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Seattle almost slays Rockets, but Yao-McGrady combo saves the day

January 24th, 2008
by John
Yao Ming takes it strong to the hole against Seattle's Nick Collison.  Yao scored 26 points on 6-of-13 shooting and 14-of-15 from the free throw line.  He also had 12 rebounds and 6 assists to team up with Tracy McGrady (28 points) to overcome a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a miracle win against a team that had lost 11 in a row before the game.Yao Ming takes it strong to the hole against Seattle’s Nick Collison. Yao scored 26 points on 6-of-13 shooting and 14-of-15 from the free throw line. He also had 12 rebounds and 6 assists to team up with Tracy McGrady (28 points) to overcome a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a miracle win against a team that had lost 11 in a row before the game.

I was preparing for one of my biggest rants of the season as I saw the Rockets’ lack of heart on display during most of Wednesday night’s game against the 9-32 Seattle Sonics. I absolutely couldn’t believe that even the Rockets could lose to a team they had just narrowly beaten Monday to hand them their 11th loss in a row. Hadn’t they learned their lesson in almost blowing that game against the same team?

But then midway through the 4th quarter, something mysterious happened. The Rockets made plays and refused to lose, pulling out a miraculous 109-107 victory after being down 13 points with 8:10 remaining in the 4th quarter!

This game had two major themes: the first theme was about guys who you thought were down who came back to make big plays. The second theme was the opposite: about some guys who stepped up, but then went back down to almost negate everything they had done so well.

The first theme can be applied to the entire Rockets squad in general. The Sonics led most of the game, hitting everything from the outside and out-hustling Houston, leading by that seemingly insurmountable 13 points.

But then the Rockets came back on a surge, led by a guy who almost everyone thought a couple of weeks ago the Rockets would be better without, Mr. Tracy McGrady. He took over the game in the third and fourth quarters when hardly anyone else could hit a shot. He was everything you expect him to be, except for one major thing. After putting the Rockets on his back in the final minutes to finally give them a 2-point lead 12 with seconds remaining, he was intentionally fouled, then proceeded to BLOW TWO FREE THROWS, giving the Sonics a chance to win the game. You really want to believe in the guy, but right when you think you can without getting burned, he does something like that!


Then a few seconds later he made another major mistake on the game’s last play when he let Kevin Durant easily break free for a very makeable 3-point shot attempt, which luckily missed to give the Rockets the win. Realizing how lucky he was by letting Durant get open so easily, he just stood there in shock (as did his teammates) in disbelieve they had escaped with the W.

The down-and-then-up theme continues with Rafer Alston stinking it up from the field on 5-of-17 shooting (and 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter), until he hit a HUGE 3-pointer with 19 seconds remaining after McGrady penetrated into the lane and kicked it back out to Alston to make it 109-105 Houston. It’s amazing how one big shot like that can make everyone forget for a couple of days how poorly he was from INSIDE the 3-point line, but was ironically very good from 3-point range (5-of-9).

Finally, you have another down-then-up figure in Chuck Hayes, who was terrible on offense earlier in the game (as usual) after blowing an easy layup and shooting an airball to go 0-for-2 on the night. But then Rick Adelman inserted him into the game for defensive purposes on Seattle’s final possession, and Hayes delivered by blocking a Durant shot attempt out of bounds along the baseline with 1.6 remaining…right before his last 3-point attempt that could have won it.

Of course, we can’t forget about Yao, who was consistent all night long. He hit 14-of-15 from the line (including 3-for-3 from the line in the 4th quarter) and 6-of-13 from the field to score 26 points. He also grabbed 12 boards and 6 assists. No down-and-up or up-and-then-down theme for Yao. Just extremely solid on offense, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and 7 points in the fourth. Defense for him (and his teammates) could have been much better, though.

Let’s talk about McGrady some more. Near the end of the game he and Durant were in an absolute duel. McGrady scored on him a few times for very big shots, but Durant had his way during most of the game hitting jumper after jumper. Durant even took McGrady to the hole with 16 seconds remaining to out-extend him beautifully with his long arms for a layup off the glass. That gave KD 25 points, but McGrady offset his firepower with 28 points on 13-of-23 shooting. Without McGrady stepping up in this game, and I really think you could have written the Rockets off for the rest of the season because it would have been such a demoralizing loss after so many other terrible losses.

I don’t think it’s any accident that McGrady shot only three 3-pointers and the Rockets won. He shot only two 3’s on Monday, and they won that game, too. Like many of us have known for quite some time…if he doesn’t jack up stupid 3-pointers all the time, the Rockets have a much better chance of winning.

I look at the Seattle roster and see all the talent they have, and it’s hard for me to believe they have lost 12 in a row. For example, Kurt Thomas was huge by stepping outside away from Yao and hitting mid-range jumpers (6-of-7 overall for 16 points) to absolutely kill the Rockets. Then you’ve got Wally Szczerbiak showing that he can still shoot from the outside, scoring 22 points on 7-of-12 and 7-of-7 from the line. He was virtually unstoppable, but the Rockets’ bad perimeter defense didn’t hurt them at all.

Luke Ridnour hit 5-of-10 shots for 10 points. Earl Watson was 4-of-7 for 10 points. Even Johan Petro was 3-for-3 with 9 points. Their team shooting was 52% overall compared to Houston’s 47%, and they shot 60% in the first half. Their free throw shooting was much better, scoring 6 more points from the charity strip and hitting 81.4% of their FTs compared to Houston’s 62%. And Seattle committed only 9 turnovers. So you’ve got to wonder how in the world did Houston win this game?

It was because Houston out-did them in a couple of key categories. Houston was absolutely saved by their 3-point shooting, hitting 11-of-23 compared to Seattle’s 1-of-8. Houston also only turned the ball 7 times (3 by Yao). And they had a narrow margin in assists (28-23).

They also had some role players step up. Shane Battier was 4-of-8 from the field and 3-of-7 from 3-point range for 11 points. No shot was bigger than a very long 3-pointer he hit with 2:35 remaining in the game.

And there is no way you can forget about rookie Carl Landry, who was 4-of-4 from the field for 8 points, showing the hustle we have quickly come to expect from him. He also made an extremely athletic layup off the glass while in mid-air with 4:52 remaining in the game that helped the Rockets make their 25-8 run in the fourth quarter.

But the biggest difference was McGrady. Even with his terrible free throw shooting (you would have thought he would have had plenty of time to practice shooting free throws during the time he was out with his knee injury), he was feelin’ it when the Rockets absolutely needed him. If he hadn’t, then we could be very easily talking right now about dismantling this team after a humiliating loss against a poor Seattle team, and how no one showed leadership down the stretch to pull out a game the Rockets absolutely needed.

So for all the folks who thought before McGrady’s return a couple of games ago that he should be traded, let us know your thoughts after this game (if you saw it). Was this a fluke performance where the Rockets should consider trading him when his value is high, and his injury is not as serious as everyone might have thought? Or do they continue to ride him and see how far he and Yao can take this team?

14 Responses to “Seattle almost slays Rockets, but Yao-McGrady combo saves the day”

  1. AirChina23 Says:

    I forgive McGrady for missing those free throws, when you have a bruised knee, you can’t follow the same form that you normally shoot at the line. You can adjust on a jump shot by pushing off from the other leg, but at the line, both legs need to be balanced. But the lack of defensive coverage on Durant on the last play was all Tracy. All of his efforts would’ve gone in vain had Durant hit that shot. (Kudos to Scola for the challenge)

    I believe while the Rockets do have some defensive issues to address, let’s give some credit to the Seattle offense. They were on fire. I have never seen Kurt Thomas or Pedro hit that many mid-range shots before. Hopefully the Rockets will not see this kind of offense from an opponent for a while.

  2. All for Rockets Says:

    Do you think Rockects can go far? They even had difficult time with lowest ranking teams.
    No hope.

  3. Jebb Says:

    With 20 seconds left. Rockets should work out a pass to Yao, who made 14 of 15 free throw of the night, a foul is expected. But hot rod Tmac just did not want to pass the ball to Yao, and miss both free throw! Rockets got lucky tonight! I thought it should be a no brainer for Yao to draw the foul for that play! Don’t tell me it is that difficult to work out a pass to Yao who is 7’5″.

    I thought there were quite a few possesions that I saw Tmac just ignore Yao when Yao was in good position to receive the ball! Something tell me that the chemistry is not right! I hope I am wrong about it!

  4. Allen Says:

    Well go figure, our offense finally settles in and guys start hitting shots (save for Alston % wise), but now we can’t defend anyone! I am sorry, but I don’t give a damn how well you score, you get nowhere in the NBA without defense. Check every champion for the past million years, and the only recent one who didn’t play D was the Miami Heat. Everyone else was at the top of the league in defense. All this season everyone has talked about offense, but it is defense we need to learn, and learn fast if we want to stay in the playoffs. JVG anyone? I think it is unforgivable to let the godawful sonics who are led by two ROOKIES score 60 points in the first hlf. Give me a break. Yao has regressed so much defensively this year, at least in man coverage. Thank God we hit shots down the stretch or I would be off the Rockets bandwagon this year.

  5. Vince Says:

    Yao and McGrady FOREVER!!!

  6. Rob Says:

    I still don’t think Rox can get anywhere near equal value for T-mac (even in rooks with high upside) so I would roll the dice with the current roster at least for this season. Yao is still young enough if you want to rebuild around him starting next season.

  7. calyp Says:

    you sound as though Tmac intentionally missed those free throws. your rants are often a result of misplaced expectations. it is one thing to know even All-Stars have limits, quite another to think the same star “lets” people get by him to shoot 3s or lets himself miss free throws. Tmac is 99% untradeable now so just live with it. my 2 cents

    it’s you again. just to let my readers know, i’ve intentionally not posted some of your comments because they make no sense and don’t want to bother my readers with it, but i’ve decided to approve this one for some unknown reason. this is one of the most “misguided” comments i’ve ever read (i would use a stronger word, but i’m trying to be somewhat civil here). it’s not too much to expect an $18 million per year athlete to make more than 1-of-6 free throws when he could have been practicing for a couple of weeks on that. or to move his feet in the last few seconds of a game to guard his man who can hit three-pointers like they are layups. and you obviously don’t read my posts. i’ve never said McGrady should be traded. in fact, i ask people at the end of my post if he should be traded. don’t bother commenting again because you never read what i say, you have some kind of weird agenda, and i can sense your tone from a mile away. — john

  8. Wilson Says:

    I THINK THE ROCKETS SHOULD KEEP T-MAC…FOR THIS SEASON ONLY AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS…IF THE ROCKETS GET TO THE PLAYOFFS!
    (LIKE A LAST OPPORTUNITY FOR THE YAO-TMAC COMBO TO SEE IF HAVE SOMETHING LEFT).
    I STRONGLY BELIEVE COACH ADELMAN SHOULD START SCOLA INSTEAD OF HAYES AND PLAY AARON BROOKS MORE MINUTES!!!
    YAO + SCOLA + AB= ROCKETS NBA CHAMPIONS!!!

  9. BOBBYNYC Says:

    John I need to agree with you with the fact that Yao shouldn’t be relied upon heavily to finish out games. Couple of things that suggusts that: He doesn’t take good care of the ball, he takes too long to make a decisive post move, and he’s too predictable although still hard to reject on his shots. With that said, Yao is still a great option with the majority of a game and depending on matchups at the end of certain games. John I don’t want to “baby” Yao anymore. He is not a great player. He is only a solid player. He loses too many rebounds at the end of crucial games and his go to move is too predictable and too slow. I didn’t watch this game but i trust your analysis of Yao, but are the Rockets offense, ball movement specifically still circulating smoothly with the addition of TMAC now? I think TMAC needs to stay for this season and see if they can salvage this season and make a run in the playoffs. But if you tell me that with the addition of TMAC being back caused the offense to slow down again then he has to go after this season regardless. I’m a big Yao fan, but I’m just tired of babying him. He is what he is. Just solid, not great!

    Bobby, looks like we agree on Yao, although I would still call him ‘great’ even if he’s just ‘solid.’ Being a very solid player for the majority of the game is still a very valuable commodity.

    Regarding the offense, I think the ball movement has been better than what I expected upon McGrady’s return, which I think has been helped by him taking the ball to the basket, dishing for assists, and resisting the temptation to jack up too many 3-pointers (only 5 over the last two games) and when he does shoot a jumper, to do it in the flow of the offense. Meanwhile, Alston has gone back to his inconsistent shooting (his hot streak from within two-point range appears to be over, as expected. Thank goodness his 3-pointers were falling last night.) Luther Head is taking less shots after bricking up many in that 21-shot game a few games ago when he only made like 5 or 6 of them. That’s some of the reasons why McGrady’s shooting is needed now more than ever (since the hot streak ended with Alston and Head), although it amazes me Rick Adelman hasn’t been playing Aaron Brooks more after AB showed he has the goods during McGrady’s absence. Carl Landry also helps in the shooting and ball movement department, and Shane Battier appears to be finding his shot. I agree with you, the Rockets should see what McGrady can do for them the rest of the season, and then re-evaluate at the end of the season. $18 million a year is an awful lot of dough to be paying one guy who can’t will his team into the playoffs or a playoff series win. — John

  10. Kaolin Says:

    I think even if after McGrady got healthy, he should play like when he’s hurt. It’s sort of a Zen thing, when he knows the limit to his ability, he actually make better decisions. I still like him a lot, he is just such an unbelievable talent, and I agree that the rockets are not likely to get equal or better value from trading him.

  11. Luckyme Says:

    I agree with Jebb above mentioning there was chemistry missing between Yao and Tmac. They don’t seem to be warm to each other from what I could see – just politely acknowledged each other. This seems to be as a result of criticism that Tmac made of Yao’s comments 1-2 months ago.

  12. Jim From Hollywood CA! Says:

    Hi everybody.
    Everybody seems to be a little edgy over this last win.
    Lets all remember that games are played in a competitive fashion.
    This is the NBA, and even teams that are way below 500 are going to come out and play hard to win (Unless your the heat ..J/K)
    Anywayz sure the rockets are supposed to win these games but hey teams get hot. like to think that the rockets came toghether late and pulled out a win as a team. John what do you think-Being down in the 4th quarter they could have easily thrown in the towel, but they roughed it out. well its good to see Tmac enjoying himself out there w/ his team mates. Scola is playing so hard, and doing so well. I really think he is the X factor of the team.


    Hi Jim, Thank God the Rockets pulled it out. It would have been an absolute disaster if they had lost since everyone in the world has been taking note of their uninspired play against lesser opponents. That’s even worse than not having talent. I agree that every team in the league is very competitive, but the Rockets have lost to the worst teams in the league this season (Philly twice, Miami, Memphis), so adding Seattle to that mix would have been awful. And this has happened in other years, too, during the JVG era. The difference is that those Rocket teams in the past always had a resilience about them.

    But if this year’s team hadn’t beaten Seattle on Wednesday, I think a huge mental note would have been made by management and ownership that heads would roll and players would be traded before the trading deadline this season, or during the off-season. The microscope is still on them, though. Hopefully by escaping with their lives out of Seattle, it will inspire them to play much better. — John

  13. jeff Says:

    I am really glad that T-Mac has silenced all the critics. No one will argue that he is a rare talent. No one, including Magic Johnson, will again suggest to trade him away.

    In fact, the downfall of the Rockets from a fifty-plus season is not due to T-Mac, Yao or any of the players. Very few would argue that the Rockets have a much better group this season. It is up the Head Coach to decide on the appropriate strategies on how to deploy the team. If an explanation is required for the downfall, Rick Idleman is the only suitable person to provide the answer.

  14. johnl Says:

    i think its great that now couple of the players would try to get themselves open then cut into the lane and go for a layup whenever yao has the ball.. before whenever yao has the ball, everyone just stand there and watching.. you know yao would pass the ball if he sees you are open cuz he is a unselfish player…. i think the offense is much better now..

    what do you think John?

    Yes, I absolutely agree. That has been one of the successes of the new Adelman offense — bringing Yao out of the lane occasionally and having him use his passing skills, something that was so overlooked in the JVG era. — John

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