TUESDAY, 11/29/05 – I was ecstatic to hear before the Rockets game against Atlanta that T-Mac would play! It felt like Christmas 26 days early!
After watching McGrady’s impact on the team Tuesday night and seeing his team defeat the Hawks 100-85, it will be fun to watch the Rockets try to dig themselves out of their 3-11 hole (now 4-11). Okay, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself since Atlanta (now 2-11) is not Detroit or San Antonio. It’s still not going to be easy.
It’s amazing the difference that T-Mac made right out of the gate, scoring Houston’s first six points. Since it had been 11 days since his last game action, he had to ask coach Jeff Van Gundy for a break at the 6:16 mark of the first quarter because he was so winded. However, he came back a few minutes later to finish the quarter with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and pushed Houston to a 26-22 lead heading into the second quarter. Can it get any more obvious how valuable he is to this team?
You could just tell that T-Mac’s pure presence in the game picked up his teammates and gave them more confidence. With defenders double-teaming T-Mac or staying close to him on the perimeter, that opened up shots for Juwan Howard, who made 5-of-7 shots — mainly hook shots in the lane — with all of his field goals coming in the second half.
T-Mac also found the open man, dishing out 5 assists, which seemed infectious as the team doled out 16 assists. Of course, the main beneficiary of T-Mac’s presence was Yao, who took advantage of a distracted defense and scored 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting, grabbed 12 boards and blocked 2 shots. Aaaaah…50 points from the dynamic duo…that’s more like it.
Also ‘more like it’ were spectacular highlight reel plays, like T-Mac’s acrobatic lift-off from the right baseline, suspension in mid-air underneath the basket, and reverse layup off the glass. It’s almost indescribable. You’ll have to watch SportsCenter to believe it. I guarantee you they will replay it.
Not getting as much air time, but almost as impressive, was T-Mac helping out on defense and blocking cleanly ZaZa Pachulia’s certain slam dunk. T-Mac elevated and got massive air. Last but not least, T-Mac pushed the break and had a sweet assist to Yao underneath the basket for a slam. That’s the easiest shot that Yao has had in days.
Despite the 100 points scored by the Rockets (a season high) and 15-point victory (another season high), it didn’t look like it was going to be that easy.
In the second quarter, the Rockets opened up a 9-point lead 38-29 after Luther Head hit his second 3-pointer of the game (I’m loving his 50% 3-point shooting this season). But the young and pesky Hawks wouldn’t go away, battling back to trail only 52-51 at halftime. Although Houston’s offense was doing much better, their acclaimed defense was letting them down.
The strangest thing happened at the start of the second half. After Yao threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk on the baseline after one of his patented spin moves, the referees noticed (with T-Mac’s assistance) that the teams were playing the same sides of the court as they had played in the first half.
During a long break while the referees were trying to figure out what to do, T-Mac took a break along the scorers’ table. That’s when Houston TV announcer Bill Worrell struck up a conversation with McGrady on camera, and offered to give him his headset for some commentary. McGrady obliged, obviously feeling real good about being back in action. It was quite comical.
What wasn’t funny was that the refs erased Yao’s field goal and took the points off the board as they got both teams to play the right sides of the court. I was livid! Little did I realize at the time that the Rockets shouldn’t have had been given the ball at the start of the second half anyway since they had won the opening tip. Given all the bad luck the Rockets have had this season, I was hoping the erasure of points wouldn’t come back to haunt them. It seems the Rockets have lost every way possible this season. I couldn’t take it if they had lost by 1 or 2 points because one of the flukiest ways to have points removed from the board.
Yao came back right after the bad call and hit a hook shot in the lane and order was restored. The Rockets would go on to open a 74-68 lead at the end of the third quarter, and even opened up a 15-point lead at 83-68 with 8:33 remaining. It looked like it was going to be an old-fashioned cakewalk the rest of the way, but this is still the Rockets were talking about, even with T-Mac.
The Hawks went on an 11-3 run to close the gap to 86-79 with 5:39 remaining, but the Rockets finally were able to close out the game, breaking their 7-game losing streak.
Still lacking was shooting accuracy from the Houston guards. Derek Anderson was 4-of-11, making only 1-of-5 three pointers. David Wesley was 3-of-10, but he did hit 2-of-4 treys. And Luther Head was 4-of-12 while hitting 2-of-5 from behind the arc.
But the story of this game was Houston’s small forward and his health. T-Mac said after the game that his back was a little sore, but he will now have almost four days to rest it before a ‘payback’ rematch against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. I never thought I would like to hear the sound of a prospective record of “5-11,” but I’ll take it.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s article about the game, click here.