I hate to say it, but I did mention at the end of my post last night that the Rockets were certain to lose against the Golden State Warriors tonight. And it wasn’t because of “tired legs,” as the folks covering the game for FSN-Houston kept saying. It’s because I think Golden State is just unstoppable, especially against the Rockets, who still have a ways to go before they can beat them when GSW is hitting on all cylinders. They shouldn’t feel too bad, though, because neither could the Dallas Mavericks in last season’s playoffs.
Because I saw it coming, I’m not as mad as I usually am after a loss. The Rockets just don’t match up with them at all (most teams don’t), having lost for the 3rd straight time against Golden State, this time 113-94.
The Rockets started off just as I anticipated, falling behind quickly 18-3 and making only 1 of their first 10 shots as the Warriors started running-and-gunning.
But the Rockets then went on a 9-1 run to get back into the game. Tracy McGrady did a good job not forcing long jumpers, and being aggressive within 12 feet, taking it to the hole and scoring on a reverse layup that impressed the Golden State crowd.
Steve Francis also entered the game relatively early, and immediately scored on a fast break and was fouled. I was pleased coach Rick Adelman saw the value that Francis could bring to the line-up after his outstanding game the night before in Phoenix.
Although Yao Ming had two turnovers in the first quarter, he did his part on one play. From the top of the key, he set a pick for Mike James who took a jump shot, missed, but Yao was aggressive by coming in all the way fro the top of the key to crash the boards, grab the rebound in front of the basket and lay it in! Great hustle by Yao!
In the second quarter, the Rocket reserves got them a little closer, with Bonzi Wells hitting a jumper, Francis hitting a three, and Mike James scoring on a layup from a McGrady dish to tie the game at 33-33. It didn’t hurt that the Warriors weren’t playing very strong defense. But with the amount of points they score, they can get away with not playing great D.
Yao then gave the Rockets their first lead at 35-33 when he hit a turnaround jumper from the right block. Simultaneously, the Rockets went “small” to keep up with the quicker Warriors, inserting Bonzi Wells, Luther Head, Kirk Snyder and Steve Francis into the game at the same time. It paid off as the Rockets’ bench played very well in that first half, outscoring the Warriors’ bench 26-6.
But the whole Rockets team hit only 8-of-16 free throws in the first half. When you play against the Warriors, you need every point you can get. Those points could have helped since the Rockets quickly lapsed after taking the lead, and by the time halftime came, they were trailing 59-50, with Houston giving up 58% shooting to the Warriors.
In the second half, the bottom fell out. The Rockets couldn’t keep up, and the Warriors cruised to a fairly easy victory without much of a threat, opening up a 20+ point leads in the fourth. They are just too quick, too good, and too balanced with Baron Davis (27 points), Monta Ellis (18 points), Stephen Jackson (19 points), and Al Harrington (18 points) killing them. No wonder they are the highest scoring team in the league.
Meanwhile, Yao struggled against the smaller defenders guarding him like Harrington (who did well against Yao in Houston last year), making Yao turn the ball over 5 times, and forcing him to hit only 4-of-12 shots for 10 points. McGrady struggled just as much, making 5-of-14 shots for 11 points.
The Rockets didn’t shoot all that poorly, hitting 45% of their shots. But as Adelman said after the game ended, he thought they weren’t mentally tough and started playing too much one-on-one basketball. That mental fragility also showed at the free throw line, where they missed 9-of-14 shots from the line in the second half to finish with a 56.7% overall average. That’s 13 points they gave away.
Although Mike James was the leading scorer with 19 points, hitting 8-of-14 shots, he was 1-for-4 from three-point land. Everyone else was just as bad, too, including Rafer Alston going 1-of-4 from behind the arc.
There’s no other team exciting to me as Golden State, more than Phoenix, Dallas, or anyone. So I’m not too upset about this loss because they will expose every weakness you have. If anything, the Rockets discovered how much they have to improve if they are going to get past them if they face them in the playoffs.