WEDNESDAY, 3/8/06 – You can’t beat what you saw Wednesday night if you’re a Yao Ming and Houston Rocket fan.
Down 17 points late in the third quarter, the Rockets came back to win one of their most electric – and important – games of the season, 103-99 against the favored Indiana Pacers.
Yao was absolutely unstoppable, scoring a season-high 38 points (14-of-21 from the field, 10-of-10 from the line), grabbing 10 boards and blocking 5 shots. What else can you say about him?
This was his third game in a row where he had scored at least 30 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds. He scored 20 points in the first half, and scored 13 in a row for Houston starting near the end of the second quarter and the start of the third.
Needless to say, Yao knows what he’s doing down low and shooting with so much confidence, there is no way to stop him when he’s playing this well. He is playing at the level we all knew over the past four years he could reach. Hopefully he can keep it going. If he can, he could be one of the most dominant big men in NBA history.
Scoring 6 points in the fourth quarter, Yao had a lot of help in the fourth with Juwan Howard hitting 2-of-2 from the field in addition to the four points he scored at the end of the third. Keith Bogans scored 7, and Stromile Swift scored six. Altogether, the Rockets shot 7-of-10 from the field and 10-of-12 from the line in that pivotal quarter, while holding the Pacers to only 4-of-25 shooting.
Toyota Center was rocking like a college fieldhouse during the comeback, especially when Swift threw down a dunk off a sweet dish from Luther Head with 3:53 remaining that put the Rockets ahead 94-93 for their first lead since the first quarter!
The lead see-sawed a couple of more times, and then Stromile had another huge play with 2:13 remaining. Indiana’s Scot Pollard caught a long pass on a fast break underneath the basket and was about to lay it in to put Indiana up 99-98, but Stromile came out of nowhere to reject Pollard’s shot at the rim!
It didn’t look like the Rockets were going to be able to pull this game out since they committed 4 straight turnovers in the final few minutes, and gave up 4 offensive rebounds in one possession to the Pacers when Indiana was still down 98-97. After that series of offensive boards, the Rockets gave up a layup to Peja Stojakovic on an inbounds play to give Indiana a 99-98 lead.
But Yao intimidated two shots by Jeff Foster and a block on the next Pacer possession. After Houston got the rebound, Rafer Alston pushed it on offense and got it to Bogans for a hard driving layup that put Houston ahead for good 100-99 with 25.3 seconds remaining.
The rest of the way the Rockets held on defense and sank 4 free throws to get their biggest win of the season.
What’s amazing is that the Rockets went through most of the second half without T-Mac, whose back flared up on him again. T-Mac finished with “just” 15 points in 20 minutes of action.
But his teammates picked up the slack. Bogans, who replaced T-Mac in the second half, scored 14 points and grabbed 8 boards. Juwan Howard scored 16 points, and Rafer Alston dished a season-high 14 assists (and scored 5 points).
Altogether, the Rockets shot an amazing 53% from the floor, 81% from the line, and held Indiana to 39% shooting.
Now the Rockets will have a full 3 days of rest after winning their fourth game in a row, and their 7th win in their last 9 games. But it’s not going to get any easier. They play a brutal stretch of games against San Antonio, New Jersey, Dallas, San Antonio again, the Clippers, Dallas, New Orleans and Cleveland.
This stretch of games will make or break the Rockets season. No doubt about it. I have predicted sour results before against tough competition, but with the way Yao is playing, anything is possible – even without T-Mac.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s article about the game, click here.