FRIDAY, 4/7/06 – Despite a disappointing season that had so much promise at the beginning, the Golden State Warriors drew to their game Friday night against the Rockets over 19,000 fans, many who came to see Yao make his second visit to one of the most highly anticipated NBA games of the season for the large Asian-American coningent in the Bay Area.
Yao didn’t disappoint, showing he is almost unstoppable on his way to 30 points on 12-of-22 shooting, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Rockets also managed to finally make some clutch plays down the stretch – something they couldn’t do against pathetic Portland on Wednesday night – and pull out a 100-93 victory in Oakland to break a 3-game losing streak.
It didn’t matter, though, in the Rockets’ miniscule playoff chances. They were eliminated from the race after Sacramento also won on Friday night. Too little, too late.
But it was nice to see a glimpse of how the Rockets’ offense is supposed to work when Yao gets support from his outside shooters.
Late in the fourth quarter with the Rockets down 96-91, Yao got the ball down low in the paint, but then kicked it out to a wide-open Rafer Alston behind the three-point line, and Alston nailed it for the lead. Then the next time down the court, Yao got the ball deep in the paint again, threw another perfect strike to Luther Head standing behind the arc, and bingo! Luther drilled it to put the Rockets up 96-91 with 1:49 remaining, and that was basically the ballgame.
It wasn’t all peachy about 45 minutes earlier when Jeff Van Gundy pulled all five of his starters in the third quarter after they had blown a 10-point halftime lead. When asked about it after the game, JVG replied, “It was pathetic effort by all five of them (the starters). We played three very good quarters. It was unfortunate that it was marred by an irresponsible third quarter.”
That move must have been a wake-up call for the starters, who ended up outscoring the Warriors 27-17 in the fourth quarter, thanks to 8 points by Yao and 11 points by Alston. Even though Alston finished strong and scored 16 points and dished 9 assists for the game, the big star of this game (if you look past Yao, who you now expect to have a big game all the time) was Luther Head.
Luther showed once again that he could be a very good starting shooting guard for the Rockets next season, scoring 26 points on an incredible 8-of-9 from the field, and get this: 6-of-7 from three-point land! On top of that, he grabbed 8 boards and had 3 rebounds.
So although the Rockets lost the scoring punch of Mike James this season, they MAY have made up a lot of that void with Luther in the long run. Talk about lucky – I don’t think anyone thought he would show this kind of potential so early in his career.
Honorable mention goes out to Juwan Howard, who scored 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting, and Stromile Swift, who scored 8 points, including two dunks that were jaw-dropping. His second dunk was a reverse dunk from underneath the basket after a quick spin move around Troy Murphy on the baseline. I had to replay it on my Tivo about 8 times.
Chuck Hayes made the most of his 9 minutes when he was one of the reserves inserted in the third quarter. In that very short amount of time, he scored two points, grabbed four rebounds and had a block, drawing props from Van Gundy after the game.
Forgettable performances were turned in by Keith Bogans, 0-for-4 with no points, and David Wesley, 1-for-6 with 4 points. He did have six assists, though. As a team, the Rockets out-assisted Golden State 27-23, out-rebounded them 46-39, and out-shot them 46.8% to 40.2%. If they could play every game like this one nexxt season, I’ll take it.
To see the boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s article about the game, click here.