The Rockets almost pulled off a miraculous comeback against the Lakers Friday night. Down by 27 points in the fourth quarter, they came storming back on a 26-1 run mainly by going ‘small’ with reserves like Steve Novak, Scott Padgett, Luther Head, Chuck Hayes and John Lucas III.
If it hadn’t been for 4-of-6 MISSED free throws in the final two minutes, the Rockets could have had a comeback story for the ages. Unbelievably, Scott Padgett missed two free throws in a row that could have tied it, and Luther Head and Chuck Hayes both missed 1-of-2 free throws before that.
I’ve got to give props to Jeff Van Gundy for leaving these guys in the game as they ratcheted up the defensive intensity to cool off the hot-shooting Lakers, who went on a huge run themselves in the third quarter. The Rocket subs got back into the game by throwing caution to the wind by jacking up three-pointers and taking it to the hole aggressively. It almost worked.
You have to question Van Gundy leaving some of these guys in a little too long after they pulled within two points, such that they were dog-tired down the stretch and couldn’t hit throws with wobbly legs. They had expended so much energy trying to get back into it, they apparently didn’t have the strength to finish it out.
The Rockets were also robbed when Kwame Brown committed goaltending by tipping in a Kobe Bryant missed layup attempt with 57 seconds remaining when only up by two points, but the refs didn’t call it as the Rockets’ bench erupted. That no-call was a backbreaker.
Luther Head picked up the slack for an injured Tracy McGrady by more than doubling his average point total to 21 points. T-Mac’s injury could really give Luther the chance to become a star. And John Lucas III showed the world the same energy and scoring ability he showed me at the Vegas Summer League where he absolutely dominated. So although the Rockets will dearly miss T-Mac while he’s out because of back spasms, it will be fun to watch these guys – along with Vassilis Spanoulis – step out from behind his shadow, improve as players, and improve their bench depth over the long-haul.
The Rockets went to Yao early to milk his hot hand after that 38-point outburst last Saturday night against Washington. He made 5 of his first 6 six shots and scored 12 in the quarter. Kwame Brown couldn’t stop him, getting scored on early and picking up two early fouls.
Yao scored 9 more points in the second quarter to finish the half with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting. By that time, no one really stepped up to replace T-Mac’s missing points other than Juwan Howard with 10 points in the second quarter. Rafer was 2-for-7. Shane Battier was 1-for-6. Still, the Rockets only trailed 54-51.
The third quarter was all Lakers, showing they are for real this year by going on a 30-13 run and making 65% of their shots while Houston turned the ball over a whopping 10 turnovers and making only 4-of-13 field goals.
Since they couldn’t stop the Lakers and were trailing 84-64 heading into the fourth quarter, and extended it to 90-64 with 10:36 remaining, Van Gundy had enough and decided to go with a smaller, quicker team and give his subs a chance. Out went Yao, Juwan, Alston and Shane. In came Chuck Hayes, Padgett, Lucas, and Novak. Luther stayed in the game.
The Lakers extended their lead to 93-66, but the subs went on that amazing 26-1 run with a no-holds barred attitude offensively, great defense and rebounding. Here’s how it all went down with 10 minutes remaining in the game:
93-68: Novak hits a running jumper with 9:27 remaining
93-71: Luther hits a three-pointer with 8:42 remaining
93-73: Luther hits another jumper with 7:49 remaining
94-72: Kobe makes 1-of-2 free throws with 7:34 remaining
94-75: Novak makes a trey with 6:52 remaining
94-77: Luther makes a jumper with 6:19 remaining
94-79: Chuck Hayes scores on a layup with 5:57 remaining
94-81: John Lucas III makes a jumper with 5:08 remaining. Now down by only 13 points. A complete comeback may be possible.
94-84: Scott Padgett makes a trey with 4:35 remaining
94-87: Lucas makes a huge trey with 4:02 remaining. Phil Jackson decides to put his starters back in the game.
94-90: Luther makes another three with 2:54 remaining
94-91: Luther makes one of two free throws with 2:01 remaining
94-92: Chuck Hayes misses one of two free throws with 1:38 remaining
– Scott Padgett is fouled on a defensive rebound, and he goes to the line and misses both free throws that could have tied the game. The second attempt teased everyone by rolling around the inside of the rim, then spinning out. You could tell he was either weary from the effort expended to get back into the game, was thinking way too much when shooting those throws, or both.
96-92: No goaltending is called on Kwame Brown’s tip-in when it should have been with :57 remaining. This no-call was huge.
– Novak misses a trey.
98-92: Smush Parker scores on a runner in the lane.
Here’s a couple of other tidbits from the game:
I thought the game was poorly officiated, like the goaltending on Brown that wasn’t called, Yao getting fouled as he was going up for a sure layup late in the game with no call, and a couple of other blown calls!
Yao only scored five points in the second half and finished with 26 points overall. In the second half, the Lakers defense tightened up and forced Yao to throw the ball away numerous times or get it stripped. For the game, Yao turned it over 6 times.
Bonzi Wells finally got a chance to fill the T-Mac void and didn’t do much in the third quarter, which was expected since he hardly has played this season. But he did show some nice passing skills by dishing a nice, selfless touch-pass to Yao down low for a dunk.
It was very strange, but good, to see all of the Rockets’ starters on their feet cheering with the crowd as the subs pulled them out of their hole. On average that only happens once or twice a season.