For all of us who tuned into the Rockets game Saturday night against the Nuggets to see if they would crash-and-burn in the game’s final minutes…well, we’ll all have to wait until Monday night when the Rockets play the Clippers in LA.
Having lost 6 in a row, the Rockets came out like a caged animal and opened huge 20+ point leads against a poor-shooting Nugget team. Although Denver came into the game 9-4, they had shot less than 40% their last two games, and aren’t really as good as their record indicates. They made it 3 games in a row Saturday night, making only 35.4% of their shots in a 109-81 loss to the Rockets.
The core of their offense, Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, made only 15-of-38 shots to score 35 of their 81 points. So it’s really hard to tell just how well the Rockets will fare once some real pressure is applied to their defense. But the Rockets will take the ‘W’ any way they can get it to get their record back to 7-7.
It was clear the Rockets were going to go all out to stop their 6-game losing streak, showing lots of energy and resolve to build a lead so big that no team could really blow. It’s just too bad it took this long for a sense of urgency to set in.
Tracy McGrady was aggressive going to the hole, and his shooting percentage reflected it, making 13-of-23 shots for 35 points. Not intentionally wanting to be a party-pooper, I still think he fell in love with too many outside shots. Everything he shot close seemed to go in, so I think that emboldened him to take four 3-pointers (he missed three) and take three other unnecessary jump shots.
But the welcome addition to Houston’s attack was the re-emergence of Steve Francis into the lineup for only the second time in 14 games this season. Although he didn’t start, Francis came in when the Rockets had a 24-11 lead in the first quarter, and he made his presence felt a few seconds later when he dished to Mike James for a three-pointer. Francis would continue to hustle and spark the team to extend the lead. There was a noticeable swagger in the offense with him running the show, and it was about time he had his chance to show what he can do.
I had mentioned earlier in the day in this comment that only an idiot would not play Francis after the Rockets had lost 6 games in row, a development that came a couple of losses too late, in my opinion. Francis made the most of the opportunity, hitting 4-of-9 shots to score 10 points (most of those misses occuring in garbage time in the fourth quarter), grabbing 4 boards, dishing 3 assists, getting 2 steals, and blocking a shot.
I don’t know how Rick Adelman will position his playing of Francis on Saturday night. Will it be because he finally recognized the need to do something different (like take minutes away from Rafer Alston), or will it simply be because Bonzi Well‘s ankle injury required him to shuffle the rotation around, thus freeing up room for another point guard to get some playing time? Hopefully it’s the former rather than the latter (the latter would be ludicrous reason). Francis proved he needs to be in the lineup, and arguably start, over Alston. But right now, I’ll take what I can get in this strange environment in which the Rockets play.
Francis appearance in the game and McGrady’s hot shooting seemed to make Yao Ming‘s solid play an afterthought. But Yao was solid and determined, scoring 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting and grabbing 13 boards, four on the offensive glass.
I continue to love watching Luis Scola. Although he only took 5 shots (and made two), he hustled several times to grab offensive boards that was Moses Malone-like, along with a few pump fakes thrown in. I haven’t see activity like that on the offensive boards in Houston for quite some time, not from Chuck Hayes, not even Yao. Scola is a stud, and he was given the ultimate compliment after all his teammates rushed over to him to pick him up off the floor after one battle where he grabbed 3 or 4 offensive rebounds in a row within 5 seconds, and was finally knocked to the floor by a Nugget defender, the only way he could be stopped.
With Francis getting some playing time, there may be hope for Houston, but I’m not saying anything until I see consistent offensive and defensive execution in tight games. We’ll find out Monday night in LA where the Rockets always seem to play games that go down to the wire, and then Wednesday night in Phoenix and Thursday night in Golden State. Those games are going to be tough.
So what do you think? Is the jury still out on the Rockets being able to play clutch, or did this win show you something that bodes well for being able to execute late in close games?