SUNDAY, 11/20/05 – Although it didn’t surprise me, I was bummed to hear that T-Mac was not going to play Sunday night against Indiana because of his injured back. Forget the fact that Rafer Alston was not going to play because of his injured leg. That really doesn’t hurt you much. But lose T-Mac with this cast of players, and you have no chance to win, especially against the Pacers. If they were going to win this game, it was going to take a heroic game from a couple of unexpected players.
That didn’t happen. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Rockets had their chance, trailing only 58-52 thanks to their defense, which has been pretty decent through their recent losses. But like clockwork, the Rockets’ offense (the little that was there) gave out, and the Pacers went on a 19-4 run to put away Houston and ultimately win 85-74.
Yao was only 4-for-16 until the game was well out of reach, making his last 5 shots to make his final boxscore look better than how he played: 8-for-21 for 24 points and 13 rebounds.
Yao still cannot shake inconsistency, missing lots of shots down low in the paint. But you know what? Maybe Jeff Van Gundy shouldn’t be trying to force feed Yao consistently down in the lane. Maybe the Rockets need to change up the offensive attack, bring Yao out of the paint, and let him shoot those straight-up jumpers and give him a break from all of that pounding inside. He was an accurate shooter from outside in his first two seasons. Hopefully Van Gundy’s emphasis on working Yao strictly in the lane has not made him lose his touch from the outside. I don’t know if that’s the answer, but with how badly the Rockets are struggling offensively, it can’t hurt.
In the first three quarters, you had to hand it to the Rockets. Without T-Mac, they came out in the first quarter and surprised the Pacers. Yao was aggressive and scored 6 points (albeit on 2-of-6 shooting). And David Wesley’s shot finally started coming back, hitting 3-of-4 shots (2-of-2 three-pointers). Maybe that’s because without Alston in the lineup, and Wesley playing point guard, his increased handling of the ball gives him the liberty to choose his spots on the floor and allows him to shoot when and where he feels most comfortable.
In the first quarter, Juwan Howard chipped in by scoring on an aggressive power move to the hole for a dunk, and then running the floor on a fast break to score a layup. At the end of the quarter, the Rockets surprisingly led 19-15.
In the second quarter, Derek Anderson finally hit a three-pointer and two jumpers, which was finally good to see from the low-30% shooting guard. Yao was missing shots, partly because of fatigue from playing the entire first quarter and first 3 minutes of the second, which is probably the longest stretch of play (15 minutes) in his career. Van Gundy is obviously relying more on Yao since T-Mac is out because of the back injury.
Because Luther Head started, and David Wesley started in place of T-Mac, Moochie Norris finally got some playing time to give Wesley a breather. When Wesley came back into the game, he hit another shot to score his 10th point.
Yao didn’t score in the quarter until he went up strong to grab an offensive rebound, and was fouled on the shot. He sunk a free throw to cut the Rocket deficit to 38-34. Then on the next possession, he went strong into the lane, scored on a jump hook, was fouled, and hit the free throw to cut the lead to 38-37, which ended up being the score at halftime.
At the half, Yao had 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting (4-of-5 from the line), five rebounds and no turnovers in 19 minutes of play. Although the field goal percentage was poor, you hoped Yao would make the necessary adjustments and start hitting more shots in the second half.
Wesley was 4-of-5 with 10 points (2-of-2 three-pointers). And Derek Anderson was 4-for-7 with 9 points. Overall, the team was shooting 42% compared to Indiana’s 39% (1-of-11 from three-point land). Not great shooting, but you’ll take a one-point deficit at halftime against Indian on the road.
The main problem for the Rockets is that they got out-rebounded 17-13, and had 10 turnovers compared to 6 for the Pacers. Indiana also got close to the bucket too many times, scoring 16 points in the paint compared to only 8 for the Rockets.
The Pacers went to Stephen Jackson at the start of the third, and he hit a trey and went one-on-one with Luther Head to score in the post. That gave the Pacers a 43-37 lead. Without T-Mac who could D-up on the much taller Jackson, that match-up was a tough one for the rookie.
Yao turned the ball over and missed his first three shots of the quarter (all from the lane), but he finally was able to draw a foul down low and hit two free throws to close it to 48-44.
The Rockets continued to miss shots and give up rebounds, though, and Indiana extended their lead to 53-44.
Embarrassingly for Yao, the Houston TV announcers showed a replay of Pacer backup center David Harrison fighting harder than Yao for offensive rebounding position, and scoring on a put-back.
The Rockets only scored 15 points in the third quarter on 5-of-17 shooting, and trailed 58-52 heading into the final quarter. Amazingly considering how poor they were shooting, they still had a chance, similar to what they had in their previous game against Detroit.
This is when Indiana went on their 19-4 run to put it away. Nothing else much happened other than worthless points scored in garbage time to make the final score look better than how the Rockets really played.
At the end of the game, if you check out the boxscore, it was the same old thing for the Rockets: lots of bad shooting, out-rebounded (43-33), out-assisted (18-11), more turnovers (19-12). The other strange stat: Stromile Swift had no rebounds in 16 minutes of play.
Now the Rockets head to Dallas on Tuesday for another round of abuse. Who would have thought the Rockets’ record 40-point walloping in Game 7 in last year’s playoff series could be in jeopardy?
By the way, on Sunday in Toronto’s win over Miami, former Rocket guard Mike James had 25 points, 6 assists, and hit 5-of-9 three-pointers.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.