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Rockets lose to Denver in 2 OTs

December 21st, 2007
by John
Yao Ming calmly shoots a second free throw that gives the Rockets a one-point lead in double-overtime against the Denver Nuggets, but the Rockets lost the game a couple of minutes later on a last second shot by Denver's Anthony Carter.  Yao was a force in the game, showing leadership, and scoring 26 points and grabbing 19 boards in 52 minutes of play.Yao Ming calmly shoots a second free throw that gives the Rockets a one-point lead in double-overtime against the Denver Nuggets, but the Rockets lost the game a couple of minutes later on a last second shot by Denver’s Anthony Carter. Yao was a force in the game, showing leadership, and scoring 26 points and grabbing 19 boards in 52 minutes of play. Click here for more photos from the game.

I wasn’t too disappointed in the double-overtime loss to Denver last night. I have been saying for a few days now that the objective for the Rockets is to get the 8th seed in the playoffs. Forget about getting home court advantage. The Western Conference is so tough anyway, there isn’t much difference between an 8th-seeded team and a 3rd- or 2nd-seeded one.

It would have been great if the Rockets were at the top of the conference, but since that’s not going to happen this season, the important thing is for the Rockets to try to become a dangerous team that no one wants to play in April and May.

It was really interesting to watch the Rockets move the ball better than they have all season without Tracy McGrady in the lineup. Coincidence, or not? I think we all know the answer to that one.

TNT analyst Magic Johnson even said at halftime what many people have been thinking, but no really has had the balls to say at a national level. When asked the question what the “real problem” was with the Rockets, Magic replied:

“The real problem? You’ve got to trade one of them. Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady’s gotta go.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the studio after that statement. Magic continued:

“It’s not working out. It’s really not working out. We’ve seen it for all these years. They get eliminated in the first round. I thought they were going to play well together. It doesn’t work. Even tonight, I’m seeing the ball move more than I’ve ever seen it move watching a Houston Rocket game. (The ball goes) into Yao Ming, it’s rotating, it swings. But they can’t play together. The ball don’t move when they are together. You would almost have to keep Yao Ming, he’s still going to be the guy who sets the shots up for people. But one of them has to go because it’s not working for me.”


Now that those words have been spoken to a national television audience, it puts the subject out there for all basketball fans to really contemplate if a trade should occur. But more importantly, it puts it out there for GMs from other teams to start thinking more seriously about it. Perhaps that statement will be seen as a breakthrough moment where another team might now say, “Maybe McGrady is now trade-able” compared to GM Daryl Morey’s statement earlier this season where he said McGrady was not on the trading block. It never hurts to have your phone ringing with inquiries.

I’m not advocating that McGrady be traded just yet, but it was nice to see how the Rockets seemed to move the ball without him in the line-up shooting those stupid jumpers (making them or not) that just seems to stagnates the entire flow of the offense.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. If McGrady never took another jump shot the rest of his career, and just attacked the rim and distributed the ball, I would be happy with that. I realize he’s got to shoot a few jumpers to keep the defense honest, so if that’s the case, then maybe allow him to take 4 jumpers per game, and that’s it.

When McGrady is attacking and dishing, he’s extremely effective. But he’s not a big-time shot maker any more. I can’t remember the last time he hit a buzzer-beater to win a game, other than that night when he had that 14-point explosion against San Antonio a couple of years ago.

He’s also not a true leader. I know he was at the game last night in street clothes, but he was nowhere to be seen on the bench when the Rockets were making their run late in the game. Where was he? Was he in the locker room? If he was near the bench, I didn’t see him on his feet, or on the edge of the team huddle during timeouts. Wouldn’t you be with your teammates cheering them along the way? Other players seem to be when they are hurt. I hope I’m wrong and that the cameras just didn’t happen to catch him.

Yao seemed free to lead

You could just tell by watching the game, without McGrady on the court, that Yao was very comfortable as the floor leader. He was the guy who was inspiring his teammates to play at a high level, because there wasn’t much you could say that Yao did wrong.

One of the plays that showed Yao’s leadership was when he was on the edge of the lane posted up, and motioned with his hand to Bonzi Wells to cut into the lane, which he did, and Yao hit him with a perfect pass for a layup! I can’t remember the last time I saw McGrady tell his teammates to move, and jack up an ill-advised jumper instead.

I was disappointed a few times when the other players around Yao would just stand around when he got it into the post. No one was helping him by cutting into the lane. It was like the old Moses Malone days where everyone would just stand on the perimeter and let the Big Man go to work. We know in the long run that’s not going to be very effective. Just look at San Antonio. Does that ever happen when Tim Duncan is in the post? No. Why this coaching staff can’t get the players to stop standing around at times just baffles me.

Back to Yao’s play, though. Sure, he could have hit some big shots at the end of regulation or overtime to win it, but hey, he had played tons of minutes by that time, it was the second night of a back-to-back where he had played 42 minutes the night before, and he was in the mile-high Denver air. I remember when Hakeem Olajuwon needed oxygen anytime he played in Denver because the altitude was so breath-taking. But Yao plowed through it and was still very effective.

Case in point: how about those two big free throws that Yao hit in the second overtime to give them that one-point lead. He was money. Didn’t flinch. Didn’t brick ‘em, like everyone else has seemed to be doing the past few games. He was awesome, finishing the game with 26 points, 19 boards, 6 assists, and 2 blocks.

And did you see that no-look pass he threw to Chuck Hayes for a layup at the 9:54 mark in the third quarter? He was in the high post, dribbled it once toward the basket, then delivered an on-target shovel pass to Hayes on the baseline for the score. It was like his rookie year when he showed just how skilled of a passer he is. I still get chills down my spine thinking about that play last night.

And how about that beautiful fallaway jumper he hit at the 3:06 mark in the second overtime to give them a 106-103 lead? That shot had TNT analyst Doug Collins amazed and awestruck.

As you probably know by now, Denver’s Anthony Carter hit a floater in the lane to give the Nuggets a 112-111 lead with .8 seconds remaining. He pumped fake at the top of the key to get Bonzi to bite, took a couple of steps in to avoid Wells swiping at the ball in mid-air, and floated a long teardrop that hit nothing but net.

And how about that shot near the end of the third quarter where the Rockets were down 71-64, but Yao got fouled as he was going up for a shot, and was still able to muscle in the shot for the score? He calmly went to the line to hit the penalty free throw to make it 71-67, single-handedly keeping the Rockets in the game at that time. You could just sense the Denver crowd knew they were watching a very special athlete. It has to be truly inspirational to his teammates, kind of reminiscent of Hakeem when he willed his team back into a game. It was at that time my sub-conscious started uttering the phrase, “In Yao we trust.”

Bonzi’s bite

I know coach Rick Adelman wasn’t happy with how Bonzi got faked out by the pump fake, and I know that getting pump faked isn’t fundamental basketball. But the way I look at it, it forced Carter to try to make a very difficult shot once he saw he had to get the ball off as the game clock was getting closer to zero.

If you think about it, there aren’t many guards who could have reliably hit that shot, especially any Rocket guard. So maybe it was better to let a reserve who was 2-for-7 from at the time take that shot, rather than force Carter give it up to someone who is more a clutch shooter, like Carmelo Anthony.

And if Bonzi hadn’t been pump faked in the air, Carter would have been faced with a standing, face-up jump shot, which in my opinion is more high-percentage. Getting pump-faked into the air seems to be much worse when it happens much closer to the basket, and when you foul the shooter. That wasn’t the case this particular time. Either way, Carter hit a big shot and you have to give him credit for making the shot.

But even with the outcome, I am very encouraged by the Rockets’ play overall. Here’s my breakdown of some of the key players.

Luther Head was fantastic, scoring 22 points, dishing 6 assists, and hitting 5-of-10 three-pointers. The clutch three-pointer he hit at the end of regulation to tie the score at 94-94 was probably one of the biggest shots of the season by any Rocket since Shane Battier’s three early in the season against the Lakers to win that game at the buzzer.

Head also did a good job getting the ball into Yao in the post, and even penetrated into the lane for some of those 6 assists.

The down side is that he had way too many turnovers, including two in a row where he traveled on one possession and then pushed off on Allen Iverson the next possession for a charge. Why Idleman has him dribbling the ball in certain situations doesn’t make much sense to me, especially when point guard Rafer Alston is in the game with him.

But at least Head is stepping up more than the other shooting guards the Rockets have tried this season, including Steve Francis, Mike James, and Kirk Snyder. If Luther hadn’t had such a poor playoff series against Utah last season, I think everyone would have been stoked about Luther’s potential this season. But since he kind of blended in with the woodwork during those playoffs, and since no one else has grabbed the position convincingly this season, Head now has a second chance and he’s proving his worth.

All I know is that none of the 3 aforementioned players can pout and complain they haven’t had a chance. If anything, the off-court chemistry can’t be as bad as what had been anticipated before the season began because they have all had their chances and haven’t done much with it.

For example, after a decent game against Orlando on Wednesday night, Mike James was only 1-for-5 in the first half while Denver made a 10-0 run to get back into the game and take the lead. After that stretch, he didn’t get any playing time the rest of the game.

Luckily Rick Adelman gave more minutes to Aaron Brooks, and boy, did it pay off (as we all expected it would). Brooks was awesome, scoring 8 points in 14 minutes on 4-of-9 shooting, with most of those points coming at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth when he scored 6 points in a row. I loved the play at the 10:57 mark in the fourth quarter when he took it to the hole and scored off the glass, and then a few minutes later dribbled in the paint to score on a layup to give Houston an 80-79 lead. What a luxury it was to have that kind of speed in the line-up, as well as confidence. I don’t understand why Brooks didn’t get more playing time Thursday night based on his productivity, but at least he showed he will definitely get awarded more minutes in upcoming games.

Rafer Alston was, as usual, good and bad. First, the good. He hit three 3-pointers, had 10 assists, and scored 18 points (remember it was a 2OT game, though). Anytime he does that, it’s all good. The problem is that he was 3-for-9 from three-point territory. He also had 5 turnovers, including a push-off on Iverson like Head had done. I can understand a 3-year player like Head getting duped by Iverson, but for a seasoned veteran like Alston to get Iverson to tempt him to push-off…that shouldn’t happen.

Then late in the game, Iverson easily blew by Alston for a huge layup to make it 91-87. It was just too easy.

Bonzi Wells had his second productive game in a row, scoring 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting and grabbing 8 boards. He needs to work on the free throws, though, making only 2-of-4. However, I loved the play with 4:27 remaining in regulation – with one second left on the shot clock – he inbounded the ball to Luther underneath the basket for a layup, making it 87-85, Denver with the lead. The guy is a pretty smart baller.

Bonzi also cut into the lane several times to score down low – something the Rockets need with McGrady out — and hit a big jumper with 1:40 remaining in regulation to make it 94-89.

Then on the very next possession with 1:08 remaining, he missed a shot over Anthony, but crashed the boards, grabbed the rebound, and scored on a layup. Anthony did a bad job in blocking out, and Bonzi made him pay. Bonzi is just too difficult of a matchup to not have him in the game late. When he’s on, he’s a very useful weapon they have to use.

Shane Battier’s shooting percentage wasn’t all that great – 4-of-12 from the field, and 3-of-9 from three-point land, for 12 points. But those three-pointers he hit were big ones, hitting two of them in the overtime periods, with the second one coming with 36 seconds remaining in the second OT to give the Rockets a 109-108 lead. The shot clock was winding down, and he hit it from the top of the three-point line, standing about 3 feet behind it. It was good to see Battier hitting a clutch shot like that. Hopefully that will get his confidence going to hit big shots the rest of the season.

The main bad thing that Battier did was fouling Anthony (intentionally) way too early with 4.5 seconds remaining in the game. The Rockets had a foul to give, so his foul only let a half second ticked off the clock. There was no way that Anthony would have been able to get off a decent shot after he grabbed the inbounds pass out high beyond the three-point line with his back facing the basket. Battier should have let Anthony dribble and foul him a second later. As it turns out, those 4 seconds the Nuggets had on the clock were just enough time for Carter to pump fake Bonzi and hit the game winner. For Battier being such a smart player, when he makes mistakes, they seem to be big ones.

A word about the Rockets’ team rebounding: on several possessions the Rockets were out-hustled on the offensive boards, including one where the Nuggets grabbed 4 offensive boards in a row. The Nuggets wanted the ball more than the Rockets multiple times, and for some reason they forgot about Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony as he crashed the boards for dunks. Overall, the Rockets were out-rebounded 27-13 on the offensive boards. Terrible.

Now we’ll see how the Rockets bounce back from this loss when they face Chicago. I’ve got to think they are encouraged that several of their players got going, like Luther, Shane, Bonzi and Brooks. And also that Yao was the clear leader of the team without McGrady around. If it were up to me, I would give McGrady as much rest as possible so we can see if they continue to improve without him.

16 Responses to “Rockets lose to Denver in 2 OTs”

  1. CC Says:

    Yes. I love this game. They lost it. But there is nothing to regret. The last shoot by Carter is just a bad luck.

    Yao did the best. And more importantly, his performance in the crucial time gave his teammates confidence. He is showing the quality of a real team leader, not only in scoring and rebounding, but also in the SPIRIT.

    Now this team is showing some promise.

  2. AirChina23 Says:

    Fair enough, can’t wait to read your recap on Friday, but really, take your time. Work is important!

    Anyway, I bet you would agree on some of the stuff I found encouraging from watching the game tonight: good ball movement, good shooting (better than usual), other players stepping up, Yao with only two turnovers (one of them being a questionable offensive foul for pushing Najera), oh yeah, and Aaron Brooks. Hope they can play like this every night.

  3. Brian Says:

    What a heart breaker that was…Did you see Yao’s face when carter hit the shot 🙁

  4. Allen Says:

    Well, I am typically ill with the loss. It seems that no matter how well we play this year, the coins are against us and we are going to lose. However, I thought there were some positives.

    Positives:

    Alston and Head both had good games. I know they both had 5 or so turnovers, but I tell you, we are not going to lose many games that Alston scores 18 and drops 10 dimes. Hell he almost had a triple double. The other good thing is that Alston is starting to string together good games. Hopefully (but probably not) this will continue to be the trend. Also, Head had a great game scoring wise. I hope his shooting becomes contagious.

    I love the way Yao is rebounding the last two games. That is almost as important a skill as scoring, because rebounding affects defense, transition plays, etc. Yao’s weakness is that he often disappears if he is not affecting the game by scoring, so I love to see that kind of effort on the glass.

    Shane also did better from an offensive standpoint than he normally does, but I get the feeling that his defense is just not what it was last year. I think that part of this is that he is a great TEAM defender, like Alston, and the team defense has regressed so much under Adelman that it has exposed both of them for their average man defense.

    Finally, Bonzi did well. I am of the opinion that he is the best option for being our third scorer, since everyone else is just unreliable.

    Negatives –

    Scola needs to get his game together. We are deep enough into the season where he should be contributing more than this. I thought he was the answer at PF, but at this moment he is not. He can’t get playing time because not only does he not seem to understand the offense at times, but he is having trouble on defense. And at least in my opinion, he plays better at center without Yao on the court.

    No Mutumbo. Frankly, he is our best post defender and shot blocker. I know Adelman doesn’t like him because he has no offensive skills, but hell, our offense is right terrible anyway, why not play the guy who is the best rebounder and defender at the five instead of Scola?

    Overall though, this game is a step in the right direction. We have tgot to turn it on quick like though, if we hope to make the playoffs.

  5. Jim From Hollywood CA! Says:

    Hi everybody in rocketland. Ok, the game of basketball is a game of oppprtunites. When those opportunites are present you have to be prepared. Two comments: 1). On wed night, after taking a full time out the rockets come out with a, pardon me for saying this, GARBAGE play. I have to fault the coaches on that one. It had to be the most unorganized play out of a timeout I have ever seen. 2). Last nights game: Good way to stay in it with no t-mac, but again some of those plays out of time outs were horrible. We need a change, and we need it now. Lets let go of some of the guards: MIKE JAMES, and lets make that move for Bibby. I think Sac town would take a MIke James, and a draft for Bibby. we need some stability at the point guys. we cant be HOPEING and praying that everytime o-fer shots a three that it will go in. YAo is to much of a good player to be around players that are not going to put in the time to get better. Lets run scola, bonzi, Yao, tmac, and Francis to close out games. Those are the best ROLE players. How hard is this: FEED THE BALL INTO YAO IN THE POST AND THEN EVERYBODY CUT OF SCREENS TO GET OPEN SO YAO CAN PASS IT OFF, OR JUST CLEAR OUT AND LET YAO GO TO WORK.
    THANKS.

  6. Frank Says:

    Just like Sir Charles says…. Either Yao Ming or T-mac gotta go… I would trade Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis for a big time player. Obviously Boston would not give up Garnett and San Antonio won’t give up Tim Duncan. How about Emeka Okafor to the Rockets?? Championships are not made through back spasm but inside out basketball.

  7. Wilson Says:

    PLAY AARON BROOKS AND LUIS SCOLA MORE!!!

  8. JT in MD Says:

    Great commentary John.. I enjoyed the game even though they lost! Felt like a playoff game and the rockets showed some fight. Keep up the good work.

  9. jeff Says:

    If you want to see the most awkward and embarassing way of delivering a free throw of a basketball, you have to look at Chuck Hayes last evening. It was not coincidental, but two in a row. There is no wonder why his scoring is so low. But I still could not believe that he is starting for an NBA team. Poor Rockets.

  10. AirChina23 Says:

    Going point, Jeff. Why won’t he learn how to shoot free throws?

  11. Michael Jodon Says:

    Alston, Hays, Battier and McGrady must go.

    or Yao must go, this rox team is going nowhere with this set up.

    If these 5 players are in playoff as starters together, the result would be the same or even worst than last season.

    Break them.

    Get Brooks, Scola in the starting lineup, that is the only hope for rox for a better record.

    MJ

  12. Michael Jodon Says:

    Alston, can’t hit open jumpers, can’t hit 3s, can’t finish around the rim, got blocked for lay up. People leave him alone on the 3pt line for a reason, because they know it is much safer to let him shoot then let him pass to Yao or other team mates, he usually makes the opponent’s coach very happy when he shoots 3s.

    Hays, can’t shoot besides dunks or lay up, doesn’t know how to shoot free throws, this is a joke and an embarrassment for a pro, even Shaq doesn’t do what he does. Often made bad or poor decisions at the crunch time.

    Battier, up and down, can’t be trusted for 3points, either 5 for 6, or 1 for 9, Rudy Gay was a better choice, but GM fracked it up. now you have a small forward can’t hit most of the 3s.

    Tracey, a true “MUST-LOSE” leader, doesn’t know how to jell his team together, often forced ill-advised jumpers, look at the status, 20 points often take him to make 30 shots, look at Yao, 50% and up, free-throw is almost a guarantee. 4 years, can not and will not bring rox to second rounds.
    If this dude knows how to get his team mates involved in the game first, make his team mates hot first, and takes over the game, ONLY when his team mates are not going anywhere, rox has a little hope, trying to be a 50% jump shooter, and getting worst and worst on his poor shots selection, he can ONLY and will bring rox to the ground and even to hell.

    Arron, Mike, Steve, Luis and Bonzi must become starters, let those starters sit on the bench and learn a few lessons from these guys. If starters can not provide winning result, they have to let other guys try it.

    As long as these 4 guys on the court, rox’s end result will be a Dejavu from last year.

    peace
    MJ

  13. jeff Says:

    I do not understand why people are still talking about the rockets being in the playoffs. Unless there are dramatic changes, which are not likely under Disaster Idleman, the players, led by Disaster, will be enjoying their holidays during the playoffs period.

  14. jeff Says:

    MJ, I agree to all the comments you made, except those for Tracy. There is no dout about his talent and skill. His problem is he has not been in a good team yet. This year, he has an additional problem which is a disastrous coach. You have covered nearly every problem of the Rockets ; but you omitted the most important one which is the head coach who is the ultimate person responsible for the success or failure of the team. He cannot get away from that. He should step down, if he has the courage.

  15. BIG YAO Says:

    YAO is a Great player. In no history of basketball you have a guy 7 ‘6 that are 20+ 10+ 2+ blocks and 86% free throw. But …YAO can be better.

    I propose a training regime for big YAO. Three types of training he should focus and do it repeatedly.

    1 – rebound – (he’s good but he can be better) we need three guys power forward/forward inside the paint and have guys outside taking all sorts of shot and also drive in and have YAO box out opponents and get all the rebounds he can. He should only focus in getting rebounds and do this repeatedly for a 1000 times.

    2- block shots – (he’s is good but he can be better) we again need three guys that mostly forward/power forward in the paint and we have guard outside drive it to the hoop or other center/forward taking hook shots. YAO would be in the middle paint altering shots, intimidating and leap to contest and block all shots in the lane. When he is there means the lane is closed. Again he should only focus on this and do this repeatedly for thousands of times and nothing else.

    3- Dunking – we need three guys power forward / forward in the paint with YAO. We need guys guard/forward doing all kinds of pass to YAO in the paint and have YAO only way of scoring is dunking and nothing other wise. Do this only and repeatdly for like a thousand times.

    If YAO does this repeatedly in training and only this, it can be a instinct he can do this with his eyes closed in the game. He will become the most dominating BIG MAN ever to play the game of basketball. He will be a legend and like I said in no basketball history you have any guy who is 7 6’ that is as dominate as BIG YAO with 20+, 10+ and 2+ blocks with 86% free throw shooter and NEVER EVER will you have someone like him.

  16. jeff Says:

    Big Yao, good analysis and excellent adivice. But sorry, there is no time for Yao Ming to carry out the necessary training. Why? He has to spent the whole off season to attend the higher-than-NBA training camp of the China National Team. I think the Rockets had been looking for opportunities to provide the necessary training similiar to those suggested by you for Yao Ming . But I do not think that that kind of thinking has yet met with the APPROVAL of the Chinese National Team. I think Yao should better stay with the China National Team than joining the Rockets or any other NBA team.I am a big fan of Yao Ming. But when it touches a matter of principle, I have to tell the truth.

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