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?