Before the Rockets’ game on Wednesday against the Spurs, Tracy McGrady vowed they would come out ready to play after one of their most disappointing losses of the season against Denver the game before.
So I was watching very carefully to see what kind of start the Rockets would have in San Antonio.
It turns out T-Mac was wrong, at least at the start. The Rockets turned the ball over 4 times to start the game, couldn’t hit anything, and quickly were down 12-2.
I was thinking, “How could these guys guarantee they would be ready, and then stink up the joint like this?”
But the Rockets recovered, kept the game close, even took a big 13–point lead in the fourth quarter, blew that, but held on for a 90-85 win.
McGrady ended up being The Man at the end, redeeming himself with his vow that he would be ready. He scored 37 points on 14-of-24 shooting and made 8-of-9 free throws. He also had three assists, all which came on three consecutive possessions when he drew the double-team, then kicked it to Juwan Howard for buckets. Those plays were artistry in motion. He scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to hold off a Spurs’ charge that almost ended up with another late-game Houston collapse.
His biggest miscue, and recovery, occurred with about a minute remaining in the game. The Rockets led 85-81, and T-Mac was stripped bringing the ball up the court. He almost recovered it, but he slipped, and that led to a layup by Tim Duncan (37 points) to cut the lead to 85-83.
On the ensuing possession, McGrady made up for it by hitting a huge 20-foot jumper, was fouled on the shot, and hit the free throw to give the Rockets a 5-point cushion with 55 seconds remaining.
The Spurs’ Manu Ginobili responded just a few seconds later to cut the lead 88-85. After that, the Rockets needed a big hoop to fend off the Spurs, but Rafer Alston came up empty on a running jumper.
That gave the Spurs a chance to tie the game. However, Brent Barry passed up a three-pointer and dumped it down low to Tim Duncan, who had good D played against him as he missed a short bank shot off the glass. Alston came up with the rebound, got fouled, and surprisingly hit both free throws to sew up the victory, 90-85.
I have to give Alston credit for hitting those free throws. He’s not known as the best clutch FT-er in the game. He also had a decent stat line: 19 points on 7-of-15 shots, 3-of-6 three-pointers, 7 assists and only two turnovers. All the Houston Chronicle guys are giving him credit for a good game. And yes, he deserves some praise.
But the maddening thing for me is the fact he could be so much better. He’s a quick guard who can get to the rim anytime he wants. Except on a few rare occasions, he just can’t finish. Except for a big bucket where he floated a teardrop over Duncan in the fourth quarter, he blew several easy layups in this game, too. ESPN mentioned how Alston realizes he’s now known as not being a great finisher. So you would think he would avoid his weakness by not taking it to the rim so much and sending his second-lowest FG% in the league (for a starter) to even greater depths.
One other mental lapse had: late in the game there was a jump ball between T-Mac and Tony Parker. You know T-Mac was going to win that jump, and you knew exactly where he was going to tip it: right where Alston and another Rocket (can’t remember who) lined up next to each other. That’s just how you play jump balls.
But Alston fell asleep and let Brent Barry get behind him as the ref threw the ball up in the air. T-Mac tipped it right where it should have been tipped, behind Alston, and there was Barry to catch it.
Okay, enough of my Alston bashing. Since he had a good stat line, I’ll lay off for now.
To finish up on a positive note, you have to give credit to the Rockets for pulling out a huge victory without Yao on the road against a 30-13 team, and to do it after one of their worst losses of the season against Denver at home without Carmelo Anthony in the line-up. The Rockets have won two in a row in San Antonio, something that hasn’t happened in 10 years.
Now the Rockets come home for 5-straight games against what TV analyst Bill Walton called “cupcakes” (I love it): Portland, Philly, Seattle, New Orleans/OKC, and Minnesota. All teams with losing records.
If the Rockets don’t win all 5 of these games, then it will be very easy to forget about this big W against the Spurs.