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Yao and company come up with big plays for dramatic win

March 15th, 2007
by John
Yao Ming prepares to make a strong move against the Clippers' Elton Brand Wednesday night.  Yao scored 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting and grabbed 6 boards...nothing special statistically.  But his presence down low continued to open up opportunities for other Rocket players, and he had a key steal late in the game to help pull out a clutch win, 109-105.Yao Ming prepares to make a strong move against the Clippers’ Elton Brand Wednesday night. Yao scored 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting and grabbed 6 boards…nothing special statistically. But his presence down low continued to open up opportunities for other Rocket players, and he had a key steal late in the game to help pull out a clutch win, 109-105. Click here for more photos from the game.

The Rockets blew a big lead again, this time Wednesday night against the Clippers. We’ve become accustomed to that this season. The difference this time around was that the Rockets maintained their composure and pulled out a victory in a game I thought they were going to lose. And they did it with a bevy of big plays down the stretch as the Rockets recovered from a 3-point deficit with 1:23 remaining.

First, after popping a wicked crossover that got him some daylight, T-Mac shot a jumper at the top of the key, which I thought was an ill-advised shot since I think he could have gotten a higher percentage one. But he drained it to make it 103-102, Clippers leading by one.

Then on the very next Clipper possession, Rafer Alston had the biggest steal I have ever seen him get in his career. He stripped Daniel Ewing of the ball, drove it to the hoop and scored a layup at a somewhat difficult angle with 1:12 remaining in the game. That gave the Rockets the lead at 104-103, and Toyota Center erupted!

That kind of thing just doesn’t happen to the Rockets, and doesn’t happen much in an NBA game for that matter. A steal to take the lead late in a game like that? I have bashed Rafer in the past, but I have to give him lot of credit on that steal.

You would have thought that play would have been the momentum the Rockets needed to put the game away, but the Clippers would not be denied. Namely, Elton Brand wouldn’t be denied. He showed why he’s The Man.

With a little over a minute remaining and Yao defending him one-on-one, Brand used his speed to get around Yao, took it to the rack and threw it down to give the Clips a 105-104 lead. You can’t blame Yao entirely on his defense, though. Chuck Hayes had fouled out of the game earlier in the quarter, so it was up to Yao to do what he could. Yao clearly needed help in double-teaming Brand since he is so much quicker than Yao, but he received no help.

On the next possession for the Rockets, for some reason they ran a pick-and-roll where Yao was the roller, not the picker. That’s a very low percentage play to have Yao moving down the lane with the ball late in the game. Remember the game last week against Cleveland where Zydrunas Ilgauskas threw himself in front of Yao after Yao started dribbling down the lane?

Well, it meant trouble again this time, too. Yao had nowhere to go but run into a defender for the offensive foul and the turnover. But again, I don’t think it was his fault. That type of play should have never been run. I was thinking, “Where’s the execution in the clutch?”

That execution finally came in the game’s final moments. After Brand missed a jumper with the Clippers still leading 105-104, T-Mac brought the ball up for the game’s critical play with about 15 seconds remaining. He made a strong move from the top of the three-point line down the edge of the lane for what looked like would be a decent shot at the hoop, although not a sure thing since he was moving so fast and the defense collapsed to him.

That’s when T-Mac showed his inspiring unselfishness and whipped a pass to Luther Head standing across the court by himself. Cool Hand Luke rose up and launched one of the most pressure-filled three-pointers in his career, AND DRAINED IT TO TAKE THE LEAD WITH 12 SECONDS IN THE GAME!!! WOW!!!

I’ve seen Luther hit a lot of threes this year, but none as big as that one. I’ve got to think it will help take his confidence to an even higher level, which is a fun thing to watch happen for a young player.

After taking a 107-105 lead with 12 seconds to play, all they needed was a stop…something that has been lacking in other tight games.

Who would have thought Yao would come up with a steal for the stop? That’s what happened as Elton Brand tried to throw a pass over Yao to a Clipper cutting toward the basket. Yao got a hand on the ball, tipped it, and Rafer Alston grabbed the loose ball and was fouled. You’ve got to thank Yao’s wingspan for getting a hand on that one, and sound defensive fundamentals in keeping his hands up for a possible deflection.

To close out a great game, Alston (20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 4-of-5 three-pointers, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals) shocked me by hitting both free throws, giving the Rockets a 109-105 lead with 5 seconds remaining. On the game’s final play, Alston came up with a steal of a Tim Thomas pass, and that was the ball game.

As dramatic and nail biting as this game was, I think it was the kind of game the Rockets need to prepare for the playoffs – a tight game where big plays are needed at the end to pull one out.

Rockets look like world beaters in first half

The Rockets came out with a vengeance after losing badly in Phoenix on Monday night. Houston made its first five shots and jumped out to a 12-0 lead. The hot shooting continued as they made 6 of their next 9 shot attempts, and ended up shooting 60% in the first quarter.

Chuck Hayes was awesome, getting great looks at the hoop because Yao and T-Mac were opening up space inside for him, and the Clippers were challenging him to do something by not defending them. Hayes made them pay by making 4-of-4 shots in the first quarter, 2-of-2 free throws, and scored 10 points! But they weren’t all cheap, easy shots. Some showed his improved offensive skill around the hoop. Of course, that’s good news for the Rockets who don’t want Hayes to be just a rebounding specialist like a la Dennis Rodman.

How’d Yao do?

Yao got in early foul trouble, picking up his third foul with 5:55 remaining in the second quarter. At the time he was 3-for-3 with 6 points, and the Rockets held a commanding 45-30 lead. However, Yao’s exit signaled the beginning of a 27-12 run that got the Clippers back into the game, and only trail 57-52 at halftime.

But the Rockets built the lead back up to 15 points with 3:24 remaining in the third quarter. However, Elton Brand took over, and in the next quarter or so, scored 17 points to lead the charge up to his monstrous dunk over Yao that gave the Clips a 105-104 lead.

When all the drama was over and the Rockets pulled out the W, the boxscore showed Yao with 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting, grabbed 6 boards, 3 assists, and two steals.

Hayes finished with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 6 boards. The power forward spot was solid on the other side, too, with Juwan Howard scoring 13 on 6-of-11 shooting. And Kirk Snyder showed he can make an impact, racking up 8 points in 16 minutes.

Last but not least, T-Mac made his strongest impact as a playmaker by dishing out 9 assists. My favorite assist from him was a behind-the-back bounce pass he whipped around his defender to Hayes cutting on the baseline for a layup. It was truly a masterpiece. A risky masterpiece that I would never endorse, unless it was garbage time. But since it worked, I can’t complain.

T-Mac also made 6-of-17 shots, relying on too many three-pointers (only 1-of-7), and finished with 21 points.

Now the Rockets head to Toronto for a Friday night game where they hope to get some payback.