After so many games against tough opponents — the toughest schedule in the league — the Rockets are finally able to get a “break,” play against weaker opponents (like Memphis on Wednesday), work on their chemistry, and get other guys involved in their new offense.
That’s what happened again Friday night in New Jersey as the Rockets easily beat the Nets 96-89, and four Rockets scored in double-digits: Yao Ming (25), Tracy McGrady (24), Rafer Alston (15), and Shane Battier (12).
The Nets could never get anything going as the Rockets held double-digit leads most of the game. That has been par for the course for the Nets at home this season, where they have had double-digit deficits in their last 9 home games, and have trailed at halftime in 15 of their 19 games.
The Rockets kept that trend going through halftime Friday night by leading 48-33 after shooting 54% as a team. McGrady was feelin’ it in the first half. He got hot and the Rockets kept feeding him as he scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first half, hitting fallaways and tough shots, including two three-pointers in a row.
By halftime, Yao had 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting, easily being able to shoot over Jason Collins , Jamaal Magliore, and other defenders. No one had an answer for him.
I loved one play at the 8:55 mark in the first quarter after Yao chased down a ball from the high post, dribbled a couple of times toward the basket, then threw a perfect pass to Chuck Hayes for a layup. What mobility in the high post — I love it!
Meanwhile, the Nets went scoreless the last 3:33 of the second quarter, and only scored 2 points in the last 5:17. There was good defense on the Rockets’ part, but also bad offense on the Nets’ part.
Other than Richard Jefferson’s 29 points and Vince Carter’s 32, the only interesting player to watch was former Rocket Boki Nachbar play against his old friend Yao. Nachbar had a nice play in the second quarter when he took it to the hole over Yao, missed, but was able to tip it in over Yao for the score.
With their 15-point lead at halftime, I was thinking that the old Rockets would let the Nets back into the game and not put the hammer down. That’s exactly what happened as the Nets went on an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 7 points, but it was short-lived. Thankfully Houston shook that old stigma quite quickly by extending the lead back to double-digit leads and cruised the rest of the way.
All I have to say is when Rafer Alston hits shots (5-of-11) and three-pointers (2-of-4 in the second half) like he did, then the Nets have no chance.
Most of the second half was a chance to see Rocket players strut their stuff offensively, and to watch Yao dominate even more. Along with Yao’s 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting (7-of-7 from the line), he grabbed 11 rebounds, dished 5 dimes, and blocked 3 shots.
For your entertainment, here are some of the noteworthy moments from the second half that struck me:
8:19 – In the low post, Yao dribbles once to get away from a double-team and shoots a nice little baby hook over Jason Collins.
7:37 – McGrady takes it to the baseline, draws a double-team, then dishes to an ungaurded Yao in front of the rim for a dunk to make it 58-45 Rockets!
4:19 – Boki gets the ball underneath the Nets’ basket and it looks like he’s going to have an easy shot for a two, but Bonzi Wells strips the ball away from Boki! Good D by Bonzi on Boki (I love how that sounds)!
It was a fairly boring game with the Rockets in control, but it was made interesting with the Rockets going small with Steve Francis, Mike James, McGrady, Bonzi, and Luis Scola. We’ve seen that one other time this season. I think it was against Phoenix, and it’s hard for the other team to defend.
8:36 – Yao flashes into the lane, and McGrady finds him with a pass, and Yao throws down a dunk over Boki! That will make for a beautiful poster.
At the 6-minute mark, Yao holds his ground when Boki unwisely takes it strong into the lane, but Yao is there, stands his ground, and Nachbar’s shot goes way off. Then on the ensuing possession, Yao was down low right in front of the rim with Jason Kidd (of all people) guarding him one-on-one, and McGrady wisely found Yao for an easy hook shot, and he was fouled! Yao made the free throw to make it 80-68 Rockets.
3:15 – Yao had a nice drop-step baseline, then took it to the rim for a reverse layup using the rim to protect him from getting blocked! Ain’t no way anyone was going to block that shot!
This game was almost too easy, which is a rare treat in this league.
Now the Rockets head to Toronto, a team with a similar record (Rockets are 11-9, and the Raptors are 10-9) and a dangerous team that has always given the Rockets fits. They also have a quick point guard in T.J. Ford that is always hard for Houston point guards to defend. You ready Rafer?