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Rockets escape Minnesota with narrow win

February 4th, 2008
by John
Yao Ming scores with Minnesota's Al Jefferson looks on Monday night in Minnesota.  Yao would only score 16 points and grab 5 boards in a game that went down to the wire, which the Rockets won 92-86.Yao Ming scores with Minnesota’s Al Jefferson looks on Monday night in Minnesota. Yao would only score 16 points and grab 5 boards in a game that went down to the wire, which the Rockets won 92-86. Click here for more photos from the game.

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.

7 Responses to “Rockets escape Minnesota with narrow win”

  1. K Chin Says:


    Great game commentary. I like the new adage ‘live by the T, die by the T’ as I cringed everytime he jacked them up but this game, he was on at crucial times.

    As for Yao, I think he hit the wall as he looked tired in the last 3 games. It is understandable since he was carrying the team in T-Mac’s absence and carrying 2 and 3 defenders on his back every night. The timing might be a good thing too, with the team healthy and the schedule a bit softer before the all star break. Hopefully, he could get his second wind to finish the season and bayond.

    By the way, how is your shoulder doing ?


    K, thanks for asking about the shoulder. I’m still going through rehab, but it’s coming along each week. The exercises are a little boring, though. — John

  2. kai Says:

    Given that Yao is not playing so well in the last 2 games. Why doesn’t Adelman rest him, I think in the last 2 or 3 games. Yao has to play the whole of the second half. The big guy needs rest, and he will be more efficient in the time that he’s actually on the court.

  3. jeff Says:

    I wonder who is still calling for trading T-Mac away. Fellow fans, the downfall of the Rockets is not because of T-Mac. The real culprit is Idleman. If T-Mac is not in this team, it is sure that it will head for lottery. Obviously, someone upstairs has had a word with Idleman. That is why he begins to start Scola instead of his beloved Hayes when half of the season is gone. Hopefully, the guys from upstairs will keep an eye on Idleman to make sure that he does no more damage.

  4. Doug Says:

    if you had to blame anyone, its yao that was the reason we almost lost to the wolves. reality hurts, but its yao and his inability to guard. on this roadtrip, each guy who faced yao outplayed him badly. its not that yao’s not busting his ass on defense, but ts just that yao CAN’T defend a lot of the bigs in the nba today, and its hurting us big time.
    yao could actually be an asset to the rockets if they played more zone defensive to cover up his slowness — thus, also blame adlemen, for putting yao on jefferson single coverage out there, exposing his weakness on a night when his offensive output was near none-existence.
    but on the bright side, aleast shaq is back in the west now. he won’t be abusing yao like boozer and jefferson on open, uncontested jumpers 🙂

  5. AirChina23 Says:

    Oh boy, when Tracy put up that last three pointer I almost fell to the ground. I was like “Oh, why? You still have time…Oh okay, wow, great shot!”. Then I got goose-bumps just to think what if he had missed that. I know John wouldn’t let him live on this blog if he had missed it.

    I never thought that I’d say this, but the Rockets are one of the league’s hottest teams right now, consistent or not. So like you said, let’s just take this win as a Chinese New Year’s gift and hopefully they will regroup.

  6. kai Says:

    John, What is your opinion on Trading Tmac? Given that Miami can trade someone like Shaq, who’s playing very poorly and has 2 years and 40million left on this contract, and get a guy like Marion. Why can’t the Rockets do something similar?? I really don’t think Tmac is good for this team. At this point, I would take Tmac for Jefferson + Kidd.

    The problem is that the Nets want to go younger, and they already have a player like McGrady in Vince Carter. A point guard would need to be sent over, which is not that big of a deal for the Rockets since they have several. But the key is the Nets would want someone who is very, very good and who has a longer career ahead of him – McGrady doesn’t fit that since he’s more on the down side of his career. No way Jefferson would be packaged in your proposed deal — the salaries must match on both sides, and he makes too much money where the Rockets would have to throw in alot more players. So it’s not as simple as trading McGrady for 2 great players in Jefferson & Kidd. I think the only way the Rockets get Kidd is that they do a 3-way deal involving another team, which is very complicated. And I understand Dallas wants Kidd, they have more assets than the Rockets, and they have a history of doing blockbuster deals. — John

  7. Nuuj Says:


    Thanks for the summary. Totally agree with you on the Live/Die comment! I’m glad you pointed that out. Even when Jack made that big one I was disgruntled with it. It gives him false confidence in his 3 pt shooting ability. He has to learn that he has never been able to rely on it n the play offs. And his clutch magic just wears thinner as he gets older. If he keeps this up, the team will have likely the same result in the playoff this year, assuming that they get that far.

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