The Rockets came up with one of their most impressive games of the season, beating the Orlando Magic 96-94 at their “Amway Arena” after losing a heartbreaker against Boston just a couple of nights before.
Man, it feels good to write about a win after 2 disappointing losses to Golden State and Boston. I really liked the effort that most of the Rockets gave. You have to give them a lot of credit for their resilience. Orlando is a good team, having a 22-12 record before the game, although they had only won 7-of-14 games at home this season (15-5 on the road).
It wasn’t easy, though. The Rockets seemingly had the game well in hand with a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, but they blew that lead and Orlando tied the game up on a Rashard Lewis 3-pointer with 19.9 seconds remaining.
That’s when Rafer Alston probably had his biggest play in ages, penetrating into the lane and scoring on a tough left-handed layup for a two-point lead. The Magic almost tied it up when Adonal Foyle tipped the ball in at the buzzer after a Rashard Lewis miss, but the replay showed that the ball left Foyle’s hand about a millisecond too late. It was the correct call by the officials. Congrats to the refs! (You don’t hear me say that phrase too often).
It was a team effort for the Rockets, with players like Big Yao scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 boards in playing well against his new rival, Dwight Howard, who only scored 16 points and grabbed 8 boards before fouling out.
Alston probably had his best game offensively, scoring 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-4 three-pointers, and had 8 assists. He had lots of problems defensively, which I’ll get into later.
Aaron Brooks got tons of minutes (19) and really proved to coach Rick Adelman even more his value, just like many of us have been saying all year. He was awesome in the second half, getting into the lane at will and creating lots of problems for the Magic defensively. He only scored 7 points, but he shot 50% (3-of-6 field goals), had 4 assists and only one turnover while keeping the ball moving.
Adelman also gave decent playing time to Luis Scola, who played 16 quality minutes and delivered 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting. His shot is so sweeet!
Luther Head played “okay” scoring 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting. But he was 0-for-4 from three-point land, something that’s extremely disappointing for the guy who is starting in place of Tracy McGrady. It turned out that during crunch time in the fourth quarter, it was Alston and Brooks in the backcourt rather than Head, and it paid off. I liked the combination since both guys can handle the ball better than Head, which was a problem against Boston the other night.
So that’s four guys in double-figures. There was a fifth, and it was Bonzi Wells with 12 points. He also had 12 rebounds. But he didn’t play as well as the stats may indicate. Sure, he made 6-of-6 free throws, which is extremely good for him. But he was a pathetic 3-of-12 from the field, and he had 6 turnovers, including a huge one that almost cost them the game when he lost the ball on the Rockets’ second-to-last possession to give Orlando the break they needed to tie the game on a three-pointer by Lewis, who was left wide open by Bonzi.
I could continue ripping on Bonzi about all the mistakes he made. But I understand he’s playing with a hurt left shoulder, and I don’t know what kind of effect that’s having on him. I also have a different way of pointing out players’ mistakes, as well as good plays. For this game, I have tried something new.
I decided to track each player’s good and bad plays each quarter, all grouped by the player. In the second half, I tracked each Rocket player in even greater detail, as you’ll see below. Although it took a lot more time to do this, I think it’s quite interesting to see each player’s noteworthy plays grouped like this, especially Aaron Brooks’ play in the fourth quarter. It gives you a good feel for their overall performance in each quarter. Check it out and let me know what you think. I also have inserted some commentary of my own in the midst of some of these descriptions.
Before I begin that, though, I wanted to point out that Tracy McGrady finally made an appearance on the bench during the game. Is it a coincidence that when he shows up to support his teammates, they win? It shouldn’t be strange to see an injured player supporting his team, but it was for me as I saw McGrady cheering them on and clapping when they had good plays. I don’t know if Rockets owner Leslie Alexander ordered McGrady to appear on the bench or what — I’d like to know the real story behind it — but it was nice public relations move, and as contrived as it might be, it was nice to see.
The Rockets had one of their best first quarters this season, scoring 32 points on 56% shooting (14-of-26) and holding an 8-point lead going into the second quarter. They also out-rebounded the Magic 17-5.
Rafer Alston had 10 points, and started off by taking McGrady’s place as the main penetrator, getting into the lane a couple of times. He also hit two three-pointers in the quarter.
Meanwhile, Luther Head settled for two three-pointers, which he missed. He should have been going to the hole more than setting for 3s, which he finally did when he had one of his most gorgeous plays ever. He took it to the hole along the baseline, jumped, then threw a reverse layup off the glass from underneath the rim while being hit (no foul was called).
A little bit later, Luther took it to the baseline, elevated, and hit a jumper from the baseline while on the move. Impressive. That’s normally not his kind of shot.
Chuck Hayes also had an impressive reverse layup, laying it high off the glass from underneath the rim for a score, then later he would have a tip-in after a missed shot.
Last but not least, Yao was active, scoring 12 points and grabbing 8 points in the quarter. I really liked how he tipped in a rebound around Dwight Howard, then later pump faked on Howard to get him to foul him, sending him to the line to make 2 free throws. Yao also grabbed a missed shot in front of the basket that Alston clanged off the back rim, then with one hand threw it down emphatically in one motion. That made the crowd ooh and aah. I love how aggressive Yao has been around the rim this season. Not as many wimpy shots off the glass.
Yao did shoot an airball jumper in the quarter, but luckily Bonzi grabbed it underneath the rim and laid it in. As great of a play that was, Bonzi badly missed a chip shot right in front of the rim after a strong move in the paint. C’mon Bonz, quit missing those!
At the end of the first quarter, it was 32-24, Rockets. With as great as their shooting was (56%), you knew it was too good to last, which was correct.
Luis Scola hits a jumper from the top of the key. Then at the 11:18 mark, Scola picked up 2 quick fouls. But then he hit two more swishing jumpers in a row later to make it 42-33, the second shot coming off the baseline. The guy is money! He got a good look at the end of the quarter, but he just missed it.
Shane Battier was stripped on his way to the basket. Not good, but then a few minutes later he drew a charge on Lewis. He got underneath him well on a drive to the basket. Later, they ran an isolation play for Battier (of all people) on the baseline, and Yao delivered a bounce pass to him from the high post for the score. A little later, Battier drew another charge by hustling down the court on an Orlando fast break.
Bonzi lost the ball just dribbling it while posting up. C’mon! Then he lost it again on a low post move! C’mon again. You ain’t doing nothin’. At 1:18, Bonzi took it strong and was fouled. He went to the line and made both FTs to make it 51-47.
It doesn’t hurt that Orlando started off the 2nd quarter 1-for-10 from the field.
Brooks hit a 3-pointer at the 7:01 mark, but then a little later couldn’t stop Jameer Nelson from getting into the lane for a shot that fell, and Brooks fouled Nelson for the 3-point play.
Luther Head missed more 3-pointers, and was blocked going to the rim by Adonal Foyle, then mishandled a pass which resulted in an Orlando fast break that led to 2 foul shots by Keyon Dooling. That brought the Magic back to 49-47. Head then threw up an ill-advised 3-pointer. Even the Orlando announcers said it was a “terrible shot.”
The Magic turned on their offense to only trail by 2 point at halftime, 51-49. The Rockets only scored 19 points in the 2nd quarter. Luther’s misses didn’t help.
By halftime, Houston had made only 3-of-10 three-pointers and had shot 45% in the half. They also had 10 turnovers.
Yao had 13 points and 8 rebounds, and was 5-of-11 from the field.
11:17- Yao handled the ball poorly just dribbling it in place to turn it over, then Dwight Howard spun around him on the other end for a layup. Terrible defense! 10:26 – Yao is fouled and goes to the line and makes both FTs to make it 55-54, Houston. 8:39 – Yao grabs the offensive rebound off a missed shot by Luther, then throws it down! Yao really hustled on that play! 8:09 – Yao mishandles the ball next to the rim right before he was going to go up for an easy layup, and he loses control of it! Terrible turnover! Immediately after, Yao gets robbed by the refs for just blocking out while Dwight Howard runs into him during an easy layup by Luther. That was Yao’s 4th foul, which was bull crap!
10:55 – Alston hits a jumper from the elbow. He’s 5-of-7 from the field. 9:50 – Alston takes it to the hole and misses a shot at the rim. He complains he was fouled, and he may have a legitimate beef. Then Alston blows another layup after Yao bounced a pass to him right in front of the rim. 7:15 – Arroyo blows by Alston for a layup. 5:57 – Alston steals the ball away from Keyon Dooling, picks the ball up, and dishes to Luther for a layup. 66-62, Houston. 3:57 – Jameer Nelson blows by Alston for a layup. 66-66 tie. 1:43 – Jameer Nelson blows by Alston again for a layup! 70-70 tie. What’s the deal with Alston’s defense against quick point guards? :44.3 – Alston dribbles the ball out-of-bounds off his knee! That’s his 4th turnover of the game. :01.3 – Alston dishes a nice long pass to Battier, who is open behind the 3-point line, and Battier drills it. 76-72 Houston.
To start the quarter, Battier throws up an airball along the baseline. 10:33 – Battier blocks Dwight Howard from behind on a spin move against Yao next to the basket! Rashard Lewis takes it to the hole and scores over Battier. 4:20 – Battier misses a three. :01.3 – Battier hits a three-pointer off a nice Alston pass. 76-72 Houston.
8:39 – Luther misses a 12’ jumper he needs to make as the team’s main shooting guard. 7:00 – Luther lays it in on a give-and-go from Battier. 62-61 deficit. Luther scores on a layup after Alston steals the ball. 66-62, Houston. 1:55 – Luther scores on a layup on a nice bounce pass from Bonzi; good movement by Luther on offense. 70-68, Houston. :31.4 – Luther loses Keith Bogans on a curl move, and Bogans scores easily on a layup. 72-72 tie.
7:25 – Bonzi misses another layup, but luckily he rebounds his own miss and puts it in for a 60-59 deficit. 6:03 – Bonzi turns the ball over on a bad pass to nobody. 4:42 – Bonzi misses a jumper. 3:41 – Bonzi dribbles into traffic in the paint, and turns the ball over. 1:55 – Bonzi throws a nice bounce pass to Luther for a layup. 70-68, Houston.
5:14 – Chuck Hayes is called for an offensive foul on a moving screen.
3:03 – Scola hits a jumper, nothing but net! That gives the Rockets a 68-66 lead. 2:44 – Scola draws a charge on Hedo Turkoglu – great D by Scola. 2:24 – Scola is blocked by Adonal Foyle on a scoop shot attempt in the lane. 2:08 – Then Foyle gets easy separation from Scola on a hook shot in the lane. For some reason, Luis gave up on playing D on that one. 68-68. 1:20 – A few seconds after tipping a loose ball to keep it alive, Scola hits a long jumper, nothing but net, to make it 72-70. :55 – Scola plays good help defense on Rashard Lewis to make Lewis miss his shot.
Entering the fourth quarter, Houston leads 76-72.
11:23 – Alston misses a wide open jumper after coming around a screen from Yao. 8:08 – Alston hits a wide-open three off an Aaron Brooks dish! Interesting combination of 2 point guards in the game at the same time! 85-75 Houston. Alston is 6-for-11 from the field in the game. 3:34 – Alston misses a three-pointer after doing some shaking-and-baking behind the line on his defender. That’s not his kind of shot. Meanwhile, Brooks was wide open. Share the ball, please! 2:26 – Alston drives into the lane and misses a layup off the glass. He got to the rack nicely, but he couldn’t finish. 1:28 – Alston throws a pass from behind the 3-point line to Yao down low, who scores on a huge layup! 93-88 Houston. Great ball movement by the entire Houston offense on that possession! :04.3 – Alston drives into the lane from way out high, and lays it off the glass with his left hand over Adonal Foyle. Beautiful! 96-94 Houston.
11:10 – Bonzi misses a wide open three after Aaron Brooks did a great job passing him the ball from underneath the rim. 9:28 – Bonzi does a great job deflecting a pass in the lane, then a few seconds later strips the ball from Dwight Howard. 5:14 – Bonzi misses a jumper from the elbow after a dish from Brooks. 4:35 – Bonzi scores on a layup after a perfect dish from Brooks, who got into the lane. 3:10 – Bonzi fouls Rashard Lewis from behind as he goes up for a layup. :30.0 – Bonzi throws a bad pass on a huge possession where the Rockets are clinging to a 3-point lead. Turnover on Bonzi! The Rockets get nothing from this possession! On the other end with 19.9 remaining, Rashard Lewis hits a three-pointer over Bonzi, who left him wide open in the lane. Stupid! He is blowing this game! 94-94 tie game. Luther Head replaces Bonzi after that play for the last Houston possession.
10:37 – Brooks misses a 3-pointer badly after Yao gets him the ball out of a double-team. 9:55 – Brooks fouls Jameer Nelson as he goes to the hole, but at least he didn’t let him blow by him for a layup like Alston has been letting him do. 9:46 – Brooks does a great job keeping Nelson out of the lane, and Nelson misses a fallaway jumper. 9:33 – Brooks throws a great pass to Scola underneath the rim, but Scola mishandles the ball for a turnover. 9:25 – Brooks strips the ball from Turkoglu in the middle of the lane. Great D. 9:08 – Brooks scores on a layup after coming around a Yao screen along the baseline! 80-75 Rockets. 8:32 – Brooks jets into the lane past Jameer Nelson, and scores on a teardrop in the lane! Very nice! 82-75 Houston. 8:08 – Brooks penetrates into the lane, draws 4 defenders to him, then kicks it out to Alston who hits a wide-open 3-pointer! 85-75 Houston! Houston is on a 9-0 run. 7:04 – Brooks blocks a three-pointer by Keyon Dooling. He really got up high on that one! Great D! 4:38 – Brooks penetrates into the lane with 3 seconds on the shot clock, and dishes a perfect pass to Bonzi along the baseline for a layup! 91-80 Houston! Brooks is playing in crunch time, and Luther Head isn’t! 2:48 – Either Brooks or Alston leaves Jameer Nelson wide-open for a three-pointer. 91-88 Houston. The Rockets’ 12-point lead is now down to only 3 points. Brooks can’t be faulted too much because he had to contest Turkoglu’s 3-pointer early in the shot clock during Orlando’s transition. 2:19 – Brooks does an awesome job getting back on a fast break for Orlando, drawing a charge on Jameer Nelson! That was a huge play for Houston, drawing the Houston bench off their feet! (even McGrady!) 2:10 – Brooks gets into the lane but misses a layup where he switched the ball from his right hand to his left. You’re not going to see that kind of miss too often from Brooks. That was Alston-esque. 1:08 – Jameer Nelson hits a three over Brooks. 93-91 Houston. Brooks had been helping out on defense on another defender right before that shot.
10:06 – Yao hits a beautiful right-handed jump hook over Dwight Howard. 78-75. 8:24 – Yao plays great D on Dwight Howard, who drives into Yao. Howard is called for the offensive foul, his fifth! 6:42 – Yao misses a fallaway jumper, but Battier gets the offensive rebound. A few seconds later, Howard gambles on an entry pass into Yao, and Yao gets the ball and scores on a dunk! 87-77 Houston. 5:52 – Yao hits a beautiful fallaway jumper along the baseline over Howard! 89-77 Houston! Yao now has 23 points. 4:07 – Howard pokes the ball away from Yao as he dribbles it in the low post for a turnover. What’s the deal with Yao’s ball handling tonight? 2:55 – Yao misses a fallaway jumper from the elbow. 2:24 – Yao fails to get a missed layup from Rafer Alston right in front of the rim, which was big because the Rockets are trying to hold off the Magic as they make a big run. 1:31 – Yao scores on a layup after a great pass from Alston from the top of the key – huge bucket that makes it 93-88 Houston. :51.3 – Yao is fouled by Howard in the act of shooting, who fouls out. Yao goes to the line, misses the first free throw, but makes the second. That miss may really hurt since it only gives Houston a 94-91 lead with :51.3 remaining. :43.1 – Yao grabs a rebound after Rashard Lewis misses a big 3-pointer that could have tied it up!
9:33 – Scola can’t hold on to a great pass from Brooks.
Finally, Rashard Lewis takes it to hole and puts up a shot over Chuck Hayes, who is playing decent D, and Foyle tips it in, but it’s right after the buzzer. Rockets win!