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Rockets free throws pitiful against Pistons, but they still win

December 13th, 2007
by John
Yao Ming shoots over Detroit's Rasheed Wallace Wednesday night.  Yao scored 21 points, grabbed 13 boards, had 3 assists, and blocked 4 shots.  He also hit some big shots in the fourth quarter that were instrumental to a close 80-77 win.Yao Ming shoots over Detroit’s Rasheed Wallace Wednesday night. Yao scored 21 points, grabbed 13 boards, had 3 assists, and blocked 4 shots. He also hit some big shots in the fourth quarter that were instrumental to a close 80-77 win. Click here for more photos from the game.

It was ridiculous how the Rockets escaped with this win. They overcame one of the worst free throw shooting games ever (6-of-22), the Pistons were extremely cold in the first half shooting only 27% from the field, the Rockets blew a 14-point first half lead, a 10-point lead in the 4th quarter, and the Pistons had two chances at the end of the game to win it on two consecutive three-pointers that missed. But the Rockets will take a win anyway they can get it. That’s how desperate they are for W’s.

The game started out with Rick Idle-man not rewarding the players who had given effort in Philadelphia on Monday with a starting assignment. Luther Head, Mike James, Kirk Snyder, Luis Scola and Bonzi Wells were all on the bench to start the game. James and Snyder didn’t play one minute of the game, and neither did Steve Francis.

It was clear from the outset that Idle-man was going to stick with his old ways, hunker down with a few key players, and be more conservative than ever to scratch out a win any way he could. He even had McGrady consistently playing point guard in the fourth quarter. It was like a throwback to the JVG era.

Adelman’s conservatism with his personnel resulted in an offense that would sputter most of the game, with Shane Battier scoring only 2 points and Chuck Hayes scoring 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting. You know, the same ol’ same ol’. There must have been 3 to 5 times where Hayes either chunked up a layup for an airball, or had passes or balls slip through his hands.

Sure, Hayes had 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Those are great stats. But the Rockets need an offensive threat inside to help out Yao, especially when Battier scores only 2 points and almost never takes it into the paint. And forget about it if Hayes is fouled and has to go to the line. That stroke & hitch he has in his free throw stroke is not reliable whatsoever, unless you count the number of lane violations from opponents who enter the lane too early at the top of his release.

Bonzi chipped in with 8 points on 3-of-5 shooting, but he missed 7-of-9 free throws. He has never been that great of a free throw shooter, so I don’t know how they rely on him in clutch time over the long haul. But he did take it strong to the hole on at least 3 different occasions, which the Rockets need. But if he’s going to miss 7-of-9 again from the foul line again, then he doesn’t even need to worry about playing.

Speaking of those missed free throws, I could write an entire blog post on how much of a joke it was that the team missed so many of them, including Tracy McGrady who was 0-for-5. There is an obvious dark side to a team making 6-of-22 free throws, and that’s the fact the Rockets continue to fold when the pressure is on, either it be at the free throw line, or on the scoreboard as they give up big leads.

But there may be a bright side to all those missed FTs. There is probably no more of an embarrassing stat than those 6-of-22 numbers, and the fact they did it in front of thousands of people at Toyota Center, and in front of a national TV audience. Something tells me they are finally going to be very motivated to put in a lot of time in practice on their free throws. If this experience doesn’t motivate these guys to work on their FTs under simulated pressure, nothing will.

For the Rafer Alston-lovers out there (not many of them left, I suppose), he had a decent game scoring 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-6 from three-point territory. I still think that’s too many 3-point attempts for a player like him shooting so poorly from way out there (will Idle-man ever have a talk with him about that?).

I would be okay with Alston if he could be consistent with decent shooting, low turnovers and average assists (1 and 6 on Wednesday night, respectively). But I bet you he can’t put together 5 games in a row like this game.

Yao played a fairly solid game when the Rockets needed it. He scored 21 points on 9-of-21 shooting, grabbed 13 boards, dished 3 dimes, had 4 blocks, and had only 2 personal fouls. He was very special in the fourth quarter when he threw a beautiful outlet pass to Bonzi within a nanosecond after grabbing a rebound, and he made some big shots in the paint, too.

In a tight game that was 66-63 about midway through the fourth quarter, Yao made an impressive spin move on the baseline, elevated, then threw down a ferocious one-handed slam that was NASTY! That made it 68-63, and to me was the play of the game that kept the Rockets from collapsing while Detroit was making their charge. Before Yao made that move, you could just see the Rockets’ throat constricting from the pressure.

Yao then hit a big jump hook that was a thing of beauty with 1:58 remaining to make it 79-71 right before the Pistons would hit a couple of three-pointers to make the game a nail-biter in the game’s final seconds. Yao could have made the game less suspenseful it if he hadn’t missed a jumper at the free throw line with 22 seconds in the game or made both free throws with less than a second remaining. But this season, hardly anything is coming easy.

Okay, let’s talk more about McGrady. He was a decent 13-of-25 from the field and scored 29 points. He also had a vicious dunk himself at the end of the first half when he took it one-on-one from the top of the key, took it into the lane, and threw it down with authority and purpose, like to vent all that frustration he has had for the past few games. As great as he was statistically and was on that move, though, I swear he had about 4 brain-dead plays where he just stood there with the ball and jacked up a shot without getting anyone involved. He can be so brilliant at times, and a numbskull just a couple of minutes later. I don’t think I’ll ever understand McGrady’s dalliances into “low basketball IQ” territory, as JVG would say.

One bright side is that Luther Head got some decent playing time and provided another spark. Although he just scored 6 points, he played 19 minutes to give Alston and McGrady a break from handling the ball at times. He hit a three-pointer, which is always welcomed, and one of my favorite plays occurred after he missed a three-pointer. Yao grabbed the rebound from his missed trey attempt, and Luther hustled to run into the lane where Yao rewarded him with a perfect pass for a layup. You haven’t seen much of that lately.

I think the 3 other factors that really contributed to the team’s win were the following:

* They only had 12 TOs overall, four occurring after halftime

* A lot of loose balls seemed to go their way – some through determination to get the ball, and others just through the lucky bounce of it.

* Decent 3-point shooting (6-for-15), which was incredibly better than their free throw shooting (6-for-22).

It’s about time the Rockets had some success in these three areas – they haven’t had much of it this season.