WEDNESDAY, 12/28/05 – This loss is one of the toughest ones to swallow. I’m not exactly sure why. Every loss sucks, but this one is different.
Maybe it’s because the Rockets had T-Mac for a full game, not just a first half like the night before when he had to leave at halftime to witness the birth of his new baby boy.
Maybe it’s because T-Mac was unstoppable most of the game, scoring a season-high 38 points (11-of-25 shooting, 4-of-6 three-pointers), grabbing 8 rebounds, dishing 7 assists, getting two steals, and having a great performance wasted.
Maybe it was because Stromile Swift had his coming-out party as a Rocket — scoring 26 points and grabbing 13 rebounds – finally giving the Rockets another weapon for their feeble offense.
Maybe it was because if the Hornets’ Rasual Butler (averaging 0.5 three-pointers this season) hadn’t made three 3-pointers (and 15 points) in the fourth quarter alone, the Rockets probably would have won this game.
Or maybe it was because if Juwan Howard had not missed two consecutive point-blank shots with 1:26 remaining when the score was 90-86, they probably would have won this game.
With all the adversity late in the game for the Rockets, they still managed to tie the game at 90-90, making Howard’s missed shots loom even larger. But then the Hornets’ David West hit a jumper at the top of the key to go ahead 92-90 with 1.8 seconds remaining. Stromile had a chance to win it at the buzzer with a tough hook shot in the lane, but his shot was too hard off the glass and the Rockets lost their fourth in a row.
Except for that last shot, Stromile was amazing, hitting 9-of-15 from the floor on a combination of strong moves to the rack and jump shots that showed a lot of touch. Sure, he missed 3 free throws (8-of-11), but since he finished with 26 points, you can’t complain too much.
On the other hand, Juwan Howard, who has been outstanding recently averaging 19.3 points and 53% shooting over the past three games, struggled mightily by only making 3-of-13 and scoring 6 points. That really hurt.
Combine that poor shooting with Luther Head’s 1-of-10 shooting (1-of-7 from three-point land), and it was just too many bricks to overcome.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, with the Hornets jumping out to a 26-17 lead in the first quarter. New Orleans/Oklahoma City (a.k.a. “NOK”) ran the Rockets ragged as they went on a 9-0 run to take a 19-10 lead. They extended the run to 16-6 to lead 26-14, but T-Mac made things a little more respectable by hitting a beautiful 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining to make it 26-17 heading into the second quarter.
The Rockets closed the gap by halftime to 51-47, but the stats weren’t pretty. NOK had a 16-8 advantage in assists, 24-8 advantage for points in the paint, and 17-0 lead in fast break points.
The third quarter is when the Rockets made their move, taking a 71-62 lead with 1:24 remaining in the quarter thanks to 10 points by Swift (4-for-4 from the field) and 9 points for T-Mac. Meanwhile, NOK shot only 6-for-17 from the field. The Hornets closed out the quarter on a 6-1 run to make it 72-68, but since T-Mac had some offensive help with Swift, you had to like the Rockets’ chances.
But T-Mac was double-teamed defensively almost every possession in the fourth quarter, was held to 1-of-4 shooting, and no other Rocket could make them pay. David Wesley was 0-for-3, Howard was 0-for-4, and Luther was 1-for-3. That ineptitude led to an 18-5 run by NOK, thanks to 3 straight treys by Rashual Butler to give them an 86-77 lead with 3:59 remaining.
Still, the Rockets fought back to tie it at 90-90, but David West’s shot with 1.8 seconds remaining capped an unbelievable 10-of-20 shooting quarter for NOK when they needed the points the most. It’s amazing this young team — which is not expected to have the poise of a veteran team like Houston’s — made the shots they needed to win while the Rockets didn’t.
In closing, I have another Mike James update: James scored 28 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and had 9 assists in Toronto’s win over Atlanta Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Rafer Alston missed his 17th straight game because of an injury. Ouch!
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.