The dismal games the Rockets played right before Yao Ming came back from his injury are quickly becoming a distant memory. They put the ‘pedal to the metal’ late in the third quarter and early in the fourth on a 15-0 run to put away the pesky New Jersey Nets, cruising to a 112-91 win. That’s two games in row where the Rockets have scored 111 points or more (they had 111 against Boston Wednesday night).
Yao is starting to hit his stride very quickly, having his best game since coming back 3 games ago. In just 30 minutes of play, Yao scored 24 points (6-of-11 shooting) and grabbed 13 boards. And let’s not forget about that wonderful free throw shooting stroke, the not-much-talked-about part of his game. He was 12-of-13 from the line. Those numbers just send chills down my spine. What a weapon.
It’s hard to believe that one player like Yao can increase the Rockets’ scoring average so much, even when he’s playing only 30 minutes a game. But that’s what is happening as Yao makes things so much easier for everyone, including Tracy McGrady.
T-Mac scored 34 points in 34 minutes, dished 5 dimes, and he’s loving Yao’s return back in the lineup.
“It’s good having another guy the defense can key on,” McGrady said. “We have a low-post presence, something we’ve been missing for two months. It’s great to have him back. For us to win in the playoffs, we’re going to have to have that. He’s progressing every game.”
But just like the minor injury Yao had with his dislocated middle finger in Boston, he experienced another minor injury Friday night. This time to his thigh.
“I got hit in the first half,” Yao said. “The deep muscle had a burning feeling. It felt weird. In the second half, as time is going on, I’m not overthinking it. In the second half I had a one-time sprint and I had to stretch a little bit and the lead was at about 20, and I felt I wanted to go to the bench and get it checked a little bit. It’s fine. That’s experience I learned from last year. If you have anything, check it.”
Yao did come back into the game in the fourth quarter, really just to get more conditioning since the game was very much under control. You gotta love the Big Guy. He could have easily sat out and taken the rest of the evening off, but he’s looking to take advantage of game situations and get his reps in. Great example of why he’s considered one of the hardest working guys in the NBA.
The Rocket who is under the radar and starting to impress me again is Chuck Hayes. Clearly being the beneficiary of Yao and T-Mac being in the lineup, he scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shots, with some of those buckets coming on beautiful, athletic plays in the paint! What has gotten into this guy? He’s suddenly becoming an offensive force. He also grabbed 7 boards.
Luther Head (10 points) and Rafer Alston (12 points) are also benefiting from Yao’s presence down low. Alston hit 4-of-9 three-pointers, and Head made 2-of-3 treys.
Finally, with these past two blowout wins, guys at the end of the bench like John Lucas, Steve Novak, Billy Spanoulis, and Jake Tsakalidas are getting a few minutes of playing time. Funny how one guy can make such a difference. You don’t hear much about the Rockets not needing Yao now.