Unfortunately this blog entry has to be somewhat short because of some work I had to get done tonight. But I have to say that I was impressed with the up-tempo style of play the Rockets played against the Seattle Sonics to win 95-90.
Yao Ming was the man (again), scoring 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting and hitting all 11 of his free throws. The Sonics didn’t have anyone who could stop him, and they obviously don’t have the personnel to play the kind of team defense that Golden State or Phoenix plays against him.
Probably the most exciting play that involved Yao occurred with 5:06 remaining in the third quarter with the Rockets up 62-59.
Yao was running down court on a fast break and got great position down low on Nick Collison. Yao went up for the shot as his body was moving toward the basket, and Collison put his right arm on Yao’s hip while also pulling down on Yao’s shooting arm with his left hand.
Yao has a tendency to fall to the floor on these kinds of shots, probably because he’s so big and it’s safer for him to have his body fall to the floor — like a stuntman would — than try to use his legs to stop all the momentum behind his upper body.
But with Collison having his arms on Yao as he was falling, it looked like it was a flagrant foul, but in my opinion it was really hard to tell if Yao’s falling to the ground was all of a result of Collison, or Yao was falling anyway, or a little bit of both.
After the game, Yao definitely thought Collison pulled him down. But if you look at the slow-motion replays carefully, it showed Yao had a lot of momentum as he was falling to the floor, and that it could have been deceiving. Regardless, if you watched the game in live action like the refs saw it, you would think it was flagrant, and that’s what they called.
When Yao hit the floor, he was writhing in pain and held his elbow after hitting it hard on the floor. Seeing Yao be the victim of a called flagrant foul by the refs, and also in pain, T-Mac took exception to Collison’s foul on Yao. Wanting to protect his big man and make a statement, T-Mac came up to him and shoved him with his right hand.
Collison didn’t like T-Mac’s shove and yelled an expletive toward T-Mac, and that’s when a few players on each side looked like they were going to start brawlin’. But things calmed down quickly, Yao got up, his elbow was fine, and play continued.
T-Mac was called for a technical for pushing Collison, and Damien Wilkins hit the technical free throw. Then Yao stepped to the line and made both free throws that resulted from the flagrant foul. Then on the next possession, Yao hit a turnaround jumper to make it 66-60.
On the next Rockets’ possession, the onslaught from Yao continued — he was fouled and made both free throws. And on the possession after that, Yao threw down an alley-oop dunk from a Juwan Howard lob to score his 7th and 8th points in a row, which opened up a 70-62 lead
Yao would hit one more bucket in the third to finish with 15 points in the quarter, and the Rockets held a 76-70 lead. After the game, Yao responded his way to “get back” was that he was determined to score anytime he touched the ball after the flagrant foul.
Seattle would cut the lead to as little as two points in the fourth quarter, 76-74, with 10:34 remaining, but the Rockets were able to hold on and pull away with the win.
It was an exciting game to watch not only because of Yao’s 31 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. But also because of T-Mac’s offensive aggressiveness which he continued from the night before in Portland after scoring 40 points.
T-Mac put up 24 shots and made 10 of them to pour in 27 points. He scored 21 of those points in the first half. Yao liked what he saw from T-Mac:
“Tracy, in the last two games, he played very, very aggressive. He wasn’t just pulling up at the perimeter and trying to make assists to his teammates and shooting jumpers. He was attacking the basket. That is the T-Mac we need in the playoffs. I really like it.”
T-mac also chipped in 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals for the game. His push of Collison probably didn’t hurt the team get more focused, either.
Luther Head was solid with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting, and 3 steals on the defensive side of the ball.
Even Rafer Alston didn’t shoot as badly as normal, scoring 12 points on 5-of-12 shots, although he was only 2-of-7 from behind the arc.
Let’s not forget about the other big guys. Dikembe Mutombo was a monster on the boards, grabbing 10 of ‘em, 7 offensive. And Juwan Howard was able to put together a decent shooting night, hitting 3-of-5 shots for 6 points.
Last but not least, although Shane Battier didn’t score (0-for-4 from the field), he blanketed Rashard Lewis by contesting many of his shots, including 4 in a row in the fourth quarter that he all missed. Lewis only made 6-of-24 of his shots for the game.
Perhaps one of my favorite plays occurred in the second half when Battier had fallen to the floor on the defensive end along the baseline, but I think it was Yao who tipped a ball toward his way that was going to sail out of bounds. But Battier was able to lift himself off the floor just enough to bat the ball to a teammate as he fell again to the floor to help the Rockets gain possession of the loose ball. It kind of reminded me of what volleyball players do when they “dig” for a ball just before they hit the sand.
A little bit of luck never hurts
What’s incredible is that with the win over Seattle on Monday night, the Rockets took over home court advantage (for now) in their first-round playoff series against the Jazz, who lost badly Monday night to Golden State 126-102. This means the Rockets are ½ game up on Utah with 4 games to play. Utah has 5 games remaining, with both teams scheduled to face offf against each other in the final game of the season. That game is going to be HUGE after all!
Who would have thought the Rockets could lose 3 of their last 5 games, including their game to Utah last Sunday that pushed the Rockets to 1 ½ games behind the Jazz, only to make up 2 games in the standings by going only 2-2 since then?
The remainder of the season is no doubt going to be very interesting, and I have to admit I might be tuning into some of the Jazz games on NBA League Pass to see if they are able to pull it all together or not.
I also may be watching Golden State on League Pass, too, to see if they can squeak into the playoffs by either jumping ahead the LA Clippers or Lakers to face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. After seeing what the Warriors did to the Jazz Monday night, and beating Houston earlier this week, it looks like they are for real and could give the Mavericks some real problems.