SUNDAY, 2/12/06 – I went to the Rockets-Knicks game on Sunday night at Toyota Center, and the Rockets took care of business, beating a struggling New York team 90-83. The Knicks have lost their last nine games in a row, 15 of their last 16 games, and have the second-worst record in the league (now 14-36).
I really felt sorry for them because they remind me a lot of Houston when both Yao and T-Mac were out earlier this year, and we all know how painful that was. They have a hard time scoring (38% shooting Sunday night), and just don’t have a superstar that can put his teammates on their back and will them to a victory.
I was impressed after the game with what appears to be team unity despite such a terrible season. All of the New York players gathered at mid-court to take part in some kind of prayer, which I think they do after every game, so at least they are trying to stick together through some very tough times.
Meanwhile, the Rockets had a hard time distancing themselves from the Knicks in the first half, and I had to think this game had the makings of an upset. The refs were calling the game very tight – too tight – putting both teams on the free throw line 38 times. The game was almost unwatchable, but it was working out to the Knicks advantage. The Knicks made 15-of-22 FTs compared to Houston’s 11-of-16. By the end of the game, 67 free throws were attempted. Yuck!
In part because of all those free throws, the Rockets only had a 47-46 lead at halftime, and that was only because David Wesley hit a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give them the lead.
Part of the problem in the first half was Tracy McGrady’s struggles from the field, scoring only three points on 1-of-12 shooting! The explosion we are so accustomed to seeing this season in the second halves of games when he’s off track in the first half never happened on Sunday night. He only made 2-of-8 in the second half to finish 3-for-20, finishing with 7 points! It was the worst shooting night of T-Mac’s career. I thought he was settling on too many jumpers from the outside and not taking it to the hoop enough, which was surprising because he said a few games ago that when he’s not making shots, he has to take it to the hole strong to get his rhythm.
In the third quarter, it looked like T-Mac was resigned to the fact he was doing more harm to his team than good by shooting the ball. He had a couple of plays where he did take it strong to the rack, and I thought he was going to put up a running shot off the glass that were higher percentage shots. Instead, he dished off to Yao who caught the ball on-the-move to the hoop and threw it down for a monster dunk, was fouled, and who made the penalty free throw for a 62-53 lead.
On the very next possession, T-Mac drove down the lane again, and I was thinking, “Alright, put it up!” Instead, he kicked it out to Wesley, who nailed a three-pointer for a 66-53 lead. So even though his shooting was pathetic, he did have 7 assists and had the presence of mind to get his other teammates chances to score by using himself as a decoy.
The Knicks cut the deficit to 71-66 with 9:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Rafer Alston hit a big three-pointer to push the lead to 74-66, and the Knicks would get no closer than six points the rest of the game.
I’ve got to give credit to Alston, who hit some big shots when the Rockets were struggling in the second quarter, scoring four points, including a beautiful fake pass as he crossed through the lane and hit a running hook shot.
Alston finished with 14 points and 7 assists, and has been playing a lot better recently. He’s not putting up Mike James numbers, but he is providing some relief to his teammates (T-Mac, Wesley, Luther Head) so they don’t have to bring the ball up the floor like they were doing alot during their losing streak earlier this season.
Because of that relief, Wesley is also playing a lot better. “D-Dub” scored 15 points on efficient 4-of-8 shooting (4-of-7 from three-point territory) in 37 minutes.
More about Yao
For the third game in a row, Yao was the difference in this game. Without his 24 points (8-of-13 shooting), 8 rebounds and 4 blocks, the Rockets lose this game. The Knicks had no answer for him, with center Eddy Curry fouling out in the fourth quarter.
I’ve got to say I think this is the best Yao has played in his NBA career. He’s delivering points when his team needs him, he’s staying out of foul trouble, blocking more shots, and he’s grabbing a decent number of rebounds. He’s also the only NBA center averaging 20 points or more per game.
But everyone knows the Rockets have no chance to win on the road against the LA Clippers on Tuesday and Phoenix Suns on Thursday if T-Mac doesn’t get on track. Yao said it himself after Sunday’s game. Thankfully McGrady is a better player on the road than at home this season. However, T-Mac has got to play like his usual self at home if the Rockets are going to make a run at the final playoff spot over the next 31 games.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s article about the game, click here.