You’ve got to give credit to the Rockets for bouncing back from that heart-breaking 2OT loss against the Denver Nuggets Thursday night, and playing better offense Saturday night in a big 116-98 win over the Bulls. It was the most points scored by the Rockets all season, and had to be one of their best shooting games (48.4%) while also shooting 10-of-22 from three-point land (46%).
It looks like Rick Idle-man has finally learned — a couple of weeks later than what many of us have been saying — that he’s had a stud point guard on the bench in Aaron Brooks who can likely solve some of the offensive problems that have plagued them all season. At least Idle-man is learning, folks. Better late than never.
Brooks continued to show his speed is extremely tough to defend, as seen when he went coast-to-coast on a highlight-reel layup in the second quarter that reminded you of a Tony Parker. Even though it doesn’t surprise me, IT LOOKS LIKE THE ROCKETS CHRISTMAS WISH OF GETTING A POINT GUARD THAT CAN SCARE THE DEFENSE HAS COME TRUE!!
Kudos go out to Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey and the rest of the staff who wanted Brooks, when just about everyone was saying they should have drafted a power forward with their first pick in the draft. Their selection is starting to pay off in a big way.
Brooks pushed the ball most of the time he got the ball, which encouraged his teammates to hustle to get into position so he could deliver the rock to them for some easy buckets. And that he did. In a little over 17 minutes, Brooks dished 6 dimes and only had 1 turnover.
He also made 2-of-5 shots, but that’s not as important as the decision-making he showed in not trying to wow us with his 3-point shooting acumen (which he has), and just played good solid PG play, unlike some other guards have been doing this season, tempted by the glory of hitting the three when they have no business shooting them.
Meanwhile, Rafer Alston may have to realize he might be losing more minutes as Brooks shows he’s too valuable to let fester on the bench. Rafer and the usual starting unit of Yao, Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes sputtered out of the gate. Rafer had two turnovers in the game’s first minute, and the Rockets fell behind 20-10 midway through the first quarter.
But then everyone woke up somewhat and closed the gap to 26-21 by the end of the first, then really put it into overdrive when Luther Head and Brooks started the second quarter where the team put 31 more up on the board. Luther was awesome, picking up where he left off in Denver, hitting two 3-pointers (the second coming from a nice Brooks assist), and driving to the hole for a reverse layup.
As mentioned earlier, Brooks had his coast-to-coast job. And Bonzi Wells hit a jumper and drove to the rack for a layup that gave the bench credit for scoring 16 straight points and making it 41-31 with 5:48 remaining in the second quarter.
About a minute later, McGrady, Yao and Alston were back in the game, and the offense bogged down for a couple of minutes as Chicago went on an 8-0 run. However, the Rockets were able to get something going against one of the Eastern Conference’s worst teams to hold a 52-48 lead at halftime. The Houston bench was the difference, outscoring Chicago’s bench 22-0 by halftime, and holding a 27-15 rebounding advantage.
By halftime, Yao had a solid 12 points, 7 boards, 2 assists and 2 blocks. Volumes could always be written about Yao’s importance in recent games, including this one. But with all the storylines going on lately, the more interesting story in this game was to see how McGrady would respond on the court to the statement made by Magic Johnson Thursday night that the offense bogs down with McGrady in the lineup, and that he ought to be traded. You can be certain McGrady heard about Magic uttering those words.
McGrady did have one of his brain-dead moments at the 3:06 mark in the first quarter when he dribbled on one possession while everyone stood around as he went one-on-one, then predictably missed a fadeaway jumper. But by halftime, you had to be happy that McGrady had a relatively “smart” 11 points and 4 assists without being too much of a ball-hog. Perhaps he came out determined to prove Magic wrong and really played with more awareness.
As good as the Rockets were in the second quarter, they were even better in the third, scoring 34 points and getting everyone involved and extending their lead 10 more points by the end of the quarter.
Shane Battier started to light it up in the third, hitting 4-of-6 shots, including three 3-pointers. Man, have we missed that kind of shooting from Shane. And he did it after getting cut above the eye in the first quarter, getting 6 stitches, and having to wear Band-Aid right above his eye. When he starts hitting those daggers from behind the arc, it’s so demoralizing to the other team because you realize he’s the type of player who can just keep hitting them.
Rafer was aggressive in going to the hole and scored 3 layups (he didn’t blow a single one!), but he was 0-for-3 from three-point land and evidently didn’t have any Shane sugar rub off on him. But I’ll give him credit for his aggressiveness, and if he can continue doing that, not shoot as many three-pointers (he was 1-for-6 by the end of the game), and cut down on the mental mistakes, then I’ll be happy…as long as Brooks can continue getting more of his minutes, and Rafer and Brooks are at least splitting minutes at PG.
The Rockets opened up a big 16-point lead near the end of the third quarter, and I was so relieved the Rockets had an easy game going for once. Unfortunately, I think McGrady got a little too comfortable with the lead, and jacked up 2 three-pointers that missed and went one-on-one another time that ended with a missed jumper at the end of the quarter. But luckily, those actions weren’t too detrimental to the team, although it gives you a classic glimpse when McGrady gets so over-confident (or overconfident), he can get enraptured by the lure of the big play.
Yao sprained his thumb on a rebound about midway through the quarter, but he came back into the game in the fourth with a bandage on his thumb. It didn’t appear serious because he would play in the fourth when the game was well in hand.
On the bright side, going to the locker room and getting x-rayed was a nice break for him, considering the Rockets play the second game of a back-to-back in Detroit on Sunday night. Obviously, Yao should get as much rest as possible when he can in game like this one. And if he had played any more minutes than he did, who knows how many more blown calls the refs would call against him from Ben Wallace flopping on him. There were two times where Wallace flopped and the refs atrociously called Yao for the charge.
The fourth quarter is when Bonzi turned it up even more, hitting 4-of-4 from the field, including a 3-pointer (thanks to a cross-court pass from Brooks, who found him wide open), and hit 3-of-4 free throws to finish with 20 points. I love how aggressive he is going to the hole now rather than settling for jumpers. It’s very difficult for anyone who plays his position to stop him. And if he misses, I like how Luis Scola or Yao can be there to help clean up the mess with a rebound and put-back.
The Rockets would open up a 25-point lead, and that’s when you felt like this team perhaps, maybe, could become something special this season after all. Scola was also playing great in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 14 points and 11 boards. One of my favorite Scola plays was when he hustled for a loose ball going out of bounds, knocked it off Kirk Hinrich’s leg just in time for the Rockets to keep possession, then landed on the floor right in front of the Bulls’ cheerleaders.
And I love the jumper Brooks hit after coming around a Yao pick. He was so fast getting around that screen and elevating at the free throw line to nail a J. Visions of Steve Nash and Chris Paul were running in my head after that one!
When you’ve got Bonzi finishing with 20 hitting 8-of-11 shots, and Scola scoring 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting and grabbing 11 boards, and Luther scoring 13, including 3-of-4 from three-point land, then the Rockets still have a chance to win a ton of games this season.
Now if only the Rockets could now rattle off 10 wins in a row – kind of like how Portland has (of all teams) — to make a statement that they are a force to be reckoned with. I still feel the Rockets have the talent and the bench to run off a bunch of W’s like that.
But first they will have to get past an angry Piston team Sunday night, who the Rockets beat at Toyota Center last week. Now that the Rockets’ offense is finally showing signs of life, Sunday’s game will be very interesting to watch. Can they keep it going against one of the East’s best teams?
Hopefully I will get a chance to see it since I will be driving a few hours to see family for the holidays, and I don’t know what time I’ll get in. The other problem is that my relatives don’t have NBA League Pass or high-speed Internet. But hopefully I’ll be able to find a fast connection somewhere so I can watch that game and write a report. Something tells me it will be several hours after the game ends, and maybe longer.