The Rockets were outclassed in the beginning of their game against the Celtics Wednesday night, falling behind by as much as 20 points as Boston ran a clinic against them, embarrassing the Rockets, who left guys wide open for layups.
They also got outclassed at the end of the game, getting beaten by a superstar in Kevin Garnett, who hit big shot after big shot to score 11 points in the game’s final 7 minutes.
In between, the Rockets fought hard and made it an interesting game against one of the league’s best teams. But as expected, they didn’t have a guy to step up at the end of a close game, while Boston did. It was just a matter of time before one of the Big 3 (Garnett, Ray Allen, or Paul Pierce) of the Celtics put the Rockets away, and no surprise, it was KG, who hit several jumpers in the fourth quarter to push the Celtics record to an amazing 27-3 after beating Houston 97-91 in Boston.
Meanwhile, Houston’s superstar, Yao Ming, didn’t do anything in the clutch moments of the game, partly because he was swarmed by Celtic defenders who made it difficult for him to get the ball, and partly because he hasn’t been that clutch with his shot late in games. He was 1 of 3 from the field in the fourth quarter, scoring a garbage basket at the end of the game.
I have said before that it may not be fair for Yao to be considered the prototypical go-to guy since not many back-to-the-basket 7-footers don’t have the luxury of being able to dribble much to create their own shot. It’s also easy to double-team a guy when he’s not facing the basket and is down low in the paint in a confined area, unlike KG who can move around, face up and shoot jumpers over the defense as good as anyone.
Yao also didn’t do anything in the first part of the game, starting off 2-for-11 from the field. He finally got it going in the second and third quarter to help the Rockets get back into it. But that’s when the pressure was off. When the pressure was back on again, he couldn’t really do anything. Yao would finish a disappointing 7-of-20 from the field for 19 points, 13 rebounds and 4 turnovers.
I was hoping with Rick Adelman‘s new offense that with Yao in the high post, he would have more of an opportunity to try some uncontested jumpers from the elbow late in the game. But I think there is a reluctance to bring Yao out of the paint in the clutch moments of the game because of his height advantage that can get him a pretty decent look, and he shoots for a fairly decent percentage down there. He also has more of an opportunity to grab a rebound if he misses, and if he’s fouled, he can go to the line and hit his free throws.
But there’s something about having to hit a turnaround jumper or jump hook at the end of the game that doesn’t work for Yao, and maybe for most people because it’s a difficult shot to begin with. Yao had his chances, but it’s clear that the Rockets need more than Yao to hit a big shot at the end of games. I don’t think the answer is Tracy McGrady (when he gets back from his injury). McGrady doesn’t seem to finish strong at the end of games any more. I don’t think he would have been the difference in this game.
The Rockets instead are having to rely on average shooters (at best) like Luther Head, Rafer Alston, Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells to make jumpers at the end of close games. They may make shots in the first 43 or 44 minutes of a game, but those last 4 or 5 minutes is when you really need someone with ice water in their veins to drain a shot when you need it. Right now the Rockets don’t have that guy, not even McGrady.
Given what he has shown us so far, I actually think Luis Scola could have some potential to be that guy. He’s got a nice-looking shot, can do so many things to keep the defense off-balance, and really hustles for rebounds and loose balls. But he wasn’t in the game in the final minutes to be given that chance, and to help out Yao in defending Garnett; Yao isn’t going to be able to get out to the perimeter to contest KG’s jumpers. Instead, it was Yao all by himself, which ain’t going to happen. Bad move, Adelman.
Instead of Scola being in there late, it was Bonzi Wells. Bonzi had a decent game, finishing 8-of-14 from the field for 25 points. He kept attacking the rim, as usual, and made some great plays, but also missed some easy chippies. And he missed 3-of-12 free throws, which actually isn’t bad for him. But if you’re wanting to beat the Celtics, you just about have to make all of them.
I also think Aaron Brooks could be that guy in the clutch who could make the big shot, but he only took one jumper in the fourth quarter and missed it. Before clutch time, though, I was impressed. He came up with 2 big steals that led to points, was able to get into the lane quite easily with his speed and create shots for others (2 assists), and had a nice shake-and-bake move in the lane to nail a jumper when the Rockets were struggling to score.
I know Rafer Alston isn’t that “ice water” guy, but I have to admit I was impressed with how he finally stopped shooting 3-pointers after awhile. When he did stop and started taking it to the hole, he either scored, or dished off to a teammate for a basket or a foul. If Alston could just keep doing that, I might stay off his back. He’s much more effective going to the hole, although he will clank or airball a few runners every once in awhile.
He still shot too many three-pointers in this game, making only 1-of-5, but even with those bricks, he still finished 8-of-16 from the field for 18 point. Without those 3-point attempts, he would have finished 7-of-11. Try a whole game without shooting a three, Rafer, and I might even lose the “0-fer” nickname I have given to you.
Luther Head was just “okay” in this game, hitting 4-of-11 shots, including 2-of-5 from three-point land. But for some reason, Adelman had him handling the ball late in the game AGAIN that resulted in a turnover when he tried a bounce pass to Yao with 1:55 remaining in the game and the game on the line. Why does Adelman allow Head to handle the ball late in games like that? This is the second time he’s done that late in the game, and it has backfired. Once again, he’s not a point guard.
For most of the second half, I was wondering why Garnett wasn’t playing very much as other guys like Scot Pollard and Kendrick Perkins fouled out trying to guard Yao. After Perkins fouled out, it was KG’s time. Interesting use of trying to save KG for clutch time as the Rockets were making their run.
It’s getting very late and I’ve got a lot of other work to do, so I’ll end it here. But let me know your thoughts on this question: assuming most of you agree with me that McGrady probably wouldn’t have made a difference late in this game, who is the guy who can help the Rockets get over the hump in clutch time that can be reasonably obtained in a trade?