SUNDAY, 3/26/06 – The Rockets (30-39) fought valiantly against Cleveland (40-29) Sunday afternoon. Houston’s Keith Bogans and Rick Brunson were providing a nice scoring bonus by hitting lots of three-pointers (4-of-5 and 2-of-2, respectively). With that kind of offensive outburst, you had to think the Rockets’ chances were good to win their second game in a row.
Indeed, there chances were very good. The Rockets had a 13-point lead at one time in the third quarter with their offense finally humming like we hadn’t seen in awhile with T-Mac out of the lineup.
But Houston couldn’t put the Cavaliers away, couldn’t make big defensive stops down the stretch, and disappointingly lost their fifth straight at home in overtime, 104-102.
The Rockets made a few preventable defensive blunders that cost them the game. I’m not saying they were out-coached. However, I still wonder why Jeff Van Gundy insists that Yao come out to the top of the key to help apply defensive pressure on the man with the ball. That seems to risk leaving the middle open and tiring out the Big Man a little too much.
That defensive plan may work against players who can’t penetrate into the lane, but when you’re doing it to freakin’ LeBron James, it’s probably going to cost you leaving your top shot blocker out of position to defend the rack. It happened twice late in the fourth quarter, and both times LeBron took it strong to the hole for a layup and a dunk.
The other defensive mistake took place with the Rockets holding a three-point (91-88) with 25 seconds to play. You would think if the situation looked like the Cavs were close to getting an easy shot, all they had to do was foul the man with the ball to keep him from scoring.
Instead, the Rockets let LeBron drive to the hole, elevate, draw contact from Yao for a foul, and score for a three-point play, tying the game! Yao was not happy with the call. After the game, he said, “Believe me, the contact that I get inside is much more difficult than he (LeBron) did on that one, and I haven’t gotten that kind of a call all year.”
Good for you, Yao. Speak out when the refs blow a call. I’m not blaming you on that one. However, I do blame the fact the Rockets gave LeBron an opportunity to go to the hole, especially with a foul to give!
The Rockets had a chance to win it on the ensuing possession, but Yao turned the ball over down low. Yao atoned for the mistake by scoring 6 points in OT.
But LeBron showed his greatness once again. With less than 15 seconds remaining King James penetrated into the lane, drew Yao over to his side of the court, then astutely dished to Zydrunas Ilguaskas for an easy jam to put the Cavs up 103-99 with 9 seconds remaining. Even by keeping Yao down low in the lane, it still didn’t work. That’s what great players like LeBron do: draw the defense to them, then pass off to other players for layups or dunks.
Yao came back to hit a jumper to make it 103-101 with 7 seconds remaining. The Rockets then fouled Damon Jones intentionally and put him on the line. The gamble paid off. Jones missed a free throw, and the Rockets had a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer.
But that’s when Cleveland’s coach Mike Brown opted to do what Jeff Van Gundy didn’t do in regulation: he intentionally fouled Rafer Alston, putting him on the line with .6 seconds remaining. Alston made the first free throw making it 104-102, then purposely missed the second hoping a miracle rebound and shot could tie the game. But the ball was swatted out of bounds as time expired.
It’s a shame the Rockets didn’t win this game considering they outplayed the Cavs in most statistical categories:
Field goal %: 48.6% vs. Cleveland’s 43.2%
3-point shooting: 50% vs. 38%
Free throw shooting: 25-of-29 (86%) vs. 14-of-20 (70%)
Assists: 20 vs. 17
Blocks: 6 vs. 2
The main stats they lost were offensive rebounds (14-to-5), turnovers (17 vs. 9), and points in the paint (46 vs. 28).
LeBron finished with 36 points, although Bogans did a decent job holding him to 14-of-34 (41%).
Yao led all Rockets with 27 points and 4 blocks. He also grabbed 7 boards. But he did have 5 turnovers and was 9-of-21 from the field. However, to reiterate, you can’t blame Yao for this loss. Blame it on LeBron’s greatness, and perhaps a flawed defensive strategy that gave him easy shots up close down the stretch.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s article about the game, click here.