I’m back at it. Thanks again for all your nice comments while I’ve been out. After having shoulder surgery on Tuesday, I’ve spent the past few days recuperating, fighting off dizzy spells resulting from my post-surgery drugs, and trying to get over that debacle of a game last Tuesday night against the 76ers when the Rockets blew a 16-point lead late in the third quarter. I’m still hurting after that one. Good thing I wasn’t able to write much after that game or I would still be writing based on all that I felt like venting after watching it later on my DVR.
Despite Tuesday night’s collapse, I would bet the Rockets surprised a lot of people Saturday night in beating the Spurs 83-81 at Toyota Center. Just a reminder that I can’t type as fast as I normally would, so please excuse how brief this post may be, any typos, and some things that may not make complete sense because my brain is still fuzzy from the drugs.
This game came down to the final seconds where the Rockets held on despite almost giving the game away by missing several free throws late in the game (Yao missed 3 in a row, and Rafer Alston missed a big one late). But San Antonio’s Matt Bonner missed a potential game-tying shot that could have sent the game to overtime and could have been a third nightmarish collapse in a row for the Rockets, who held a 12-point lead in the third quarter.
Tracy McGrady was able to play, but Rick Adelman didn’t start him. Instead, he started Bonzi Wells and had Shane Battier on the bench. Come to find out after the game that Battier volunteered to come off the bench since Manu Ginobili also does the same, and Battier usually guards Ginobili. The more Adelman thought about it, the more he liked the idea, and the more I like the idea for every game.
McGrady came into the game around the 6-minute mark of the first quarter and very quickly jacked up one of his stupid long jumpers that missed, but a couple of minutes later he took it strong to the hole on Bruce Bowen for a nifty score off the glass, then blocked Bowen on the next possession. A few seconds later, he dished a pass to Yao for a hook shot off the glass, then hit a three with 1:29 remaining in the quarter to close out a 9-1 run and make it 19-18, Houston. Finishing 2-of-4 from the field for 5 points in the first quarter alone, along with a block and an assist, and you had to be happy that McGrady wasn’t a detriment to the team right off the bat like many people thought he would be.
McGrady would have some key assists down the stretch that were huge, so I’m going to give him credit for those. His ability to create shots for others is still very impressive, so it’s amazing to me that after all the games McGrady watched while injured where there was decent ball movement and there was so much concern about him jacking up jumpers upon his return, he CONTINUED TO DO IT! McGrady was 1-for-5 from 3-point land, including misses that allowed the Spurs to get back into the game in the third quarter, and shows to me that he just doesn’t get it. But I’ll save my harping on McGrady for another day when the Rockets lose because of his shoot-first mentality. Good thing they won this one or you’d be hearing me rant even more.
In that first quarter, the Rockets struggled because Rafer Alston was also jacking up jumpers, shooting 4 of them and making only one. IN THE MEANTIME, YAO MING ONLY GOT TO TAKE TWO SHOTS IN THE QUARTER, WITH HIS FIRST ATTEMPT COMING WITH 3:57 REMAINING IN THE FIRST QUARTER. WHAT TOOK SO LONG?
WHEN ALSTON, McGRADY, and LUTHER HEAD ARE TAKING MORE SHOTS THAN YAO, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE PROBLEMS. This trend continued through the end of the game, with Alston shooting 6-for-15 from the field. McGrady, in his first game back in 11 games, shot 12 times (making 4) in 26 minutes compared to Yao’s 7-of-10 shooting in 39 minutes. Luther Head shot 11 times (making 4) in 22 minutes. Incredible. Meanwhile, Tim Duncan shot 21 times for the Spurs, by far the most number of FG attempts among all their players. Can’t the Rockets learn from the champs? I normally don’t harp too much on Yao not getting enough shots, but I’m convinced now that we’ve seen the best that Alston, Head, and McGrady can be. Unless most of their shots come from attacking the basket, which unfortunately isn’t the case, then I just don’t think the Rockets are going very far with them. They are just ‘okay’ shooters at best, which isn’t enough to become one of the league’s elite teams.
Yao was solid, scoring down low when he got the chance. When the Spurs clogged it up inside for him, he moved outside to the high post and did some damage from there, like in the second quarter when he did pick-and-roll with Luther, with Luther delivering a pass to Yao on the move and laying it in over Duncan on a sweet move. He also dished a nice assist to Battier, who cut into the lane for a layup in the second quarter, as well as lasered a pass into Bonzi Wells underneath the basket for a score. Yao would finish with 3 assists, but his 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 14 boards were huge since many of those rebounds resulted in important put-back buckets.
The main blemish on Yao’s boxscore was his missing 3 free throws in the clutch that could have put the game away. I plan to write a post before Monday’s game about what should be done about the Rockets’ problems to hit shots and free throws late in games, so stay tuned for that.
Although Yao was great with key rebounds and shots and scoring 21 points, for me, the unsung hero was rookie Carl Landry for a couple of reasons. Not only because of his stats (3-of-4 shooting for 7 points, 5 boards), but he hustled for key rebounds, including an offensive rebound in the second quarter over Duncan that he threw down. Landry seemed to surprise the Spurs with his athleticism and intensity. It had probably been a long time since the Spurs had seen a player like that playing for Houston, not to mention a rookie, and I loved it. Perhaps it showed the Spurs that the Rockets are not going to stand pat and roll the same old guys out there. There are some young guns coming, and they are going to mix it up, and for that, I’ve got to give credit to Adelman.
Landry showed that he immediately deserves much more of Chuck Hayes’ minutes. Hayes was pathetic offensively (as normal), missing all six of his shots around the rim. It’s time, Adelman, to put Hayes on the bench and to give Luis Scola and Landry the minutes they deserve.
Although Scola was 2-for-11 from the field, I really doubt he’ll miss that many shots in the future, and he makes up for it with rebounds and steals that Hayes can’t even match. He’s also fearless, which helps him get to loose balls, rebounds, and he has the guts to not pass up an open shot that I think he’ll make most of the time in the future.
I also think Bonzi Wells made a case that he deserves to start over Shane Battier all the time. Battier was a terrible 1-for-5 from 3-point land, but was still able to be effective off the bench “doing the little things” while Bonzi was 3-of-4 with 7 points. It’s ironic that Battier played twice as many minutes as Bonzi (34 vs. 16), but I like the idea of Battier’s hustle coming off the bench rather than at the start of the game. The Rockets need more of a threat on the offensive side of the ball to start the game.
As I mentioned earlier, I plan to write something on Sunday about what the Rockets should do to improve their chances of winning games late so it doesn’t take a mini-miracle to win like they did Saturday night against the Spurs. In the meantime, it’s good to see the Rockets get a win against a tough team that no one expected them to get.
By the way, did any of you see friggin’ Bruce Bowen’s cheap shot play in the first quarter when, like normal, he stuck his foot underneath a jump shooter (this time Luther Head), and Luther landed on his foot and almost severely sprained his ankle? I hate that Bruce Bowen thug more than any player in the league, just as much as Ginobili the flopper!