Maybe the Rockets should play the rest of their games on the road. After losing 3 in a row at home this past week, the Rockets went into Sacramento against a tough crowd at Arco Arena, and came back from a 8-point second half deficit to win 112-106.
It helped that Yao and T-Mac were back in the lineup together for the first time since their 3-game losing streak started.
The Rockets got off to a great start, with Yao scoring 9 of the Rockets’ first 11 points. One of those scores included T-Mac driving the lane, drawing the defense to him, and dishing to Yao for an easy dunk with Yao getting fouled. We sure missed that kind of play over the past 3 games.
For one moment, though, it looked like the Rockets’ season was going to be over when T-Mac twisted his ankle in the first quarter and went down in pain. On the replay, it looked like he had also hyperextended his knee, a much more serious injury. Thankfully, T-Mac returned to action after the ensuing timeout, and all was fine.
Sacramento opened up a 12-point lead in the second quarter, but the Rockets were able to whittle the lead down to 7 points by halftime. Yao and T-Mac both had 16 points. The strange thing was that the Rockets shot 53% compared to Sacramento’s 37%, but were still trailing.
In the third quarter, T-Mac took over. He dished two assists to Chuck Hayes for layups, and hit 6-of-8 shots — including two 3-pointers — for 16 points in the quarter alone. But the Rockets couldn’t make much of a dent in the Sacramento lead since they weren’t able to get defensive stops. But around the 4:07 mark, T-Mac hit a trey to cut it to 73-70, and the Rockets traded baskets with the Kings until about the 1:10 mark when Chuck Hayes got a dunk to put the Rockets ahead 81-80.
From then on, the Rockets couldn’t shake the Kings loose since Francisco Garcia kept hitting three-pointers (3 in the fourth quarter). But the Rockets countered with 3 three-pointers of their own, starting at the 6:40 mark when Luther Head hit two consecutive treys, with the second coming off a T-Mac-like three-pointer with his body moving to the right as the shot-clock buzzer went off. That big shot got the entire bench off their feet smiling. Houston capped off the long-range barrage when Rafer Alston hit a three to make it 98-91 with 5:22 remaining in the game, and held on for the win.
Yao wasn’t much of an influence in the second half because of foul troubles, including his fifth foul with 7:19 remaining, and scored only two points in the second half. But with T-Mac and Luther taking on the scoring load, they got by without him.
T-Mac finished the game with 40 points on 14-of-28 shooting, including 3-of-6 from the field, 8 rebounds and 10 assists. It’s games like these where you really have to wonder how hard it is to coach the Rockets since T-Mac is such a big part of their attack. Without him, they lose. I would take that job and get paid $5 million a year anytime.
Even though Yao was limited to 24 minutes of action because of his foul troubles, he finished with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, had 6 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
And Luther Head continued to show his value by hitting 5-of-6 shots, including an amazing 4-of-4 from behind the arc, to finish with 18 points.
Unfortunately, Rafer Alston’s shooting was abysmal again, hitting only 2-of-10 shots (and 1-of-7 from three-point land). One of them was a crazy drive to the basket where he completely missed iron on a reverse layup.
Jazzed about their chances?
Amazingly, the Rockets still have a chance to catch the Jazz for homecourt advantage in their first round playoff series, even after losing 3 in a row. The Jazz have also lost three games in a row, which means Houston is now 1/2 game behind Utah. The Rockets have 5 games remaining, while Utah has 6 games left, with tough matchups ahead with Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, and Houston.
Meanwhile, Houston plays Seattle next (on Monday night), Portland, New Orleans/OKC, Phoenix and Utah.
Nothing like a little suspense and homecourt advantage at stake to keep the Rockets motivated to close the regular season out on a strong note.