 steals (Bob Sura ahd three), compared to Dallas’ four.
There’s no way that Nowitzki is going to shoot 5-for-19 in Game 2, which will be played Monday night in Dallas. But the Rockets will take a win over Dallas any way they can get it.
Before the game, Dallas center Erick Dampier told an ESPN reporter that he thought he was the best center in the West, not Yao Ming. When asked the same question, Yao responded that we should all find out in this series who is the better center. Even though Yao played limited minutes because of foul trouble, he still beat Dampier’s 7 points and 7 rebounds recorded in 25 minutes of action. Give Yao the edge in this one.