THURSDAY, 4/28/05 – If you live in the US and you tuned into the beginning of the Rockets – Mavericks game Thursday night, you probably saw that the first quarter wasn’t televised because the Miami – New Jersey game preceding the game went into double-overtime. The OT of that game ended up eating into the TV coverage for the Rockets game. So no one tuning into TNT could see the Rockets.
Funny, but if you watched the fourth quarter of the Rockets game, the same thing happened again: no one could find the Rockets. If you didn’t see it, Dallas went on a 20-0 run in the fourth quarter and eventually won 106-102.
The Rockets held an 88-80 lead after Mike James hit a crazy-looking layup around Dirk Nowitzki with 9:30 remaining to go. But then the Rockets ‘went TNT’ on us.
Dallas’ Michael Finley made a layup to make it 88-82. On the ensuing possession the Rockets moved the ball around crisply, and Jon Barry ended a great possession by passing to Yao in front of the rim. Yao caught the ball, and as he jumped straight up to put up his shot, he was pushed in the chest by Nowitzki as the shot dropped through the basket. A sure three-point play opportunity and the chance to put the Mavericks in a deep hole, right?
The referees called a foul on Nowitzki, but amazingly these idiots said Yao was fouled before he was in a shooting motion. So instead of Yao being able to put the Rockets up 91-82 with 8:14 remaining, they made the Rockets inbound the ball from the sideline, and they failed to score. It was all downhill from there.
What the hell is happening when you’ve got a 7’6 guy who catches the ball in front of the rim in a great position to score, he is fouled, and he doesn’t get to shoot free throws at least? It was an absolute travesty! The Rockets could have put the Mavericks away on that one play.
Instead, that lucky break gave the Mavericks life, and 18 points later, the Mavericks finished off a 20-0 run to take a 100-88 lead.
Sure, you can say the Rockets’ true failure was letting the Mavericks go on such a run. But as Jeff Van Gundy said a couple of weeks ago, the outcome of many games sometimes hinges on the result of one play. I believe this was that one play for the Rockets.
Other than Dallas’ 20-0 run, the Rockets had a pretty decent game offensively. They shot over 50% from three-point land (13-for-25), making up slightly for 45% shooting overall. Yao got in foul trouble again in the first half, which limited his overall minutes, but he was still able to play 34 minutes and score 15 points and grab 10 rebounds.
David Wesley bounced back from a horrid Game 2 (1-of-10 shooting) and hit 5-of-8 three pointers to score 17 points. A good shooting game from Wesley is essential for the Rockets to win.
And Bob Sura had one of his better games, scoring 21 point, grabbing 11 boards, and dishing 6 times.
T-Mac was awesome, as always. 28 points, 9 boards, 6 assists. But he did shoot 10-of-23 from the floor, including some misses (field goals and free throws) during that 20-0 run.
Defense is where the Rockets had the most problem, putting Dallas on the line 37 times and letting them shoot 49% from the floor. Nowitzki scored 28 points on 9-of-16 shooting, and 10-of-10 from the line. Finley bounced back and scored 20 points on 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc, and 6-of-10 overall. Factoid: When Nowitzki and Finley scored 20 points or more this season, they were 17-0.
Here are some of the key moments for each quarter of the game:
Both teams shot great, with the Mavericks hitting 11-of-18, and the Rockets hitting 10-of-19. David Wesley hit 2-of-2 three pointers, and T-Mac and Bob Sura making their only attempts to make it 4-for-4 from behind the arc. The Mavericks led 32-27 at the end of the quarter.
The Rockets trailed by as many as 8 points in the quarter, but they kept within striking distance. The play that stood out in my mind was when Ryan Bowen was called for a foul on Nowitzki when the German obviously flopped on the play, snapping his head back, and giving himself two foul shots because of the gullible refs on the foul call.
Van Gundy hates how players flop all the time in the league and believes something should be done about it. He has suggested that the league publish their names, similar to what the National Hockey League does. He was so furious after that call, you could easily lip read Van Gundy yelling at the ref about Nowitzki: “Flopper!”
I think someone needs to do something to Nowitzki so he stops the flopping. It makes me sick. Anyhow, Nowitzki made both free throws, giving the Mavericks a 54-47 lead. T-Mac drove to the hole and scored, making it 54-49 going into halftime.
By halftime, the Rockets were shooting 45% from the field compared to Dallas’ 49%. Other than that, the teams were pretty evenly matched. Yao only played 11 minutes in the first half, falling back into the bad habit of picking up fouls. Most of his fouls in this game seemed to come from not jumping up when Maverick players drove to the hole, and instead trying to draw a foul by staying stationary.
The Rockets made a run with T-Mac going off, making 4-of-6 shots, including a windmill-like layup underneath the rim. Another highlight play for him that occurred a bit later wasn’t a shot, but an assist, when he penetrated into the lane, drew three Maverick players to him, and then bounced a pass to Wesley in the corner. Wesley drained the three-pointer, giving Houston their first lead in a while, 60-58.
The Rockets’ Scott Padgett missed on their next possession, but the Rockets battled hard for the rebound, and Wesley passed the ball to Padgett again for another three-point attempt. This time Padgett drained it, giving the Rockets a 63-58 lead.
The Rockets continued the momentum by going on a 9-3 run with T-Mac scoring on a wild layup, Sura hitting a runner in the lane, and Wesley hitting a three-pointer after a great assist from Sura to put the Rockets up 70-60 with 5:38 remaining in the quarter. Then Yao grabbed a rebound over Dirk in front of the rim, and laid it in for the score, and the Rockets looked unstoppable as they built a 72-61 lead.
The Mavericks then responded with a 10-3 run of their own and trailed only 75-71. But T-Mac scored on an awesome hustle play by grabbing a missed shot by Sura in front of the rim in mid-air and laying it in. Nowitzki responded with two free throws, and Yao came back after getting triple-teamed in the paint and throwing an awesome assist to a wide-open Wesley, who drained a three-pointer, giving the Rockets an 80-73 lead.
The quarter ended with the Rockets leading 83-78.
Jon Barry hit a three-pointer to give the Rockets an 86-78 lead, and Nowitzki made a jumper over an overmatched Wesley (Nowitzki being guarded by the much shorter Wesley was an obvious mismatch they easily exploited). That’s when Mike James hit his layup over Nowitzki, giving the Rockets an 88-80 lead.
A few minutes later, Finley scored on a layup, and then the controversial play involving Yao occurred, which could have given the Rockets a 91-82 lead.
Following is how the Rockets lost their 88-82 lead with 8:45 remaining in the game.
* Nowitzki scored on a breakaway dunk. Rockets 88, Dallas 84
* T-Mac missed two free throws.
* Finley hit a three-pointer. Rockets 88, Dallas 87.
* Rockets turn the ball over. The ball slips through Wesley’s hands for a backcourt violation.
* Sura fouls Jason Terry. Terry makes both FTs. Dallas 89, Rockets 88.
* Yao misses a fadeaway jumper.
* Erick Dampier follows up with a slam dunk after a miss by Nowitzki. Dallas 91, Rockets 88.
* T-Mac misses a layup and Yao can’t hold on to the rebound.
* Dallas’ Jerry Stackhouse makes one free throw. Dallas 92, Rockets 88.
* David Wesley misses a three-pointer.
* Jason Terry makes a three-pointer. Dallas 95, Rockets 88.
* T-Mac misses a three-pointer.
* Josh Howard scores and is fouled by Yao, and Howard makes the free throw. Dallas 98, Rockets 88.
* Yao fumbles the ball out of bounds.
* Josh Howard hits a 15-footer in the lane. Dallas 100, Rockets 88 with 2:58 remaining in the game.
And that was essentially the ball game. The Rockets went on to lose 106-102.
The root of the problems, notwithstanding the controversial call involving Yao, was the Rockets defense. As Van Gundy said after the game, “102 points (on offense) has got to hold up at home.”
Although the Rockets lost, there is a part of me that isn’t too concerned about this loss. Obviously they lost this game during that fluky period in the fourth quarter where they were outscored 20-0. As you see in my chronology above, the Rockets turned the ball over multiple times and T-Mac missed a couple of free throws during that stretch, which is highly uncharacteristic. I don’t expect that to happen to the Rockets offense too often. Now the defense giving up a lot of points…we’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
Although I always want the Rockets to win, there’s a part of me that is glad the Rockets didn’t go up 3-0. First, I think they would have lost their edge and started thinking they are unbeatable, which they aren’t. It’s good to have a reality check every so often. After all, the Chicago Bulls didn’t always sweep all their series during their run in the 90’s of six championships in 8 years.
Second, I’m going to Game 4 on Saturday in Houston, and I was afraid if the Rockets had won Game 3, I would have heard the fans start chanting “Sweep!” during that game, which I hate, or see some Houston fans bring brooms to Toyota Center. In 1995, I saw fans do the same when the Rockets swept the Orlando Magic to win the championship that year, and it turned me off. Some fans have no class, even in victory.
It’s going to be hell of a game Saturday, and I look forward to writing my next report.