When it was announced that Tracy McGrady wouldn’t be able to play Friday night because of the death of his fiancee’s mother, the Rockets faced a test they had failed 13 times before in a row – trying to win a game without T-Mac in the lineup.
But this team is a little different now, and the Rockets finally got the monkey off their back, beating Golden State 91-88 Friday night at Toyota Center.
Once again, Yao put in a magnificent performance, scoring 22 points, grabbing 21 boards, blocking 2 shots, and committing only 2 fouls in 37 minutes of play.
He started off slow, hitting only 1-of-5 in the first quarter. But he then went on a tear in the second, making 5-of-7 shots to rack up 16 points by halftime and propelling the Rockets to a 52-45 halftime lead.
He scored 4 more points in the third, contributing to a Rockets 76-68 lead heading into the fourth. Unfortunately, he missed all four of his field goal attempts in the final quarter, and the Rockets only shot 5-of-17.
Everyone else struggled, too. The Rockets missed their first 9 shots in the fourth quarter, didn’t score for the first six minutes, and the Warriors capped a 16-0 run to take an 82-76 lead.
But Houston made some big shots to get back into the game and take the lead. Thanks to great defense in the final seconds by Yao on Jason Richardson, who had made 7-of-11 treys in the game, J-Rich’s shot missed badly, and the Rockets held on for a hard-fought 91-88 win.
Give credit to Houston’s defense for holding the Warriors to 9-of-25 shooting in that fourth quarter. Otherwise, a couple of more Golden State field goals, and this could have been a devastating blow to the Rockets attempt to pull within a half game of the Warriors in the scramble for the final playoff spot. That final position, held by the Lakers, is now only 4 games away with 27 games left to play.
I would be negligent if I didn’t give props to Keith Bogans, who played superb in T-Mac’s absence. In the first quarter alone, Bogans scored 9 points on 4-of-5 shooting and grabbed 3 rebounds. He finished with 13 points and 5 rebounds. Not bad, Bogie (not sure if he’s called that, but it sounds good).
And Juwan Howard rebounded from a terrible shooting performance on Wednesday (2-of-11) to match Yao in the points column (22), making all of his free throw attempts (6), and grabbed 8 boards. What a great time to step up in T-Mac’s absence!
Finally, Luther Head had one of his best games in a long time, hitting 3-of-7 treys, scoring 11 points, and dishing out 7 assists – the most assists he has dished in 3 months.
The Rockets next play the Magic in Orlando on Sunday afternoon, this time without Steve Francis, traded a few days ago to the Knicks. We still don’t know if T-Mac will be able to play in that game because of bereavement, but I’ll bet he will play to 1) take his mind off the sadness, and 2) not miss the only game he gets to play in his old team’s arena and stick it to ‘em.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s article about the game, click here.