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T-Mac comes up big in first game off injured list — breaks 3-game losing streak in N.J.

November 12th, 2005
by John
Yao shows his speed by trying to defend New Jersey's Richard Jefferson on Saturday night in New Jersey.  Although Yao scored 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting, T-Mac was the star of the game, scoring 35 points, grabbing 10 boards, dishing 4 assists, and blocking 3 shots.Yao shows his speed in trying to defend New Jersey’s Richard Jefferson on Saturday night in New Jersey. Although Yao scored 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting, T-Mac was the star of the game, miraculously scoring 35 points, grabbing 10 boards, dishing 4 assists, and blocking 3 shots in his first game off the injured list. For more photos from the game, click here.

by John

SATURDAY, 11/12/05 – Tonight’s game between Houston and New Jersey had to be one of the greatest games of a player coming off the injured list seen in recent NBA history.

We were all pleased to see Tracy McGrady get back into the starting lineup tonight, about two weeks ahead of schedule. No one could fault him for shooting 1-for-9 in the first half and scoring only 5 points. As of Thursday, the dude wasn’t even expected to play for a couple more weeks. He was going to be rusty. He’s human. At least in the first half he was contributing with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block.

But in the third quarter he showed he is more than human by warming up and hitting 5-of-8 for 10 points.

Then when the Rockets needed him in the fourth quarter, T-Mac stepped up and scored 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 4-of-4 from three-point territory! Result? The Rockets broke their three-game losing streak and won on the road in New Jersey, 99-91.

I typically would claim a performance like T-Mac’s on Saturday night had to be one of the most amazing second halves played by a Rocket player in years. But when you’re talking about T-Mac, it really isn’t. On March 28th of this year, T-Mac scored 22 points in the fourth quarter to pull out a win in Utah.

What’s funny is that I was bummed after that game because I had Tivo’d it and wanted to keep it for my personal collection because it was so awesome, but somehow it accidentally got deleted. I was hoping there would be another performance like that one to make up for it so I could have another chance in archiving a similar game.

Thank you, T-Mac. I promise you THIS game won’t get deleted.

After seeing Houston struggle in the fourth quarter the past three games, it’s clearly evident how reliant the Rockets are on one player like T-Mac to make shots in crunch time. It’s almost criminal how much the offense is geared on T-Mac to make big shots and/or open up opportunities for other players.

Although T-Mac was the story of this game, there were encouraging signs that other Rockets might be stepping up, or getting their groove back. More on that later.

1st quarter:

Yao was 4-for-5 in the first quarter and had 10 points to lead all scorers. It probably didn’t hurt Yao’s confidence that on his first basket of the game to make it 2-2, tons of cheers came from the stands from people who live in the Tri-State area who are obviously big Yao fans.

One of the highlight plays for Yao occurred at the 2:46 mark of the first when Luther Head drove to the hole and missed. Yao was there to grab the rebound, elevated to throw it down on Jason Collins’ head, then belted out a loud yell for emphasis! That play got every Rocket player off the bench, making it the second game in a row where Yao posterized an opposing center (Miami’s Alonzo Mourning being the other one on Thursday night). You gotta love Yao’s aggressiveness so far this season.

So after the first quarter, Houston led 27-22 after shooting 52% from the field compared to New Jersey’s 40%.

2nd quarter:

The Rockets started off the second quarter shooting very well (4-for-6) and built up a 14-point lead, but then went ice cold and only made 1-of-9 shots. David Wesley continued to throw up bricks as his season-long slump continued, hitting 1-of-3 shots in the second quarter (1-for-4 in the first half).

While Wesley was missing shots, rookie Luther Head was amazing, hitting 2-of-3 treys in the second quarter and 3-of-4 in the first half. Luther reminds me a lot of former Rocket Sam Cassell when he was a rookie in Houston in the 1993-94 season when the Rockets won their first NBA championship. Cassell had no fear, had so much poise as a rook, and could hit the three-ball with ice water in his veins. Hopefully Luther can have the same kind of impact as Sam I Am.

Unfortunately, the refs called Yao for his third personal foul when a Net player ran into Yao from behind, but called Yao for the foul, which was B.S.! That put Yao on the bench.

By halftime, the Rockets were lucky to be leading 48-37, but the lead should have been much larger if it weren’t for the 1-for-9 cold spell to close out the quarter.

3rd quarter:

The Rockets jumped out on a 10-4 run to start the quarter to take a 17-point lead, 58-41. But as they are prone to do, the Rockets blew that big lead and let the Nets back into the game, letting them go on a 23-12 run. Houston was barely holding on with a 70-64 lead at the end of three quarters. If it weren’t for T-Mac’s 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting, it would have been ugly considering all of his teammates masw only 3-of-11 of their shots. Yao didn’t take a shot, but he did make 2-of-2 free throws.

It was 70-64 after three quarters, and as we entered the fourth quarter, we all wondered as Houston held on to its narrow 6-point lead if the Rockets’ offense would implode again, or if someone would step up.

4th quarter:

The answer came with T-Mac going off for 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting and hitting all four of his 3-pointers. As he heated up, the Nets started double-teaming him, which left guys like Wesley and Jon Barry open for 3-pointers. Maybe those treys will get them going to give T-Mac and Yao some help. Combine those three-pointers with an epic night from T-Mac, there is no way the Rockets could lose this one. T-Mac was so good in the fourth quarter that Yao — who didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter — wasn’t even needed. Yao finished with 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting, but only grabbed two rebounds.

In summary:

As giddy as I am about this win and to see T-Mac sharp so quickly after coming off the injured list, I’ll say it again: the Rockets need to nurture another player to become a big-money player in the clutch rather than rely solely on T-Mac. Yao seems to get too tired in the fourth quarter, Wesley, Rafer Alston and Derek Anderson have been too inconsistent, Barry could be the guy, or maybe a fresh face like Luther Head could emerge. We’ll get to find out who can give T-Mac some help on Sunday when the Rockets play Boston at 5:00pm Central time.


To see the boxscore from the game, click here.

To read the Houston Chronicle’s story of the game, click here.