After beautiful offensive games where they had scored over 100 points in six of their last 7 contests, the Rockets finally had a game where they sputtered offensively, including lots of missed layups and shots around the basket. It’s strange how some of the Rockets’ stinkers have occurred at home.
But Houston overcame a lackluster performance on national TV against a sub-par Indiana team, turned on the juice in the game’s final minutes, and won 86-76.
That’s what good teams like Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix do. They can sleepwalk through a game and struggle offensively, but have their superstars kick it into a higher gear to win it down the stretch. That’s what happened Tuesday night with the Yao/T-Mac combination.
I’m not as upset as others may be with the Rockets’ lackadaisical showing on Tuesday. The Mavericks and Suns have been known to do it. And there are still 14 games to go before the playoffs, so if they played every night like they did against Philadelphia the other night and won by 50 points, there would be nowhere else for them to go but down. Now if the type of game they had on Tuesday night against Indiana occurred in the final week or two of the regular season as they are tuning up for the playoffs, then I would be more concerned.
But more importantly, the Rockets are going to have to stick with the players they already have. It’s not going to change before the playoffs, so we just have to get used to the fact that T-Mac, Rafer Alston, and Luther Head can struggle on any given night (more on that later), meaning a first or second-round exit in this year’s playoffs.
After missing 11 shots in a row and falling behind 67-65 to the Pacers with 8:34 remaining in the game, the Rockets finally got it going. Yao made two free throws to tie it (man, his awesome free throw shooting really came in hand tonight – he made 12-of-13).
Then with 7:33 remaining in the game, Yao had the ball down low, then passed it to a wide open T-Mac behind the arc for a smooth three-pointer that made it 70-67. It was the only trey that T-Mac would make all game long in 5 attempts during an off night where he only made 33% (7-of-21) of his shots.
Then on the next two possessions, Yao turned it on by hitting two easy, baseline jumpers that pushed the lead to 74-67 with 6:26 remaining. Yao had hit 8-of-14 shots up until that time, but he had struggled with 5 turnovers to that point.
The rest of the way, Houston continued to make shots. T-Mac would make another jumper, Juwan Howard hit two consecutive jumpers, Shane Battier made a three-pointer, and Yao would hit 3-of-4 free throws to put the Pacers away.
By the time it was over, Yao finished with a “quiet” 32 points and 14 boards. I say it’s quiet because the whole game the Rockets couldn’t get any breathing room against the Pacers, and as a team they struggled by making only 39% of their shots, 24% of their three-pointers, and had 17 turnovers.
But at least the Rockets cut down their turnovers during a 14-minute stretch in the third and fourth quarter where they only had two TO’s.
As poorly as T-Mac played, he still almost finished with a triple-double, scoring 20 points, grabbing 9 boards, and having 10 assists.
As great as Rafer Alston has been playing lately, he let another one of his AWOL games get into the mix. 1-of-8 shooting (0-for-6 from behind the arc) for 2 points. Luther Head was just as bad, making 1-of-9 shots for 3 points.
Don’t look for a return to a 100+ point game in the Rockets’ next game on Thursday night. They play the Detroit Pistons in Houston, currently the #1 seed in the East.