The Rockets had a golden chance to make a statement about the kind of team they are Saturday night against Detroit in Auburn Hills, and for 3 quarters, they were looking pretty good.
Yao was dominating through those first 3 quarters, scoring 31 points.
T-Mac had started the game hot, scoring 8 of the Rockets first 10 points, and 13 of their first 19, not missing a shot and looking like he was on his way to a 30+ point night.
But the problem was that the other Rocket players weren’t shooting well (12-of-35 for 34%), and when Yao (two points in the fourth quarter) and T-Mac cooled off, and the defense couldn’t stop the Pistons in the final quarter, it was a recipe for disaster and a 104-92 loss.
Detroit had gone on their own dry spell in the second quarter when they missed 10 shots in a row and fell behind 34-26. But you knew the Pistons, only two seasons removed from a World Championship, were too good of a team to fold and die.
They came roaring back and managed to close their deficit to 52-50 at halftime. Both teams played to a stalemate in the third quarter (26-26), leading to the Rockets collapse in the fourth quarter where they were outscored 28-14.
Giving up 104 points to the Pistons is surprising considering the Rockets headed into the game giving up the least number of points per game this season on the road (about 91) and Detroit averaged about 90 ppg.
Even T-Mac admitted the Rockets’ shortcoming on defense:
“Our defense in the fourth quarter was bad, really bad. Until we change that, we’re going to keep having those results.”
Detroit’s defense did a good job forcing Yao and T-Mac farther from the basket, making the Rocket offense bog down, resulting in turnovers and bad shot selection. T-Mac only hit 2-of-7 field goals in the second half and scored 24 points. He was also limited in playing time because of foul trouble, a rarity, but considering he was playing against Richard Hamilton, it’s somewhat understandable.
Pistons’ coach Flip Saunders revealed after the game his strategy in using Rasheed Wallace and the rest of his big men against Yao, who was 1-for-5 in the fourth:
“Sheed (Rasheed Wallace) is smart. Last year at times when we played (Yao Ming) we actually put Sheed on him and he did a nice job. He fought him and fought him. I told our guys going into the game, Yao gets a little bit tired in the fourth quarter so you got to keep running, keep on pushing and keep on fighting in there and try to wear him down to the fourth quarter. I think we did that.”
Chauncey Billups said after the game, “(Wallace) played Yao really well, we cut Yao out running so many pick and rolls and making him play out on the perimeter because he is really unstoppable.”
The Rockets turned it over at least 5 times in the fourth quarter (two by Yao), went 7 minutes without a field goal, and shot only 26% (5-of-19) while Detroit went on a 13-0 to put the game out of reach.
One thing is for sure. T-Mac needs to stop shooting 3-pointers. He was 1-for-5 in the game, and is shooting 28% from behind the arc for the season.
Yao was phenomenal in those first 3 quarters, giving the Ben Wallace-less Pistons problems down low, getting fouled numerous times, and making them pay by hitting 17-of-20 free throws.
He also threw several nifty passes for 4 assists, and only committed one personal foul. On the downside, he turned the ball over 8 times total.
The Rockets next play the Knicks in New York, and I have a bad feeling about that game. The Knicks are very explosive and gave the Rockets all kinds of fits last week in Houston.