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Rockets rookies shock Blazers

January 26th, 2008
by John
Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutombo, Luther Head and other Rocket players cheer on their teammates during the 4th quarter of a big win in Portland.  Yao only scored 11 points (but had 10 rebounds) as the Rockets ended the Blazers' 12-game home winning streak.Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutombo, Luther Head and other Rocket players cheer on their teammates during the 4th quarter of a big win in Portland. Yao only scored 11 points (but had 10 rebounds) as the Rockets ended the Blazers’ 12-game home winning streak.

With the way the Rockets played during big stretches of their game against Portland Friday night, you thought there would be no way they could beat the Blazers to make them lose for only the four time in 21 games at home this season. In addition, the Rockets are only 3-15 when trailing at halftime, which was the case in this game as they trailed 50-42 at the intermission. Their chances didn’t look good.

But with the help of the guys we have been saying for weeks are “for real,” rookies Carl Landry, Luis Scola and Aaron Brooks came up big in an 89-79 win to give Houston its fourth win in a row (fifth on the road!) and pull within 1 game of the Blazers and Utah to tie for the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoff race. Thank goodness coach Rick Adelman seems to finally realize the value of all 3 of these guys to play them in crunch time, like many of us have been saying all year long.

The Rockets needed all they could get from their reserves since Yao Ming only had two field goals for the entire game (2-of-8 overall), with no FGs in the first half, which had to be a first. But the Big Man made a big-time contribution from the free throw line, hitting 7-of-8 to finish with 11 points, and grabbed 10 boards.

When the Rockets were making a big run in the third quarter, you just had to be sick how much bigger their lead could have been if they hadn’t been so careless with the ball. Already saddled with 10 turnovers by halftime, Rafer Alston was absolutely terrible running the offense, turning the ball 3 or 4 times in a little over 7 minutes in the third quarter. Even Houston radio announcer Gene Peterson was amazed that Rick “Idleman” continued to let Alston play after turning the ball over so much. Despite Alston’s miscues and the team’s 8 TOs overall in the third, the Rockets were able to make up an 8-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 62-62 entering the third quarter. But you had a feeling they might have blown a golden opportunity to have built an even bigger lead.

Luckily in the fourth quarter, Aaron Brooks was in the game in place of Alston. Although AB didn’t hit a shot, he made 4-of-4 free throws and continually busted the Blazers’ trapping defense late in the game to secure the win.

Luis Scola also got on track offensively, hitting 2-of-2 shots in the fourth quarter (including a big baseline jumper with 4:00 minutes remaining to give the Rockets a 79-73 lead) after making only 1-of-5 in the first half. He also drew a shooting foul with 2:11 remaining and hit 2 free throws to make it 84-77. But his biggest contribution came on the boards, grabbing 12 rebounds to go along with his 11 points.

Last but not least, Yao’s backup Carl Landry continues to show the Rockets may have had the steal of the NBA draft. Landry was a force down low, hitting 3-of-3 shots in the fourth quarter. His first two scores came off Tracy McGrady dishes in the lane for a dunk and a nice move underneath the rim for a layup. It was his final bucket that was huge. With 2:49 remaining, McGrady drove into the lane and missed a layup, but LANDRY HUSTLED FOR THE REBOUND UNDERNEATH THE BASKET, ELEVATED, AND LAID IT IN AND WAS FOULED! After hitting the penalty free throw, that gave Houston a comfortable 82-73 lead and the Rockets held on for the win.

It’s nice to see the biggest shots coming from the “young guns” after Yao had to check out of the game at the 7:01 mark of the 4th quarter after picking up his fifth foul.

Even with the rookies picking up the slack in place of Yao’s low point total and his absence in the fourth quarter, it’s surprising the Rockets still won with McGrady only scoring 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting. I think he shot way too many 3-pointers (6, only making two), but one of those 3-pointers at the 4:21 mark was huge — it gave the Rockets a 77-73 lead and finally some much-needed separation.

One of the shots he did miss earlier in the game came after Brooks threw a perfect alley-oop pass on a fast break to him. But instead of throwing it down easily, he decided to make it more fancy of a dunk than needed, twisting in mid-air and trying to throw it down backwards. Of course, it clanged off the back rim resulting in a lost scoring opportunity in a tight game. To his credit, he came back determined on the next possession, took it to the hole, scored and was fouled.

McGrady came off the bench in this game, as he has since returning from his injury a few games ago. I like McGrady coming off the bench more than starting. It seems he has a little more energy in the second half to make plays when the Rockets really need him. I say continue playing him off the bench and saving his legs for crunch time.

The Rockets defense was very good in the second half. After giving up 50 points in the first half and shooting 45%, the Rockets held the Blazers to only 7 field goals in the second half, an NBA season low (it would have been 6 if McGrady hadn’t put the ball on the floor with a few seconds remaining in the game, giving James Jones the chance to pick the ball up and streak down the court for a dunk at the buzzer). Their 7-for-30 shooting in the second half ended up giving the Blazers 36% shooting for the game. Their FG% took such a big dive after the first half, it felt like I was watching the stock market this week.

The Rockets might have been the beneficiary of the Blazers just completing a 7-game road trip in 12 days, and having dead legs after arriving in town only a day and a half before tip-off. Nevertheless, the Rockets must be happy they stopped the Blazers 12-game winning streak at home, and was the first Western Conference team to beat them at home this season.

It didn’t look that way in the first half when last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy absolutely torched the Rockets with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting (he cooled off in the second half, only scoring 7 points on 2-of-7 shooting). It made you wish the Rockets could have somehow got the guy they coveted in last year’s NBA draft. Oh well, at least you can say the Rockets’ are much, much better at evaluating talent under the helm of Daryl Morey and his staff, as seen by the pick of Brooks and Landry in this year’s draft.

Not to go unnoticed, the Rockets were fantastic from the line, hitting 83% of their free throws (24-of-29). And Bonzi Wells shot for a great percentage against his old team: 3-of-6 from the field, 3-of-4 from the line, for 9 points and grabbing 4 boards.

Now the Rockets fly back to Houston and face their old nemesis Utah on Sunday afternoon. Can they keep this new momentum going and get some payback against the Jazz for last season’s playoff series loss? Or are the match-ups just too much in Utah’s favor?

3 Responses to “Rockets rookies shock Blazers”

  1. Allen Says:

    Mac won’t be on the bench for long. It is a simple fact that he is our best player, and come playoffs, if we make it, he will be a starter. It is a dangerous game to get players used to one thing (ie Bonzi starting, etc.) and then change it up for the playoffs. Anyone remember the great Sacramento team that lost Webber for most of the season and then tried to bring him back in the playoffs? Terrible idea.

    Also, I am not a fan of this three forward lineup that Adelman uses when Yao isn’t on the floor. Call me old fashioned, but it is just too small. I am sorry, but you don’t play a 6’7″ guy at center. Period. Maybe if he is a beast strength wise like Maxiell or Craig Smith, but Landry is super undersized there. But I do like him at PF. There is a lot of loyalty to Hayes, but in all honesty I think he has more or less played his way out of the lineup for next year. Landry is basically the same player with a little better offensive skill. He doesn’t play the “team” D that Hayes does, but I like Landry better for now. I miss Deke.

    To be honest though, neither Landry, Hayes, or Scola is really what Yao needs IMO. I know that I may be dreaming, but God how good would Jamison with his knack for rebounding and scoring, or Haslem with his size and perfect mid range jumper look next to Yao? Yao needs a legit PF with size and toughness, not three undersized guys with bigger hearts than game.

    The interesting thing about this game is that Roy almost was in Houston. If that were the case, our team would be so much different. Battier wouldn’t be here. Roy would be at the 2, Mac at the 3. Roy would probably relieve Alston of some of the ball handling duties. JVG would probably still be here. Crazy to think.

  2. BOBBYNYC Says:

    John I’m confused now. So is the team better without T-MAC or better without Yao? Without T-MAC I hear so much about the rockets playing team ball and great ball movement and getting other guys involved. That team went something like 8-3 without T-MAC. Now with T-MAC back, the Rockets have won 4 in a row! Not only that, they won a much needed game against Portland without YAO’s presense much of the game. Who do you think the team responds to better on the floor. Yao or T-MAC? In any case, I guess this is a great problem to have. Oh and btw, can we start a partition to sway management to change these rockets uniforms? I think as fans we should have a say, no? These are disgusting!

    Bobby, they are better with both McGrady and Yao if McGrady attacks the basket, keeps the ball moving, and doesn’t jack up stupid jumpers and three-pointers. He has been doing that for the most part, except last night against Portland when he shot 6 three-pointers, way above the 2 or 3 he has shot in the past few games. I don’t think it’s a matter of who the team “responds” to better on the floor. It’s a matter of how they play as a team when either, or both, are on the floor.

    Regarding the uniforms, I haven’t had much of a problem with them. They are so much better than those clown uniforms they wore in the late 90’s with that goofy looking Rocket logo on it. — John

  3. Anong Says:

    I disagree whole heartedly that you suggest t-mac should come off the bench especially when you have Hayes starting(should be scola) who seems to play well only with both Yao/t-mac on the court. The Rockets have been playing catch-up near the end of games due to a slow start with no t-mac in the starting line up. He is our best play maker and we need him and yao to start and hopefully build a good lead before half-time to carry the momentum into the 2nd half. I don’t know what the exact percentage are, but our changes of winning are very slim when trailing at the half for the exception of yesterday’s game.

    RA should and will probally start him in the next couple of games(don’t be surprise if he starts against Utah, our nemesis). Sure he needs to nurse that sore knee, thats why you rest him in the 2nd/3rd qtr and that he should be fresh to close out the 4th qtr.

    T-Mac seems to always have more energy in the 4th qtr b/c thats his time to shine, where in the beganning he would defer to teammates and tries to get them going.

    Anong, I have to disagree with you on one point, but disagree with you on others. I agree that Scola or even Carl Landry should be starting in place of Hayes.

    Now here’s where I disagree with you: the one thing about the Rockets is that they can be competitive enough in the first half to stay in games no matter who is playing. I don’t think there is that much of a difference in the point differential in the first half with McGrady starting the game, or not starting. And it seems no matter how big of a lead they build in the first half, they often times blow it anyway. I think I read a stat where they have lost 5 games this season when they have held double-digit leads in those games. That’s way too many losses due to blown leads, and makes you think they need to finish stronger.

    When McGrady has started and played lots of minutes in the first half, it hasn’t helped his cause to make big shots in the second half, and especially the fourth quarter. McGrady has gotten the knock throughout his career that he isn’t a leader, and that is due in large part because he hasn’t been that clutch of a shooter late in games over the past couple of seasons. Perhaps that’s because he loses his stamina by the fourth quarter if he has been logging lots of minutes before then, kind of like how Yao seems to do. So I’d rather see them finish strong then start strong, as we saw against Seattle this week when McGrady had enough energy down the stretch to help pull that game out. Just a thought. I kind of like coaches who do things unconventionally to get the most out of their players, like Don Nelson of the Warriors. He gets more out of that roster than anyone because he knows how to keep the other team guessing.

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