Many times Jeff Van Gundy will say that getting payback against a team should not be a motivating factor for teams. Instead, a game should be played without much regard for what has happened in the past, but to do what is expected of you and focus on the task at hand. That may be true. But it’s hard to believe that was all that was involved with what we saw Friday night for the Rockets in Toronto.
Here are the facts. Tracy McGrady had another outstanding game against his former team (22 points, 6 rebounds 5 assists), the team he averages the most points against.
Rafer Alston almost had a triple-double (23 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds) against the team that traded him before the start of last season (if he keeps playing like this, the rest of the league should watch out–the Rockets will be title contenders. But that’s a big ‘IF’).
And Houston came out fast in the first quarter and built a huge 22-point lead in the first half, making a statement against the same Raptor team that had spanked the Rockets 106-90 on February 28th in Houston. This time it was the Rockets’ turn, beating Toronto 114-100 in their own gym.
And this isn’t the first example of the Rockets getting payback. Just 9 days ago on March 7th, the Rockets came out with a vengeance against Boston to redeem themselves for a collapse against the Celtics eight days prior.
Another reason was because this was the first time Yao Ming had the opportunity to inflict pain on the Raptors in over two years, with the Raptors having won all 3 of those games since. Yao didn’t score the 40 points or grab 10 boards like he did on December 20th, 2004. But he did get a double-double in this one, scoring 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting, and grabbed 12 boards.
You’ve got to be impressed with the Rockets for beating a fairly good Toronto team that had won their last 5 games. But when you don’t have a low-post presence and rely too much on outside shots like they did in their blowout victory against the Rockets on February 28th, you’re going to be more prone to bad shooting nights.
This time it was the Rockets turn to use the outside shot to build a big lead. Houston hit 5-of-5 three-pointers in the first quarter, with Alston getting two of them on consecutive possessions, thanks to T-Mac and Yao getting all the attention and leaving him wide open.
During a 19-2 run the Rockets made 7 shots in a row while the Raptors missed 7 consecutive , propelling the Rockets to a 35-18 lead at the end of one. And this occurred with Yao missing his first 3 shots, but he did come back to make 2-of-2 to end the quarter, including a sweet left-handed hook shot in the lane with a beautiful flick of the wrist.
Everyone played well in that first quarter, including Shane Battier (2-of-2 on three-pointers as well), Chuck Hayes (2-of-2 in the lane), and McGrady (5-of-7 shots). It was one of the best first quarters of the year for the Rockets, and was the fifth time out of six that they had scored 30 or more points in the first quarter. It’s nice to see the Rockets are getting off to better starts and not having to expend a lot of energy to make huge comebacks. It’s no coincidence the Rockets have won 5 of their last 6 games, too.
In the second quarter, Yao went up against a much skinnier Andrea Bargnani down low and had his way with him. On one possession he grabbed not one, but two strong rebounds against Bargnani before getting fouled by him. Then later Yao laid one in easily, taking Bargnani to school.
But I’m not feeling sorry for Bargnani. For being a rookie, the dude gets a lot of favorable calls from the refs. On one play he ran into John Lucas, and Lucas was called for the foul. A few minutes later, he did the same thing to Juwan Howard and got the call.
It got a little scary in the second quarter when the Raptors went on a run and looked like they were going to make an incredible comeback. The worst indicator of a potential collapse occurred when Luther Head was dribbling over to the Rockets bench, as was every player, to prepare for a timeout. But Luther let a Raptor guard come up to him and tap the ball away, and Luther was called for a loose ball foul trying to make up for his turnover. That put Jorge Garbajosa on the line, who made 1-of-2 free throws, and the lead was cut to 54-42.
That’s when Van Gundy put Battier and Alston into the game, and Battier responded with a hook shot in the lane, and T-Mac found Yao down low for an easy dunk, and the Rockets went back up 58-42.
But the Raptors wouldn’t go away. What had been a 22-point deficit in the middle of the second quarter was cut to 9 points by halftime. Alot of it was because of the disparity in fouls called. At one point in the second quarter, the Rockets had 12 fouls called against them compared to three against the Raptors.
Another reason was because Yao continued to struggle, making only 2-of-6 shots in the second quarter.
Although Yao was struggling, midway through the third quarter he made two jumpers that gave them some breathing room to make it 73-60, and that was the boost they needed to keep the Raptors a comfortable distance away the rest of the game to win convincingly 114-100.
The key to this Rocket victory was clear in 4 statistical categories. First, they outrebounded Toronto 47-33 (remember the lack of size down low for Toronto that I mentioned earlier?).
Second, the Rockets only committed 11 turnovers.
Third, they had 28 assists on 45 field goals compared to 19 assists on 37 field goals for Toronto.
Finally, they made 10-of-27 three-pointers compared to Toronto only hitting 2-of-9. What a difference a couple of weeks make when Toronto hit 10-of-14 treys against the Rockets.