On Saturday night in Sac-Town, the Rockets got torched again on defense, just like they did against Golden State two nights before, letting the Kings’ superior athletes get to the rim way too many times on their way to a 107-99 victory.
The Rockets got great point production from Yao (29 points) and Tracy McGrady (40 points), but the gaping holes from the other starters on offense at point guard (Rafer Alston – 5 points, 1-of-4 three-pointers), small forward (Shane Battier – 4 points), and Chuck Hayes (2 points) were too much of a handicap to overcome.
Add little production from Bonzi Wells (8 points), Luther Head (4), Mike James (7), Luis Scola (0), and Steve Francis not being able to play because of a sore back, then you’ve got even more problems.
We can’t really say that Yao and McGrady took poor shots that robbed their teammates of scoring opportunities. The two “superstars” made 22-of-45 shots together, which is about 50%. That ain’t bad. I would have preferred for McGrady to not take so many three-pointers. He made 5-of-10 treys, so he gets a pass from me because shooting 50% from three-point land is pretty damn good.
But it’s the 13-for-37 from all the other guys that was the problem. If they had just made 5 more of those shots, or 10 points, to hit 50%, then you’ve got enough points to win this game.
I had said a couple of weeks ago that I would be okay if the Rockets relied less on McGrady to score points, if he would just distribute the ball to get everyone involved in this newfangled offense Rick Adelman is trying to install. If McGrady does that and they still lose, then fine. I won’t be upset because then the players are either going to get used to this system once-and-for-all, or we’re going to ultimately find out which Rockets are not a fit for this system that can help them go deep into the playoffs.
After seeing what we’ve seen over the last two losses, I think that day is soon coming, and I’m not talking about the former case, but the latter.
Of course, everyone in the world sees one glaring problem being Alston, but every game we see Adelman putting him out there to start. It’s like Adelman is the captain of the Titanic letting Alston continue to take this offense down with him.
It’s clear to me more than ever the Rockets have got to give Aaron Brooks some playing time when it counts, not just garbage time. It seems every night there’s a point guard showing the Rockets what they could be if they had “one of those.”
Thursday night it was Baron Davis, and Saturday night it was Beno Udrih. It makes you feel like it’s time for the Rockets to fight fire with fire and give a speed merchant like Brooks the ball and let him be a threat to penetrate and score, or kick it out to Yao for a 15-foot jump shot or something. And remember during the preseason that Brooks proved he can hit three-pointers. What an extra bonus that would be!
Of course, Francis should get more minutes at PG, and Mike James can come in to inject some scoring when needed. Maybe there’s a team out there who needs an average point guard like Alston to run the show.
The Rockets also have to really think how long they can handle Battier’s struggles from the floor (0-of-4 from three-point land on Saturday night). It seems every good team is getting a ton of points from their small forward. For example, Memphis’ Rudy Gay scored 21 points Saturday night, and it looks like the scale is tipping toward the Grizzlies for who got the better end of that Gay-for-Battier trade.
The Rockets also need to think seriously of bringing Steve Novak back from the D-League. I know he’s not the best defender in the world or the most athletic, but things are getting a little desperate for some perimeter scoring, and they need to get someone who can keep the defense honest and open things up inside for Yao. Right now the lack of any outside threat from Battier-Alston-Hayes makes it too easy for defenses to cheat down low.
Of course, we’ve got to blame all players for the atrocious defense, letting Sacramento score at will. Remember how I said a few days ago how the Fox Sports Net-Houston guys were saying the Rockets’ defense was awesome against the Suns, and I was the only person saying that it wasn’t all that great, because it looked like Phoenix missed a ton of easy shots? Well, I think we saw in the Golden State game, and now the Sacramento game, how the defense never really improved.
It’s hard to stomach how poorly they are playing defense after being so good last year, and it’s making Adelman look very, very bad. How embarrassing that must be.
I guess that’s enough of my overall thoughts. Below are some other notes I took during the course of the Sacramento game, which includes some info on Yao fouling out, his technical foul, and ejection to the locker room.
That kind of post would normally be the first thing I would write about, but because the Rockets were so inept, even if Yao hadn’t been called so poorly by the refs, I don’t think it would have made a difference in the outcome of this game.
I watched the Sacramento telecast of the game on NBA League Pass, and there was a poignant comment from the Kings’ play-by-play man. He said that after Yao was tossed out of the game, some guy the announcer knew in Beijing had texted him right afterwards to let him know that everyone who was watching the game with him was absolutely livid at the refs for the fouls that had been called. Can you imagine if everyone in China who followed Yao texted the NBA league office to voice their displeasure? That’s when it hit me how powerful technology is that feedback like that can occur within seconds, and come from the other side of the world.
Short of everyone in China texting the NBA league office, I’m hoping Yao’s outburst will get some attention from David Stern, and that he’ll be making a phone call to the guy who runs the officiating to finally change how they officiate Yao. When you’ve got a couple of hundred million Chinese pissed about how bad your league’s refs are, I’ve got to think the commish will be motivated to fix it…that is, if he wants to be successful expanding the league’s footprint in China.
In the first quarter, Yao was a force early, scoring the Rockets’ first 9 points by crashing the boards on two missed shots, securing the offense rebounds, and putting them in. He also hit a jumper and a hook shot in the lane to make it 9-4.
Meanwhile, Alston and Luther Head both were careless with the ball by throwing bad passes that got stolen, and Ron Artest taking it the other way for dunks. What are these guys doing in there? That’s four points given up right there.
Yao would continue to work hard down low in the paint, hitting a layup after great ball movement, crashing the boards for another tip-in, and doing his patented spin move for a dunk! That was Yao scoring 15 of the Rockets first 18 points, with 6 points coming off offensive rebounds! Not bad!
On the other end, the Kings were killing Houston by taking it to the rack early in possessions for layups before they could set their defense. So despite all of Yao’s great efforts, the Rockets couldn’t get separation, especially when the Kings went on a 9-0 run to make it 22-20, Kings.
However, by the end of the first quarter, the Rockets led 29-26, with Yao having scored 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting and 4 rebounds.
The Rockets started settling for jumpers in the second quarter, missing all of them. Mike James was the only one who was doing anything, taking it to the hole for a layup and hitting a three-pointer from the corner to score the Rockets’ first 5 points.
A couple of possessions later, Yao caught a pass on a fast break and dished to Head, who took it in for a layup. Nice running of the break and assist for the big man!
But then the Kings kept pushing it offensively, going on a 12-0 run to take a 44-40 lead. Chuck Hayes picked up his fourth personal foul with only 3:07 remaining in the 2nd quarter, so he had to check out of the game. Only when Yao hit an 18-footer did they break the Kings’ scoring run.
The Kings were getting to the rim so easily, either off the dribble or passes into the lane, that the Rockets were lucky to have a 50-49 lead at halftime.
By halftime, both teams had hot 42% from the floor and 20% from three-point land, but the Rockets were outscored 12-4 on fast break points. That’s what was killing them.
In the third quarter, McGrady was sloppy with the ball, turning the ball over 3 times that resulted in 6 points for the Kings. The Rockets offense started to struggle, getting no help from Battier, 0-fer, and Hayes. At the same time, the Kings kept getting to the hole for easy buckets.
It made me realize that even after a couple of years after Adelman had left the Kings, Sacramento is still able to run their offense without him, and it showed the Rockets the offense they wish they had.
Kevin Martin killed them with 14 points in the third to give the Kings a 79-74 at the end of the third. McGrady scored 15 to keep the Rockets within striking distance.
In the fourth quarter, the Kings scored 4 more points to take an 83-74 lead, and it took two 3-pointers from McGrady to even stay in the game – not something you want to do if you’re trying to focus on ball movement to find the open man. But like I mentioned earlier, if he hits them, I can’t be too hard on him.
The Rockets still had a chance to win the game, though. When it was still 93-88, McGrady took it to the hole, scored on a difficult shot, and was fouled. I guess that’s the kind of shot the Rockets had to take to score, but on the very next possession, McGrady got greedy and fell too much in love with the jump shot, missing a long two-pointer.
Shortly after that, Yao picked up his fifth foul on a questionable call when Ron Artest turned into Yao, who was just standing there, but Yao was the one who was called for the foul. Yao then fouled out a short time later when Beno Udrih took it strong to the hole with 3 minutes remaining, and ran into Yao on another questionable call.
That’s when we saw Yao demonstrate some fire that we’ve all been waiting to see. After fouling out, he grabbed a towel from trainer Keith Jones and slammed it to the floor in front of the ref. That got him a technical and an automatic ejection from the court.
Hopefully that highlight of Yao throwing a towel down on the court will shock David Stern so much, that Stern will get on the phone to league officials to say, “If Yao gets THAT mad, then you guys DO suck. FIX IT, and NOW!”
After that foul, Udrih hit 2 free throws, giving them a 101-94 lead with 3 minutes to go.
Mental errors the rest of the way gave the Rockets no chance, with Scola passing up a shot right in front of the basket and passing it to Bonzi Wells right next to him, but it was too close of a pass and went through Bonzi’s hands for a turnover. Why Scola didn’t shoot it confounds me. Maybe he’s hearing Adelman emphasize “ball movement,” but is taking it a little too far when he should be shooting a wide open shot instead.
Then Rafer Alston fouled Udri with 4 seconds on the shot clock way out behind the 3-point line when he really wasn’t a threat to score, bailing the Kings out and sending Udrih to the line. Then a little bit later, Alston missed two free throws, and you can call it a night (and hopefully a one-way ticket out of town). Pathetic.