TUESDAY, 12/06/05 – The kind of game the Rockets played on Tuesday night was the kind Rocket fans had been waiting for against a fairly decent team for quite some time. The Rockets finally put together an all-around game with great defense and pretty good offense and beat Boston handily, 91-73. The Rockets held the Celtics to 34% shooting while shooting 45% themselves.
After the game, T-Mac said he felt good and like his old self, scoring 35 points and hitting 14-of-20 shots. Combine that with 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and his holding Paul Pierce to 3-of-10 shooting, and you’ve got to think T-Mac is ready to put his recent injury troubles behind him and lead the Rockets out of their 5-12 hole. Anytime the Rockets looked like they were going to hit a scoreless stretch in this game, he would stop the bleeding by hitting a big bucket.
Yao played well, too. He scored 12 points on 4-of-9 shots, grabbed 9 boards and had 3 assists. Even though he only recored one block, he had numerous intimidations of Celtic shots down low in the paint and was able to stay out of foul trouble.
Having T-Mac in the lineup also made a big difference to free Yao up offensively. No surprise there. My favorite plays between the two players occurred in the second half. At the 4:16 mark in the third quarter, T-Mac had the ball at the top of the key and drew a double-team, then threw an ally-oop pass to Yao to the right of the rim. Although Yao missed the easy shot, Yao had plenty of time to recover and lay the ball in for the score since T-Mac had drawn defenders away from the rim. That made the score 61-46.
Yao returned the favor to T-Mac at the start of the fourth quarter. From the top of the key, Yao threw a perfect strike to T-Mac, who was in the almost exact same spot Yao had been on the play I mentioned above. T-Mac easily laid it in for a 67-54 lead. When these guys are healthy, they are tough to cover.
These kinds of plays typified the second half, with the Rockets holding a 17-point lead at one point. Of course, Boston made a run (10-2) to cut it down to 9 points, but Houston’s defense was too much to let them put on much more of a threat.
The surprise star of the game was reserve Ryan Bowen, who was all over the place going after loose balls and grabbing 8 boards. Like always, he brought alot of energy to the defense, knocking the Celtics out of their offensive rhythm. Even though he didn’t have a steal in the boxscore, it felt like he had 3 or 4 of them.
Stromile Swift played one of his best games of the season, scoring 11 points, grabbing 6 boards, and showed lots of hustle. He seems to play better when he’s playing with Yao on the floor, whereas starting power forward Juwan Howard missed all kinds of easy shots (4-of-10 overall 8 points). And Luther Head was clutch, hitting 3-of-5 treys for 11 points and 4 assists, but he did have four turnovers.
One scary moment occurred at the 10:48 mark in the third quarter when Boston’s Brian Scalabrine drove down the middle of the lane and hit Yao in the face with his elbow, drawing a lot of blood next to Yao’s right eye. Yao quickly went to the locker room to get some stitches. If Scalabrine had landed his blow a couple of inches to the right, Yao might have had severe eye damage, but Yao will be okay. The ironic thing is that Yao was called for a foul on the play because he was standing inside the circle around the basket when Scalabrine made contact. Talk about adding insult to injury!
The game was pretty boring in the first quarter, with Houston only shooting 27% and scoring only 18 points, but the good thing is that Boston only scored 18 points in the first quarter, too. I actually dozed off, but was able to wake up in the second quarter as the Rockets started pulling away. They led 48-38 at halftime.
In the first half, Derek Anderson was able to help T-Mac on the offensive end by scoring 9 points on 2-of-3 shooting. He also had 3 steals. But then Anderson threw up bricks the rest of the way, missing all six of his shots. Also bad was David Wesley, who only made 1-of-8 shots and scored two points. If it weren’t for T-Mac, this could have easily been another loss.
It didn’t hurt that Boston’s Raef LaFrentz did NOT hit 7 three-pointers in a row like he did on November 13th in Boston to help blow out the Rockets. This time around, LaFrentz was 0-for-6 from the field, and the Celtics only made 3-of-9 three-pointers. If the Rockets can do a decent job holding opponents to low 3-point shooting nights (unlike against Memphis where they gave up 15-of-32 treys), they might have a chance.
Now the Rockets start a grueling six-game West Coast road trip. If Houston is going to salvage their season and try to make the playoffs, I think they will have to win at least 3 or 4 of those games to give themselves a chance. It’s going to be tough, but with T-Mac at the helm and Yao there to help, anything is possible.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s article about the game, click here.