Having lost to the Philadelphia 76ers last week AT HOME to end Philly’s 7-game losing streak, the Rockets were very close to messing up again against a poor team. The Rockets almost let Seattle snap their own 10-game losing streak after letting them shoot 51% in the first half and let them close within 4 points at 89-85 with 1:50 remaining.
But then Houston finally woke up and made the plays they needed to just get by the Sonics. No big field goals were really made by anyone other than Yao taking it strong to the hole on the next possession, getting fouled, and hitting 2 free throws to make it 91-85. The rest of the way the defense stepped up when it had to, and they made 5-of-6 free throws to seal the win.
The effort was so bad on the defensive side of the ball, usually passive Houston announcer Bill Worrell said, “The Rockets defense stinks” early in the third quarter after Chuck Hayes was burned on defense, and Worrell lamented how inconsistent their defense was after putting together such a great effort on Saturday against the Spurs. Amen, Bill.
It’s surprising the Rockets won if you look at certain parts of their boxscore, like 1-for-12 from the 3-point line (Shane Battier 1-for-5 from beyond the arc), 5-for-17 from Rafer Alston (how can he put up 17 shots and Aaron Brooks only put up one?), and Luis Scola shooting 0-for-6.
But they made up for it with an awesome effort by Yao Ming, who scored 30 points and grabbed 17 boards. Yao was a monster against the undersized Sonics, and thank goodness the Rockets exploited it with Yao putting up 19 shots and making 12 of them. On many occasions he grabbed offensive rebounds (7 overall) and put up several of those for put-back baskets, including one with 2:44 remaining in the game to give the Rockets an 89-83 lead after Tracy McGrady missed a 3-pointer.
The other guy who gave the Rockets a lift was rookie Carl Landry, who was very aggressive by taking it to the hole and scoring 12 points in the first half, including going to the line 10 times. He made just 6 of those free throws, but if he improves in that area as he has in other parts of his game, he’ll be just fine. Landry is such an upgrade over Chuck Hayes offensively (who was 0-for-1 for the game, missing a layup), it’s not even funny. Landry also showed he has the strength to fight through fouls and still get the ball up and spin it off the glass for scores. But right when I start giving props to coach Rick Adelman for playing Landry, he throws a curve ball and hardly plays him in the second half. What’s up with that?
Luckily Tracy McGrady played a smart game, scored 17 points, and only shot two 3-pointers. He missed both of them, but if McGrady just shoots two 3’s each game, I can live with that. Just look at what it did to his field goal percentage: he was 7-for-15 from the floor….Not bad at all! And they won! Instead, he attacked the basket, drew double-teams, and got 5 assists as a result.
The Rockets are now at the halfway mark with a 22-19 record, and head up to Seattle to play against the Sonics on Wednesday night. I’m really worried about that game because the Rockets can’t afford to have a lackluster defensive effort on the road, even against a team that has lost 11 in a row. Even Adelman ripped into the team in his post-game news conference, which I really liked. Here were some of his quotes:
“We don’t finish the game. We have to continue to guard. You have to get good shots. You have to be tough enough to finish plays. It was a very frustrating game from that standpoint. Sooner or later we’re gonna have to learn our lesson. You don’t relax…we gave up so many easy opportunities. We come down and we’re 7 ahead or whatever it was and we give a wide-open three to Sczerbiak. I mean it’s unbelievable. It’s just a dribble hand-off. How do we not switch that play and not cover that? We can’t continue to do it if you’re going to be consistent in the way we’re going to play, and that’s disturbing… We’ve talked about it. Players have to play. They’ve got to make plays. They can’t continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.”