What an embarrassment. I’m not going to point the blame for the Rockets getting schooled by Phoenix Saturday night on playing five games in 7 days, like the Houston announcers did. I’m also not going to blame it on Tracy McGrady not being in the lineup. Those are cop-outs. (I’m kind of reminding myself of how JVG talks. Scary).
Instead, you’ve got to look at the major drop-off in defensive intensity under the Rick Adelman era. All the experts say he focuses on defense just as much as offense. But I have never, ever seen a team shoot 73% in a first half, and 62% overall, like Phoenix did Saturday night, and have as many open 3-pointers (which turned into 6-of-12 from behind the arc in the first half).
Sure, the Rockets’ offense looked good in the first quarter scoring 30 points to the Suns’ 37. But you knew they weren’t going to be able to keep up with the Suns, who kept pouring it on in the second and third quarters, hit half their shots in the third, hit three 3-pointers, and outscored the Rockets 25-19 in the third to take an insurmountable 94-76 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Rockets did cut the deficit down to 9 points in the fourth, but all Phoenix had to do was turn on the jets again by putting Steve Nash back into the game, and that was the ballgame.
Even Steve Francis’ first action of the season didn’t make any difference. With Adelman finally figuring out that Rafer Alston had to be replaced in this game starting in the second quarter (a little too late in coming, though), Francis was rusty, hitting only 3-of-11 shot to score 8 points. He did show an ability to penetrate into the lane a couple of times, including dishing a nice bounce pass to Yao for a layup attempt where Yao was fouled. But he also went brain dead a couple of times on defense trying to guard Leandro Barbosa. We’ll see if Adelman keeps playing Francis in lieu of giving Alston so many minutes. I wouldn’t mind it.
But to me, the second biggest story of the game right behind the Rockets’ bad defense was Yao Ming’s second bad night in a row. He was only 4-of-17 from the floor, which is about the worst I have seen him shoot when taking that many shots. He was having so many problems, he only played 22 minutes when Adelman decided to take him out and go small with Luis Scola playing center.
Bonzi Wells was even worse, going 0-for-6 from the field, including missing lots of layups, and missing two free throws. What the hell has happened to Bonzi all of a sudden, starting with his 1-of-9 shooting night against San Antonio? That’s Rafer-ish! Also shooting poorly was Chuck Hayes, who was 1-for-5. With Yao, Bonzi and Hayes struggling down low, it was going to be tough for the Rockets to win.
Thanks goodness Scola picked up right where he left off from Friday night in San Antonio, hitting 10-of-19 shots for 20 points and 11 rebounds against Phoenix. So did Mike James, who hit 6-of-12 shots for 17 points, and was the leading scorer for the Rockets in the first half with 15 points, while Yao only had 1 point at halftime. 1 point.
Adelman took out Bonzi because of his struggles and played Kirk Snyder to provide some athleticism to try to “hang” with the track meet the Suns were running. Luther Head also scored a season-high 16 points, including 4-of-7 from the three-point line. Finally, Adelman played Aaron Brooks in the game’s final minutes, who hit a three-pointer as well as beat speedster Leandro Barbosa to the basket for a layup. Now that’s speed. I have a feeling Brooks’ speed is going to come in handy later in the season.
Unlike last year, Yao was not able to carry the Rockets to a victory without McGrady since he hurt his elbow 3 games ago. Yao didn’t even come close to dominating, hitting only 11-of-33 (33%) over the past two games. He just seemed to be rushing his shots and didn’t look comfortable at all. But Yao won’t have to get too down on himself because McGrady is expected to play Wednesday night against Dallas after getting 3 extra days of rest. That will make a world of difference to Yao because most of the shots he makes that increase his shooting percentage usually come from McGrady keeping opposing defenses honest, leaving Yao with less pressure on him defensively. McGrady also has a great knack for getting Yao points as he’s moving to the basket, like on pick-and-rolls.
If there is one good thing that can come out of this four-game losing streak is that the Rockets now know how they stack up against the league’s best, and they know matching last season’s 52 wins is not going to be a cakewalk like many thought it would be. It’s now time to get to work to fix all their problems, and they will have 3 days to work on it until they play Dallas (again) on Wednesday night. Hopefully defense will be high on the agenda.