SUNDAY, 1/22/06 – The 13-26 Rockets came within one inch of having the biggest upset win of the NBA season on Sunday. Luther Head had an open look at the basket for a 3-pointer with just a few seconds remaining that could have won the game for te Rockets, but it was just one inch short of going in and shocking the Pistons — and the league — in Detroit (now 33-5).
But you can’t get too down on the rookie. After all, it was Luther who put the Rockets in position to win the game, nailing a high-arching three-pointer to close the deficit to 98-97 with 10 seconds remaining. After Detroit’s Richard Hamilton was fouled intentionally and made only 1-of-2 free throws, that gave Houston a chance to win it with a trey. But it wasn’t meant to be in a game where Houston surprisingly pushed the NBA’s best team to the brink.
You knew it was going to be a special night for Tracy McGrady when he started off the game scoring 11 of Houston’s first 13 points. With T-Mac putting his team on his back, the Rockets led 22-21 in a game where they were expected to fall behind quickly.
After T-Mac checked out of the game in the second quarter, Detroit opened up a double-digit lead and led 55-46 at halftime. T-Mac – who was logging more minutes than expected for the second consecutive game after coming off the inactive list – had played 21 minutes in the first half and scored 19 points.
Surprisingly, Houston made a game of it after completing a 17-4 run at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third, cutting the deficit to 55-53.
T-Mac stayed hot in the third, scoring 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Couple that performance with a steal and layup by David Wesley at the end of the quarter, and the Rockets only trailed 78-77 heading into the fourth .
If only the Rockets had a couple of more breaks, this game could have been won. Rafer Alston scored 5 points in the fourth, but he also fouled Chauncey Billups behind the three-point line for easy free throw points (the second time he put Chauncey on the line after fouling him behind the three-point line), and Alston foolishly had his foot on the sideline when he received a pass, resulting in a turnover down the stretch that really hurt.
The refs also called new Rocket Chuck Hayes for a very ticky-tack foul on Billups with 1:24 remaining that put Chauncey on the line, giving the Pistons a 96-92 advantage. That kind of call in that situation is inexcusable — the refs should have just given the Pistons the game right then if they were going to make a call like that.
Those giveaway points by the ref would end up being the difference in the game, along with that three-point shot that fell just one inch short for Luther.
As disappointed as I was the Rockets didn’t win this game, I was pleased with the effort against the league’s best team, and enjoyed watching T-Mac going off for 43 points on 17-of-33 shooting, racking up 9 rebounds, and doling out 5 assists.
I would have loved to have seen T-Mac take the final shot more than anyone else because he has come through in the clutch so many times on shots like those. He had a chance to take the 3-pointer himself over a couple of defenders before passing off to Luther for the final shot. T-Mac rises so high off the floor, defenders standing in front of him don’t really affect him.
But I think it was good to see T-Mac distribute the ball in that situation and let a younger player like Luther develop more confidence taking big shots like that. In the long run, it will be beneficial to have guys on the floor other than T-Mac who can drain shots in future clutch moments.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s article of the game, click here.