I have seen a lot of fantastic performances by Yao over the past 5 seasons, but the game he had Saturday night against the Washington Wizards ranks as one of his best ever.
With an ailing T-Mac in the locker room because of back spasms (oh no, not again!), Yao took over and scored 23 points in the fourth quarter on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting from the field, and 11-of-12 from the line. His points mainly came from unstoppable fallaway jumpers, capped with a baseline jumper while falling out of bounds with 11.4 seconds remaining to expand a one-point lead to three, 112-109. The Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas missed a 3-pointer that could have tied it, and Shane Battier sank two free throws to seal the victory, 114-109.
Yao finished with a season-high 38 points on 13-of-19 field goals, 11 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. My goodness, Yao is indeed worthy of NBA MVP consideration.
With T-Mac’s back acting up again on a night where he was pretty good himself (28 points on 10-of-21 shooting, but 1-of-5 from three-point range), Yao knew he had to take over in the fourth quarter.
“(McGrady) was out in the fourth quarter, and it was very tough to score,” Yao said. “I was thinking, ‘Do more.’
“It a little bit changed my play. I was more aggressive. Tracy, who is the best player on our team, is out, and somebody had to step up.”
It’s comical how the Associated Press writer for the game watered down Yao’s performance and attributed it to Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood having to leave the game because of injury. There may be just a little truth in that, but to have that be the leading theme in the story smacks of more anti-Yao thinking we had thought had finally been put to rest. You can read the AP writer’s take on the game by clicking here.
As much as this cat tried to downplay Yao’s game, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan gave Yao the ultimate respect after the game:
“I don’t think anybody has an answer. If you have personnel to look him in the eye a little bit, just a little bit, that helps. But the guy has an arsenal that I haven’t seen before. He is equally dominant on either box. Now you tell me: Who in the history of the NBA can you say that about?”
“Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was dominant on the left box and darn good on the right. This guy shoots turnaround jump shots, gets post-ups, makes free throws. He does everything.”
While watching the game, here were some of the other plays that stood out to me:
1st quarter – Luther Head led a fast break that ended with a beautiful alley-oop to T-Mac for a dunk. I hadn’t seen that from the Rockets in awhile.
2nd quarter – Gilbert Arenas scored 19 points in the quarter alone, at one point scoring 13 of the Wizards’ points in a row. Rafer Alston led a break and faked a behind-the-back pass to T-Mac to juke his defender, then laid it in easily. Very Skip-to-my-Lou-ish!
2nd & 3rd quarter – Alston scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. While Yao is out resting, T-Mac takes over and scores 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting and 5-of-7 free throws.
4th quarter – With the Rockets leading 90-87 with 7:34 remaining, Juwan Howard foolishly fouls Antawn Jamison while shooting a 3-pointer, and on top of that, was called for a technical for reacting to the call, which led to a 4-point play. Big mistake that keeps Washington in the game. But Luther hits two huge three-pointers down the stretch to help the Rockets maintain the lead.
Even though Gilbert Arenas scored 41 points, overall, the Rockets defense played very well, holding the high-scoring Wizards to 39.7% shooting. 12 total blocks by the Rockets definitely helped. Houston shot lights out: 55%.
Now the main thing that concerns the Rockets is the future of T-Mac’s back. This is much more concerning than the concussion he had last week. If he’s going to continue to have problems with his back like he did last season, then it was a bad night overall, even with Yao’s amazing performance.
Click here for the Houston Chronicle game story.