SATURDAY, 11/26/05 – If you watched the Rockets game on Saturday night against Chicago, you actually missed a pretty entertaining game. It reminded me of an expansion team playing in front of their home crowd that knows their team is not going to make the playoffs, are playing for pride instead, and everyone is okay with that.
It’s gotten that low, folks, when I’m comparing the Rockets to an expansion team.
You’ve got to give credit to the Houston fans for cheering on their team as they made one of their biggest comebacks of the season. They got very loud as the Rockets crept back into the game. Down 75-60, the Rockets went on a 25-10 run, powered by Yao hitting 6-of-6 shots in the fourth quarter (14 points) on his way to scoring a season-high 30 points. Before he got hot, Yao had only made 3-of-12 shots, and had only hit 1 of his last 9 shot attempts.
I could go into lots of details on how it all panned out, but since they lost it doesn’t really matter. I’ll just say the Rockets had plenty of chances to snap their 6-game losing streak. But when the game was tied 85-85 with 1:37 remaining, the Rockets’ defense (second-best in the NBA, which is shocking) let Kirk Hinrich (forcing Yao to foul him and foul out of the game) and Chris Duhon score on easy drives to the hole without any resistance, and that was just about it.
How many times does it have to happen for this defense to get a clue and stop a penetrating guard?
Tack on Andres Nocioni scoring on an easy layup after Jeff Van Gundy had Stromile Swift come out to the perimeter double-team a point guard, leaving Nocioni open for an easy deuce, and the Rockets ultimately lost 94-89. You’ve got to wonder what Van Gundy is thinking in pulling his big men out of the lane to guard smaller guys. That really perplexes me.
The only noteworthy thing to mention was Yao’s play. He really picked up confidence in the fourth quarter during clutch time when the Rockets really needed him.
He hit his first three shots, then showed lots of emotion after hitting a big bucket and was fouled on his fourth bucket of the quarter. He pumped his fist, jumped, and belted out a yell. Say what you will about Yao being inconsistent this year — as he was in this game — but he showed tonight that he’s a fighter. Especially after getting his ankle stepped on by Chicago’s Malik Allen after Allen fouled him, with replays showing it was partly intentional and deserving of a fine from the League office.
Yao would go on to hit a couple of more huge buckets, but to me, he really showed how much he cares after observing his reactions after he fouled Hinrich for the go-ahead layup. Under Van Gundy’s system, Yao is going to be inexplicably forced to face a quicker guard zooming right at him for a likely layup. If Hinrich scored, it would have been a big bucket. So Yao’s instinct kicked in and he tried to grab Hinrich by the shoulder to prevent him from scoring, but it was too late, and Yao fouled out of the game.
After that play, I had never seen Yao so mad at himself. He was on the sideline muttering in pure disgust and anger. He wrapped his towel around his head, wringing it tight to squeeze the agony out of him. Watching from the game from the bench a few minutes later, he did it again as he witnessed the defense collapse to let Chicago score another easy bucket. He wanted this win badly. Yao may appear reserved most of the time, but you can tell after this episode that there is a fire that burns inside him with a huge desire to win.
He really deserves better. Without him, his teammates shot 19-of-58. That’s just a notch above 30%. There have been losses this season where Yao might have been the main reason why the Rockets lost. But not in this game.
I don’t think I have ever seen a Houston team struggle so much after the loss of one player as they have had with T-Mac out of the lineup. Hakeem Olajuwon was hurt for a dozen or so games in 1991, and the Rockets actually put up an awesome record during his absence. Same goes for the Houston Astros’ Jeff Bagwell this year. I’m sure Earl Campbell and other Oiler superstars had their share of injuries, and the remaining players stepped up to win at least one of those games. Not this time around with the Rockets.
When T-Mac comes back, he will probably receive the loudest reception a Rocket player has ever received. I don’t think anyone will ever take T-Mac for granted ever again. Over this Thanksgiving weekend, I think Houston fans are more thankful than ever that T-Mac is a Rocket. They will be even more thankful when he returns to action, hopefully Tuesday against Atlanta.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.