Before the Rockets ever played the Timberwolves on Monday night, I knew the Rockets were going to be in for a fight. Although Minnesota had a 10-36 record entering the game, they had won 4 in a row at home, 5 of their last 7 games, and had beaten Golden State and Phoenix during that stretch.
That was enough to strike fear in my heart. This is the type of team the Rockets have given away games so many times in the past, and I knew the risk of them losing this game was going to be extremely high.
So during the first 3 quarters of play, I was just happy the Rockets hadn’t blown the game already. They led 24-18 after the first quarter, 47-42 at halftime, and 66-63 headed into the fourth quarter.
Things were looking great when they opened up a 10-point lead, 75-65, with 7:25 remaining in the game. I was ecstatic the Rockets appeared to have taken care of business, even if it was an ugly game getting to that point. But who cares, a win is a win, right?
Except this is the Rockets we’re talking about. Rather than cruise to a victory, they absolutely fell apart on the worst display of basketball I have seen since…well, the Rockets blew that 12-point fourth quarter lead to the 76ers on January 15th at home.
You know the saying in basketball, “live by the three, die by the three?” That applies here to some degree since Tracy McGrady hit a late 3-pointer to pull the game out to help the Rockets win 92-86. But I have a twist to that old adage: “live by the ‘T,’ die by the ‘T.’” When I say ‘T,’ I do mean Tracy.
At the 4:39 and 4:02 mark, I felt like the Rockets were on their way to dying when McGrady threw two terrible passes in a row that were stolen by the Wolves, resulting in scores on the other end that closed their deficit from 80-73 to 80-78.
At the 5:24 and 2:39 mark, ‘T’ jacked up two ill-advised jumpers that missed. Thank God on the second miss Yao grabbed the rebound, scored, and was fouled to make it 85-82, Rockets, after he hit the penalty free throw.
So that’s how you die by the T. The Rockets ended up living by the T because McGrady hit a couple of big shots to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat: a crazy two-pointer with 1:10 remaining to make it 87-86, and a 3-pointer with 30.8 seconds left to make it 90-86.
I’m not sure if this is what coach Rick Adelman had in mind when he came to Houston with his motion, read-and-react offense. But it’s hard to complain when McGrady bails out the team like he did, scoring 26 points on 10-of-21 shooting (not bad), and was 4-of-6 from 3-point land, had 7 assists, and 6 boards. But maybe we should complain because he helped put them in that position in the first place (7 turnovers for the game, including those two late TOs).
It would be unfair to say that McGrady was the only reason the Rockets blew that 10-point fourth quarter lead. Their defense was absolutely horrible on the following fourth quarter plays that let the Wolves back into the game.
6:15 – Chuck Hayes lets a very large Craig Smith penetrate to the basket unimpeded for a layup to cut the Wolves’ deficit to 77-71. I have never seen Rick Adelman so upset at a player, kicking his leg up and yelling at Hayes for not trying to get good position and perhaps draw a charge on Smith.
3:54 – Ryan Gomes is left wide open for a 3-pointer, cutting the Wolves deficit to 80-78. Someone badly missed an assignment!
3:15 – The Rockets lead 82-78, and rookie Carl Landry picks up Sebastian Telfair on a penetration move to the basket, which is fine. Landry diverts Telfair to the other side of the lane, but for some reason Landry decides to continue chasing Telfair all the way around to the other side of the lane, leaving a big gaping hole for his man on the other side – Craig Smith – to catch a pass from Telfair for an easy score!
That just cannot happen where a power forward decides to guard a point guard all around the court like that, confusing his fellow defenders and leaving his man wide open.
It got worse for Landry. Smith was fouled on that shot and went to the line. Landry has inside position next to the basket as Smith shot his free throw. Smith missed it, and Landry did the worst job blocking out I’ve ever seen on a missed free throw. His man Gomes easily tipped the ball in, which completed a 4-point play and tied the score at 82-82!
2:18 – After a jump ball between Al Jefferson and Shane Battier, the ball comes down to Rashad McCants way out high past the 3-point line. For some reason, two Rockets (one being Battier) decides to double-team him where he’s not a threat to score at all. McCants wisely passes it to a wide-open Jefferson, who hits a two-pointer to cut the deficit to 85-84.
1:38 – Telfair penetrates into the lane, misses, but Jefferson is there to tip in the miss for the bucket, giving Minnesota an 86-85 lead!
Now I hate to get on Landry for his defensive lapses when he’s just a rookie, especially when he actually played well offensively, making 3-of-5 shots in the fourth quarter and 6-of-10 overall for 13 points. That just goes to show how much Landry already means to this team when Adelman is willing to play him late in the fourth quarter with his defensive shortcomings. I just hope Adelman and his assistants will look at the video after this one and correct those mistakes with Landry. You know JVG would…that is, if he ever played a rookie.
By the way, Landry also hit an impressive long 2-pointer at the buzzer at the beginning of the second quarter. That’s something JVG would almost never let a rookie do in that situation.
You’re probably wondering why I haven’t said anything about Yao yet. He was just okay offensively, taking only 11 shots, making 6 of them to score 16 points. He did miss 2-of-6 free throws, though, and only had 5 rebounds. I just know when Rafer Alston is taking as many shots as Yao (11, making 5 of them), something is wrong.
Yao had a hard time handling Al Jefferson (33 points, 16 rebounds), but who hasn’t lately? Jefferson is an amazing player. It won’t be too long when the Wolves will think it was worth giving away Kevin Garnett to get him along with some other players in that blockbuster deal in the off-season. I know it hurts right now with the Wolves having a 10-37 record, but they are quickly coming along and next year will make the Western Conference even tougher than what it is…just what the Rockets need.
It’s getting late, so I’m going to end it here with my continued amazement that the Rockets have won 8 games in a row on the road considering how inconsistent they are playing. And how they have needed McGrady to be the savior in their last 2 games when their offense was humming along most of the time in January during his absence
But right now the Rockets will take a ‘W’ any way they can get it since they are still on the outside looking in for a playoff spot with 34 games remaining to play.