I don’t care if Yao or T-Mac didn’t play Monday night, it’s unbelievable how the Rockets lost 77-72 at home to the team with the worst record in the NBA, a team had lost 12 road games in a row, and 22 of their last 23 games.
T-Mac had “flu-like symptoms.” If one of those symptoms was throwing up, then he and I may have the same sickness today. That’s what I feel like doing right now. Either that, or choke…just like the Rockets did.
Houston was outscored 28-10 down the stretch to a team that has Paul Pierce and a majority of their players with less than 2 years experience in the NBA.
Leading up to the Rockets’ fourth quarter collapse, it was probably one of the worst games played this season by two teams in the same game. In the first quarter, the Celtics shot 25% (6-of-24) and the Rockets were 6-of-21. Still, the Rockets led 22-14 after the first quarter. Bonzi Wells scored 10 points thanks to 6-of-7 shooting from the free throw line.
In the second quarter, the Rockets opened the lead up to 27-14, and I was thinking, “Okay, this is more like it.” But the Rockets let the Celtics chip into their lead, and by halftime their 13-point lead was down to six, 35-19, even with the Celtics missing 15 of 19 shots, 5-of-6 three pointers, and missing 6 of 12 shots. That’s because the Rockets didn’t shoot much better, missing 12 of 16 shots and missing 3-of-8 free throws.
In the third quarter, the shooting still sucked for both teams (Rockets made 35% of their shots and missed 4-of-7 free throws), but at least Houston had a 9 point lead on a hapless Celtics team, and that was without T-Mac in the lineup. I’ll take that kind of lead heading into the fourth.
They opened up a 13-point lead with 9 minutes remaining and 12-point lead with 7:30 minutes left on the clock. But that’s when the bottom fell out. The Houston offense stagnated, with Luther Head jacking up threes. It became so predictable, one of his three-pointers was blocked.
Then Head dropped a pass on the inbounds play. That was just one of several turnovers Head had (4) since he was handling the ball more with T-Mac out and trying to make too much happen.
Rafer Alston and Shane Battier also jacked up some three-pointers in the fourth quarter that missed. Then Juwan Howard took it upon himself to take it to the basket (not a high percentage shot), and was blocked on a controversial no-call. Then Alston threw a bad pass to Bonzi, and the ball was tipped by Boston’s Delonte West for a turnover.
Meanwhile, Boston outhustled the Rockets to go on a 10-0 run in 3 ½ minutes to come all the way back and take a 70-68 lead. Then Paul Pierce hit a tough fallaway three-pointer to make it 73-68 with 25.9 seconds remaining. That capped an unbelievable 24-6 run.
Houston went to a strategy to foul Boston and hopefully have them miss at the free thow line, but they were stupid in letting their best foul shooter on the floor, Delonte West (84% FT shooting), easily get the inbounds pass, requiring them to foul him and send him to the line. He made all 4 FT attempts down the stretch to seal it.
Okay, here’s the really ugly part — Houston’s shooting that contributed to their worst shooting percentage (32%) of the season. Shane Battier: 1-of-12 (shocking!). Alston: 1-of-11. Luther Head: 3-of-11. Three-point shooting: 1-of-22. In my mind, the Rockets missed a lot of those shots in the fourth (0-of-8 from behind the arc) not only because T-Mac wasn’t there to give them better looks. It was also because Boston’s younger legs and frenetic pace wore the Rockets down in the fourth quarter and they didn’t have their legs underneath them.
As a team, they shot 32% from the field, their worst for the season, and scored their fewest number of points. They were also out-rebounded 53-48, their fifth consecutive game where they lost the battle on the boards.
Van Gundy had this to say after the game: “I don’t like our transition defense. I abhor our rebounding and our pursuit of loose balls. What has bailed us out in a couple of those games (we have won lately) has been our three-point shooting. Tonight we didn’t make (3-point shots), so we had to rely on our foundation, which is defense, rebounding and low turnovers, and in the fourth quarter all three abandoned us.”
The only bright spot was Bonzi Wells scoring 27 points on 8-of-16 shooting, but he only made 11-of-16 free throws. The other was Jake Tsakalidas, who grabbed 10 boards and scored 7 points on 3-of-4 shooting. He played pretty well in the second half when the Rockets needed some offense, but having not played very much this season, he tired out in 21 minutes of action.
It was a tough loss for Houston since they are trying to keep up with the Spurs to get one of the top 4 playoff seeds in the Western Conference that would give them home court advantage in first round of the playoffs at least. They are now 3.5 games behind San Antonio. Looking at losses to teams like the Hornets, Hawks (Friday night), and now Boston, it will be painful if the Rockets miss getting home court because of lapses to some of the worst teams in the league.