The Rockets started their 3-game road trip in Indiana realizing the pressure was on them to win all 3 of these games against teams who probably won’t make the playoffs (Milwaukee on Saturday and Minnesota on Monday). If they don’t win these very ‘winnable’ games, the Rockets’ chances of making the playoffs themselves will take a huge hit.
So you think they would come out determined to put the clamps on early against a struggling Indiana team that had lost 4 in a row and 14 of their last 18, right? Not so.
They ultimately got the job done by winning the game 106-103, but the star who pulled them through wasn’t Yao or Tracy McGrady. It was rookie Carl Landry, who came back to the state where he played college (Purdue) and was a monster in the fourth quarter.
Rarely do you see a rookie make his first homecoming (of sorts) and be the X-factor in a game in front of his college team’s fans, former college coaches, and teammates. But that’s what Landry did. Landry scored 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-6 in the fourth quarter and 3-of-4 from the line for 13 points.
There is no doubt there is something really special about this kid. That’s what we had heard from the Rockets’ coaching staff and teammates about Landry in practice while he bided his time on the bench earlier this season, and by what he has showed us over the past couple of weeks since getting some playing time.
But after what he did on Friday night, those days of waiting his turn are a distant memory. Landry was aggressive taking it to the rim in the fourth quarter, scoring on 2 dishes from Aaron Brooks for dunks, spinning on the baseline for a beautiful score down low, and even hitting a jumper in the lane with 1:07 remaining. He also did some damage on the defensive boards by grabbing a couple of rebounds late.
He did so much, it’s hard to explain in just one or two paragraphs, so I’m going to do something I haven’t done in awhile. I have described the final few minutes of the fourth quarter at the bottom of this post so you can get a better feel for what Landry did, what the Rockets did poorly (look for the word ‘McGrady’ in the descriptions), and how the Rockets ultimately pulled this game out.
Before Landry saved the day by injecting some energy into the offense and grabbing boards on the offensive and defensive glass, the Rockets were pathetic on defense. They couldn’t stop the Pacers from getting easy layups and three-pointers, who shot an amazing 12-of-19 from behind the arc before missing their last 5 three-pointers.
I was disgusted with what I saw at times on offense, too. Same old McGrady jacking up jumpers and killing the movement of the offense (6-of-19 from the floor), getting beat down the floor late in the game by Mike Dunleavy for an easy layup, and traveling on an important fast break late in the game to turn the ball over. To be fair, McGrady did hit 3-of-6 three-pointers (shockingly), dished 9 assists, and grabbed 5 boards.
Rafer Alston was awful. In the first half he scored no points (0-for-5), had no assists and had no rebounds. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a starting point guard get ‘0’s across all 3 categories in a first half…ever. He then started the second half missing a teardrop in the lane and missing an easy layup next to the rim. That put him in an 0-for-7 shooting hole. Fortunately he would go on to make 3 out of his last 4 shots in the game to finish with 7 points along with 3 assists.
I’ve been thinking lately that Alston’s erratic play at point guard is not really all his fault. He must know he’s not good enough to be starting for this team, but other players the front office have brought in like Steve Francis and Mike James haven’t panned out as hoped, so he’s having to fill the spot until the Rockets find the right guy to play point guard, hopefully before the February 21st trading deadline.
I still think that guy could be Aaron Brooks, though. In just one-third the minutes that Alston played (36 minutes vs. 12 for Brooks), AB had 6 points and 3 assists. Do the math, and it’s obvious who deserves to play more minutes.
Yao usually dominates against Indiana, having averaged 31.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and shooting 54.2% from the floor in his last 3 games against them. But he only shot 33% (4-of-12 field goals) and made 9-of-12 from the line on Friday (75% instead of his average of 85%). He did have a huge block, though, when he got his only block of the game against Mike Dunleavy on a layup attempt with 4 minutes remaining (pictured above) with the Rockets still leading the game 99-97.
It’s kind of strange how the teams Yao has done poorly against in the past, like Golden State, he has done well against lately like in his last game (36 points and 19 rebounds on Tuesday night). But against Indiana on Friday he didn’t dominate like he usually does. He did grab 12 rebounds and didn’t turn the ball over AT ALL, though.
In addition to rookies like Landry and Brooks, another first-year player who did some damage was Luis Scola by scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting. It’s official: the Rockets’ 2006-07 weakness of not having athletic, scoring power forwards is now addressed with Scola and Landry. Check. Now let’s get do something similar at point guard, please.
If you add up all the Rockets rookies’ scoring against the Pacers, you’ve got 40 points. Not bad, not bad at all. Unfortunately, second-year player Steve Novak, who in esence is a rookie since he hardly played last year, was 0-for-3. But Novak was due a bad game after hitting 7 of his last 9 shots over the past two games.
It’s been well publicized lately in the local media, but Landry grew up in Milwaukee where the Rockets play on Saturday night. In that game we all know the Yao – Yi Jianlian rematch will be closely watched, but you’ve got to be a little interested to see if Landry will play even better in the town where he grew up. It’s hard to imagine him playing much better than he did on Friday night.
And don’t forget about Novak, who was at Marquette just a couple of years ago. Novak will probably get some playing time as a Rocket for the first time in the town where he went to college. I have a feeling he will do something special in front of his friends and family Saturday night.
As a side note, Luther Head pulled his groin in the first half, so that means Mike James will probably get activated and get some playing time in Milwaukee, where he played in the 2004-2005 season for 47 games.
Here’s that play-by-play from the end of the fourth quarter I promised you.
First, I must point out that Brooks, Landry, and Scola are in the game in the fourth quarter. You’ve got to love the confidence Rick Adelman now has in the rookies late in the game like this!
7:44 – Brooks penetrates into the lane dishes to Landry along the baseline who takes it strong to the rack and throws it down, and he’s fouled! Landry hits the free throw, making it 88-86, Indiana.
7:32 – The Pacers turn the ball over, and Brooks dribbles it up the court quickly to start a semi-fast break. Once he gets to the three-point line, Brooks bounces a perfect pass to Landry on the baseline, and Landry goes under the rim, elevates, and throws it down again! You can hear Rocket fans in the crowd (and maybe Landry fans, too) cheer on that one! The game is tied at 88-88.
7:12 – Kareem Rush of the Pacers hits a 3-pointer. 91-88, Indiana. The Pacers are 12-of-19 from behind the arc.
6:53 – McGrady jacks up a long two-pointer with 9 seconds remaining on the shot clock instead of trying to get the ball to Landry, who has the hot hand, or anyone else on the team. McGrady’s jumper is a brick.
6:44 – Kareem Rush is left wide-open for a 3-pointer with McGrady at least 12 feet away from him, but fortunately for Houston Rush’s foot was barely on the sideline. Turnover Indy.
6:25 – Scola dribbles the ball from the 3-point line down to the low block against Jeff Foster. Scola accidentally drops the ball, and Foster tries to go for the steal, but Scola recovers in time to pick up the loose ball and has an open look at the basket since Foster has taken himself out of defensive position by diving to the floor trying to steal the ball. So Scola just leans in toward the basket and lays it in off the glass! Huge bucket! 91-90, Indy.
6:10 – Shawne Williams drives it from the 3-point line to the hole and scores easily.
6:01 – Brooks tries to bounce a pass to McGrady, who is posting up his man, but the ball is stolen by Jamaal Tinsley, who throws a long pass from the free throw line in the backcourt to a streaking Mike Dunleavy at the other end of the court, who lays it in for the score. McGrady got burned badly by Dunleavy with just good old-fashioned hustle to score on that one. 95-90, Indiana.
5:43 – McGrady FINALLY takes it to the hole for the first time, and he’s fouled. I think this is the first time in the game he was aggressive and took it into the paint. McGrady hits both free throws. 95-92, Indiana.
5:29 – Danny Granger comes around a Jeff Foster pick and hits a jumper. 97-92, Indiana.
5:15 – McGrady jacks up a jumper and misses. The rebound goes out of bounds off Indiana. Rockets’ ball.
5:00 – Alston hits a jumper after the Rockets moved the ball around on offense. Alston did a good job of faking out his man to get an even more open look. 97-94 Indiana
4:42 – McGrady steals the ball and starts dribbling it up court on a fast break, but he travels and turns it over!
4:26 – Foster scores on a layup on a pick-and-roll with Mike Dunleavy. Bad defense. 99-94, Indiana. The Pacers have hit 8 shots in a row. Where’s the defense?
4:09 – Alston throws a pass from the 3-point line down to Landry in front of the paint. Landry reverse pivots against Foster, then elevates and scores! And he’s fouled! HUGE play since the Rockets trail by 5 points! Landry hits the FT, making it 99-97, Indiana.
4:00 – Mike Dunleavy takes it strong to the hoop, but Yao Ming comes over to help on defense and blocks it! Great D by Yao, which is his only block in the game, and it came at a great time. FINALLY SOME DEFENSE!
3:45 – Alston throws a pass to Landry on the left baseline, and Landry quickly does a beautiful spin move that gets him an open look for a layup and a score! WOW! WHAT SPEED! The score is now 99-99! That was Landry’s 10th point of the quarter! I can’t remember the last time I saw this many nifty moves by a rookie down in the paint, except maybe some of Scola’s!
3:33 – The Pacers miss a 3-pointer, and Landry grabs the defensive rebound.
3:14 – McGrady kills Landry’s momentum by jacking up a 3-pointer and missing. There’s an argument that he was wide open, so he should have taken the shot. But McGrady isn’t that great of a 3-point shooter, so the Pacers may be daring him to shoot it and instead collapse down low on Yao and Landry.
3:07 – Travis Diener just misses a 3-pointer.
2:51 – McGrady dribbles into the lane and dishes to Yao for a layup! 101-99 Houston! See, good things happen when McGrady takes it into the paint!
2:25 – Landry ‘fouls’ Troy Murphy on a jump shot along the baseline, although Landry may have had position and Murphy might have jumped into Landry to draw the foul. Murphy makes both FTs. 101-101
2:02 – Yao misses a fadeaway jumper along the baseline a little too far away from the basket than what he’s usually comfortable with.
1:48 – Mike Dunleavy misses a 3-pointer. Good thing the Pacers are settling for 3-pointers. They are now cold from behind the arc. They may have missed 3 in a row from there.
1:07 – The Pacers double-team Alston with the ball, leaving Carl Landry wide open at the elbow of the lane. Alston does a good job passing out of the double-team to get the ball to Landry, who takes a jump shot with x seconds remaining on the shot clock, and HE NAILS IT! 103-101 Houston!
1:10 – Danny Granger drives to the hole on McGrady, but misses a tough layup attempt off the glass. But the ball comes down to Jeff Foster in front of the basket, and Foster puts the shot back up, BUT HE MISSES IT! Granger and Landry both grab the rebound, resulting in a jump ball. Good hustle by Landry! On the jump ball, Landry tips the ball too strong out of bounds, giving the Pacers the ball.
:56.1 – Dunleavy shoots a jump shot that misses. Jeff Foster grabs the rebound, but is fouled by Landry. It’s not a shooting foul, though.
:47.8 – On the inbounds play, Diener misses a jumper, and LANDRY IS FOULED BY TROY MURPHY ON THE REBOUND! That sends Landry to the free throw line. Landry makes 1-of-2 free throws. It’s now 104-101 Houston.
:32.0 – Dunleavy scores easily on a drive to the basket. 104-103 Houston. BAD DEFENSE.
:15.3 – Alston fumbles the ball out of bounds after a bad pass by McGrady for a TURNOVER! THAT CAN’T HAPPEN AT THIS POINT OF SUCH A TIGHT GAME! ADELMAN CAN’T BELIEVE ALSTON DROPPED THAT PASS! NOW INDIANA CAN TAKE THE LEAD ONLY TRAILING 104-103.
:6.3 – Diener misses a 3-pointer, and Battier is fouled over the back by Dunleavy. Battier goes to the line and makes BOTH free throws to make it 106-103, Houston.
After some decent defense by the Rockets, Mike Dunleavy shoots a long 3-pointer a couple of feet behind the arc, and MISSES! THE ROCKETS ESCAPE WITH A VICTORY AFTER THE PACERS MISS THEIR LAST 5 THREE-POINTERS (at least 5).