TUESDAY, 11/22/05 – Despite a 102-93 loss, both of the Houston TV announcers were beaming about how great of an effort the Rockets put in Tuesday night in Dallas. Sure, they played better, led at halftime, and put up a good effort. But they choked in the latter half of the fourth quarter and lost another one. What else is new? A loss is loss, and there are no moral victories. As Jeff Van Gundy recently said, there is no positive spin to failure.
Let’s see…Yao could have kept it close in the fourth quarter, but he made only 1-of-4 shots in the quarter, missing two easy consecutive shots in the lane, including a blown layup when the Rockets only trailed 94-89 with 2:37 remaining.
I hate to say it, but Yao cannot carry a team through four quarters by himself without a superstar like T-Mac to help him. He either doesn’t have the mental toughness to do it, the stamina, or both. But in the first quarter, he was absolutely dominant, scoring 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting and hitting 7-of-8 free throws.
You can tell Yao has more energy in the first quarter, moving quickly without the ball jockeying for position. But as the game wears on after he has logged lots of minutes, he starts to fade. In the third quarter, he was only 1-for-6, and finished 2-for-10 in the second half altogether scoring only 5 points.
So here’s a thought: how about play Yao about 8-10 minutes in the first half, hope the Rockets can keep it close, then play him about 20 minutes in the second half so he will be fresh and can hopefully be quicker than his defenders? I don’t know if that will work, but it’s worth a shot. After all, we’re dealing with something here that no other NBA coach has ever encountered: playing one of the largest guys on the planet in a very active sport, in a very intense Van Gundy defensive system. Maybe it’s just not feasible for a 7’6” guy to play the same minutes as a 6’11” guy and stay as fresh.
As far as the entire effort by the team goes, they played their best first quarter (and maybe any quarter) this year by scoring 27 points and leading by eight points at the end of the first. Luther Head provided a spark the Rockets’ offense has needed since T-Mac’s recurring back injury, scoring 9 points in the quarter and hitting both three-point attempts. As he went on his tear, we were seeing a star emerge before our very eyes (more on that later).
The Rockets were also hustling for the ball, taking a 10-0 lead in rebounds against the Mavs. What got into them all of a sudden? Whatever it was, it was refreshing. And thanks to Yao and Luther, the Rockets hit 7-of-14 shots in the first quarter, while Dallas only made of 7-of-20.
In the second quarter, Luther continued to give the Dallas defense problems, out-quicking them to the hole and hitting 3-of-5 shots for 7 points. Dallas didn’t know what to do with him. And Derek Anderson provided some help by making a couple of shots, including a three-pointer to put Houston up with a shocking 50-38 lead at halftime.
But that’s when Houston started reverting back to their old ways, letting Rocket-killer Jason Terry (remember last year’s playoffs?) score 5 points in a row, one bucket coming after a steal of the ball from David Wesley in the backcourt. That started a 10-3 run by the Mavericks, with Terry scoring 8 of those points, and the Mavericks only trailed 53-48 at halftime.
Like clockwork in the third quarter, the Mavericks finally pulled ahead the fading Rockets by capping an 18-5 run to take a 58-56 lead. Moochie Norris came into the game as part of a strategy to just foul Dallas’ DeSagana Diop and put the poor free throw shooting center on the line.
But after Moochie stole the ball from Terry and dished an assist to Anderson to pull within 68-65. Van Gundy decided to reward Moochie by keeping him in the game, and he played pretty well, driving into the lane and kicking it out to Anderson for a 3-pointer, and then hitting a jumper to cut the Rocket deficit to 75-71.
But then a couple of possessions later, Moochie missed two free throws! He also let Terry fly past him to the hole for an easy score. He later got an assist on a three-pointer by Luther, but then missed a layup. Man, I was pulling for Moochie to make a statement in this game to match Luther’s stellar play. Instead, it was a little bit of good mixed in with some bad.
In the fourth quarter, the Rockets hung in there and went on a 12-5 run to make it 86-86 after another Anderson jumper with just over six minutes remaining. But then the Rockets’ imploded under the pressure, letting Dallas go on an 8-3 run to make it 94-89 with 3:24 remaining. That’s when Yao missed his easy shots in the lane, the Rockets got out-hustled to loose balls, and it was game over.
Thanks to Rafer Alston and T-Mac being out of the game because of an injury, Luther got his second start of the season, and he delivered big time. As I said earlier, the Mavericks couldn’t guard him. He finished with an incredible 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting, and made 5-of-8 three pointers. He also had 7 rebounds and 3 assists. This is a rookie, folks. Watch out Chris Paul (New Orleans rookie point guard sensation).
It’s strange, but these kind of stats remind me of another player the Rockets thought wasn’t good enough and needed to be traded. Yes, I’m talking about Mike James again.
I know some of you are tired of me bringing up the bad trade the Rockets made this off-season for Alston. But if you James-haters say that trading MJ was the right thing to do because he was too much of a scorer and not a pure point guard, then you must hate the fact that Luther scored so many points tonight. That’s not what point guards should do, right? They should be dishing assists and getting their teammates involved, right? You get my drift.
Now watch out: Van Gundy may trade Luther because he sure looked alot like James tonight…give me a break. Now if the Rockets hadn’t made such a stupid trade, maybe they would have a better record than 3-8 and wouldn’t be relying on a rookie to play 43 minutes and save the team.
I love the way Luther is playing, but it’s too early in his career to expect him to be the answer. There’s something to be said about chemistry, and to lose Bob Sura to injury (although it didn’t surprise anyone), then trade your backup (James) who had developed good chemistry with the team, well…it’s just too much to overcome. I think the Rockets were too presumptuous thinking they could put a new player into the system and not suffer consequences.
The only other bright spot tonight was that Derek Anderson finally showed up offensively, scoring 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting (2-of-3 treys) and dishing 4 assists.
Who knows what will happen Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns. Maybe the Suns’ fast pace of play will force the Rockets to break out of their half-court struggles and make them rely more on their inherent talents to score, especially late in the fourth quarter.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s story of the game, click here.