With all the excitement of Houston’s home opener Saturday night against Portland, the Rockets lived up to expectations that a revamped bench and a 2-0 record have created by taking command early and not being threatened too much by a young Blazer team.
The Rockets started off the first quarter on an 18-4 run, led by Yao Ming scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting. In that first quarter, he hit a fallaway jumper, a jump hook, a wicked spin move on the baseline for a layup, and a dunk! Yao would finish the night with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Not a bad night for a guy who says he still feels uncomfortable spending 50% of his time in the high post.
Yao missed several easy jump shots in the second half that makes me a little concerned about his shooting accuracy. That’s the second game in a row where he has hit a dry spell within a game. But hopefully it’s only temporary and he’ll get those fallaways and jump hooks on target soon.
Tracy McGrady was also phenomenal in that first quarter run, taking the ball strong to the hole for his first two buckets (thanks to more open lanes in the paint), then hitting a long jumper, then capping off the first quarter with a long 3-pointer. That gave him 9 points for the quarter on 4-of-8 shooting.
To finish the first quarter, McGrady started some phenomenal ball movement on the Rockets’ last possession of the quarter by passing to Luis Scola at the top of the key, who quickly passed it to Bonzi Wells to the side of the basket, who quickly drew defenders on a pump fake and dished it to Yao for a dunk. All of this happened in 4 seconds and showed Adelman’s new offense is really encouraging the sharing of the rock. With that, the Rockets held a 25-12 lead heading into the second quarter and things were looking rosy.
Meanwhile, the Blazers continued to struggle offensively, shooting only 30% in the first half and falling behind by 22 points at one point.
By halftime, the Rockets led 46-31 and held a 13-4 advantage in assists. The inverse was true in the turnover column where Portland had 13 turnovers to only four for Houston.
In the second half, Portland would close it to within 8 points as the Rockets’ offense started to bog down. But once things got a little close, the Rockets’ deep bench really made a difference where last season’s group probably would have caved in. Luis Scola (8 points, 8 boards), Mike James (17 points), and Bonzi Wells (6 points, 4 boards) were there to help Yao and McGrady hold off the pesky Blazers.
I love Scola’s game, by the way. There was one play where he had to stretch out his body awkwardly to grab an offensive rebound off the glass, and put it back in off the glass all while in mid-air! It’s one thing to do that when you jump straight up, but to have your body jack-knifed while moving away from the basket AND to lay it in while in mid-air? That’s something you don’t see too often.
Scola’s stats aren’t that great right now (although I’ll take 8 boards from him any day), but the season is young, and his hustle and intensity make it clearly evident he will give lots of opposing power forwards problems this season! FINALLY WE HAVE A TRUE POWER FORWARD!
As much as Yao has expressed his concern that he’s having trouble playing in the high-post in this young season, he didn’t show he was uncomfortable during one stretch in the second half. At the 8:17 mark of the 3rd quarter, Yao was near the right elbow of the lane and threw a perfect pass to Chuck Hayes cutting to the basket for a layup. Yao had a similar play in the first game of the season against the Lakers when he found McGrady for a slam dunk.
Then on the next possession, Yao was in the high post again, dropped the ball off to a cutting Rafer Alston who penetrated into the lane and hit a teardrop for a bucket, giving the Rockets a 54-42 lead. By clearing out the lane occasionally for other players like McGrady, Alston, Bonzi, Scola, James, and Shane Battier to drive into the lane, Yao is really giving the offense another dimension that will keep opposing defenses guessing. And if any of those players miss, Yao is most likely moving toward the basket to scoop up some offensive rebounds and get some tip-ins.
You just didn’t see that much during the Jeff Van Gundy era, and it shows Yao is getting the new Rick Adelman offense. After so many early exits in the playoffs, I believe the Rockets must become more multi-faceted so defenses can’t just pound away on Yao inside. Yao has the skills to play outside and inside. He just has to dust off those old high-post skills that have basically been dormant the past 4 years.
The rest of the game was uneventful for the most part as the Rockets’ offense got sloppy, their defensive intensity waned, and the Blazers pulled a little closer. But it seemed every time they threatened, the Rockets would turn it on, thanks to the new power generation of Luis Scola, Mike James, and Wells.
That’s the second time this young season I’ve used that phrase “new power generation.” I kind of like it as a nickname for Houston’s bench. It’s a take-off of Prince’s band awhile back, but it seems to fit well with the Rockets’ theme of “power” (like the Rockets’ Power Dancers). So what do you think of it? If you like it, help spread the word (and give me credit, of course). 🙂
The only other things that stood out for me during the second half was Houston announcer Clyde Drexler saying that “Daryl Morley” (sic) had done a great job in building the Rockets’ roster this off-season, and the Houston crowd chanting “We Want Steve (Francis)!” when the Rockets held a 15-point lead in the middle of the third quarter.
I was hoping the Rockets could blow the game open so we could see a little of Francis, but unfortunately Houston never was able to put Portland completely away and needed to keep the big guns in the game.
The Rockets now head to Dallas on Monday night 3-0 feeling good about themselves (their best start in 11 years) with the expectation they will shock a few of the “elite” teams this year. It can all start Monday night in Big D.