WEDNESDAY, 10/12/05 – The Rockets continued their great preseason form and won their first home court game against the Orlando Magic, 84-80. The result was that Rockets fans left Toyota Center fantasizing about how great this season can be. And all of this without even seeing new power forward Stromile Swift, who still has not made his Rocket debut since coach Jeff Van Gundy decided to rest him to nurse a bruised arm.
The match was closely contested from start to finish. Despite Yao picking up an early defensive foul in the first minute of play, he made 2 consecutive hook shots with ease from assists from Derek Anderson and Rafer Alston. Already in the first two preseason games, Alston has made us wonder why it was so difficult for Bob Sura to make entry passes to Yao last season.
Yao got into foul trouble early, picking up 3 personal fouls before the first quarter ended. Yet in the process, he also created foul problems for Orlando’s big men: both Mario Kasun and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje picked up 3 fouls and 2 fouls, respectively. On the offensive end, Yao scored 8 points (4-for-4 free throws).
Like Tuesday’s preseason match with the Philadelphia 76ers, the 2nd and 3rd quarter quarters were close, with both sides exchanging leads. Yao played in the latter half of the second quarter and contributed 5 more points. As usual, T-Mac showed his stuff during the second quarter, scoring 12 of his 20 total points, crowned by a buzzer-beating trey to give the Rockets a 45-40 lead by halftime.
Jon Barry, who didn’t play on Monday night, shined in the second quarter by showing great hustle and passing, and even scored 7 points in the quarter.
T-Mac and Yao didn’t play much in the second half, and exited the game with the Rockets leading 61-54. In 26 minutes, T-Mac finished with 20 points (5-of-12 shooting, 3-of-3 from three-point land, 2 blocks). Yao played 22 minutes and scored 19 points (5-of-7 shooting, 9-of-10 FTs) and grabbed 6 boards.
With both of them out of the game, the Magic crawled back into contention, and trailed 65-63 at the end of the third.
It was a nail-biter the rest of the way, and we got to see a little bit of the potential of what new rookie guard Luther Head and recent point guard addition Alston can do in a pressure-filled game.
After a 3-pointer from Barry at the start of the fourth quarter, the Magic had crept to within one point at 74-73 with less than four minutes to go.
With the game on the line, Luther connected on a 3-pointer with 3:02 remaining, giving the Rockets a 77-73 lead. He then hit another trey at the 1:46 mark to give them an 82-74 lead. To make things even better, Alston got credit for assists on both shots. These guys are already working well together.
It capped another great performance by Luther after his impressive debut in the win over the 76ers on Tuesday night. He was again awesome down the stretch, and together with Barry, they ended the game with 12 points apiece.
Luther may be more advanced than anyone ever thought he would be at this stage in his career, making the Rockets strength at the guard spots even deeper. I’m already envisioning payback against the Mavericks after last year’s playoff series loss when speedy guard Jason Terry torched the Rockets with a barrage of points.
Next up: the Rockets travel to San Antonio to play the Spurs, who added Nick Van Exel and former Mavierck Michael Finley during the off-season. If the Rocket guards keep playing the way they have these first two pre-season games, maybe the Spurs can start fearing the Rockets backcourt more than the other way around.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s analysis of the game, click here.
To see the boxscore of the game, click here.