SATURDAY, 1/21/06 – I just got through watching a recording of last night’s game of the Rockets’ win over the Chicago Bulls in double overtime. It’s amazing to me how T-Mac can come off the inactive list from his back spasm problem, play the number of minutes he played (40) and rack up the numbers he did: 35 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
He was originally scheduled to only play 28 minutes so he could ease himself and his back into action, but that strategy flew out the window once the Rockets had a chance to win it.
The Rockets were down 86-80 with 3:56 remaining in the fourth quarter, but for once, they were able to come back in the clutch. They went on an 8-2 run and tied it at 88-88, capped by Juwan Howard scoring his 29th and 30th points of the game. Without Juwan kicking in his 30 points on 15-of-29 shooting (20 in the second half), the Rockets would not have had a chance in this game.
The Bulls went up 90-88 when Luol Deng hit a jump shot with 46 seconds remaining. But then an unlikely Rocket hero came up big. Chuck Hayes, playing only his second game in the NBA, got a huge block of Kirk Hinrich near the basket. Hayes secured the ball, called time-out, which set the Rockets up for a huge chance to tie the game and put it in overtime.
On the ensuing Rocket possession, T-Mac missed a long two-pointer, but grabbed the rebound and sank a cold-blooded, fadeaway baseline jumper to tie it up 90-90 with 2.1 seconds remaining. The game went into overtime where T-Mac scored six points, then into a second overtime where T-Mac scored 7 more points.
In that second OT, T-Mac missed a shot with 1:05 remaining that could have put the Rockets up 108-106, but Hayes came up big again with another rebound, setting up a play were T-Mac hit a 3-pointer with 42 seconds remaining to give the Rockets a 109-106 lead. Playing some good defense down the stretch, the Rockets held on for the 109-108 win.
More about Hayes, though. Just two games out of the NBA Development League, the dude scored 12 points, grabbed 13 boards and had two blocks in 32 minutes of play. The Rockets were high on Hayes back in the pre-season, but he just missed making the final roster. But since the Rockets have been decimated by injury, they brought him back and signed him on Wednesday to a 10-day contract.
Hayes was racking up good stats in the D-League, averaging 11.6 points per game for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, and leading that league with 12.2 rebounds per game. Hayes played at Kentucky and had a pretty good career there, tying a school record by starting 110 consecutive games. In his senior year, he was named consensus First-Team All-SEC and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. So the guy is no slouch.
The knock against Hayes’ prospects in the NBA is his relatively short 6′-6″ height to play power forward, and his limited ball-handling skills to play small forward. But on Friday night against the Bulls, he showed that his height was not a detriment in coming up with big rebounds, blocks and points in the paint. If he continues to play like this, he’s going to find himself a permanent roster spot on the Rockets and give Stromile Swift some competition at power forward.
But I don’t want to get excited too early. One game does not make a career, and the Bulls (16-23) haven’t been much better than the Rockets (now 13-25).
However, with 44 games remaining in the season, the Rockets are only 6.5 games out of the last playoff spot. It’s a long shot, but it was encouraging to hear T-Mac not giving up and saying after the game, “In a week or so, we’ll get my big fella (Yao Ming) back and we’ll see what we can do with this thing.”
Unfortunately, Houston has to play a juggernaut Detroit Pistons team (league-leading 32-5 record) on Sunday afternoon. No matter how well T-Mac, Howard and Hayes play, that game will definintely be a loss for the Rockets.