Since Thursday’s night game between the Rockets and Cavs was nationally televised in the U.S., many of you probably saw the game, so you probably don’t need me to rehash alot of it. So I’ll just mention some of the key takeaways from the game along with a few other thoughts.
Coming into this game, I was a bit worried that the Rockets were finally facing some tough competition — last year’s NBA Champion runner-up — compared to the Milaukees, Indianas and Minnesotas of the world. Cleveland also has a very similar record as the Rockets, and the Rockets have a worse record at home than they do on the road. So there were enough red flags here to be concerned.
It really hurt the Cavs that Drew Gooden, Anderson Varejao, and Sasha Pavlovic couldn’t play. Because of that and the fact they gave the Rockets plenty of chances to take the game, the Rockets took it, winning their fifth game in a row by beating Cleveland 92-77 despite not playing that well at times.
Here’s what the Rockets did poorly, but still overcame in the end:
* 1-of-11 three-point shooting in the first half. 6-of-23 shooting in the second quarter. 36% shooting in the first half.
* Tracy McGrady, battling an upper respiratory infection, was 0-for-5 in the first half and 3-of-11 overall for 8 points.
* The Cavs cut the Rockets lead from 15 points to 6 in the fourth quarter after the Rockets got away from what gave them the lead and started hoisting jumpers rather than get the ball back inside to Yao or Bonzi Wells. But then finally a baseline jumper by Yao with 3:05 remaining, and a clutch rebound and dunk by Bonzi after a missed McGrady 3-pointer at the 2:26 mark held the Cavs off.
On the positive side:
* In the first quarter, the Rockets had 9 assists on 10 field goals.
* The Rockets out-rebounded Cleveland 55-35, including 17-7 on the offensive boards. That was really the big key for Houston, as was a 29-14 advantage in assists.
* The Rockets were balanced by having 5 players score in double-figures (one of them not being McGrady).
* Yao led all Rockets with 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting, 4-of-4 from the line, 12 rebounds, and a nice block on LeBron as he was going up for a dunk. He also had 4 assists, only 2 turnovers, and no personal fouls. It was a “quiet” 22 points for Yao, as well as his 8 points in the fourth quarter to hold off the charging Cavs.
It may be a little boring that there isn’t much to say that is spectacularly negative or positive about Yao’s game on Thursday. It was solid, which we have come to expect from him, and we’re not complaining. But believe me, there will be plenty of opportunity to talk about Yao’s incredible greatness (or his failures) during the Rockets’ quest to make the playoffs over the next couple of months.
* With McGrady having an off night because of his illness, Bonzi played almost as many minutes as McGrady (29 for Bonzi, 31 for McGrady), and he had one of his best games in a long time. Bonzi scored 13 points on 6-of-10 field goals, mainly on dunks and layups. He also grabbed 10 boards (5 on the offensive glass) and had 4 assists. He was just too much for the out-manned Cavs to handle. On the other hand, Cleveland’s “free throw defense” was really good against him, forcing him to miss 4-of-5 from the line. Bonz, you gotta work on those FTs!
* Shane Battier’s 15 points (6-of-11 field goals, 3-of-7 from three) and 8 rebounds were a nice bonus that helped the cause. You combine that with Rafer Alston having a pretty good night (17 points on 6-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point land like Battier), and the Rockets are going to be hard to beat any night.
* Let’s not forget about the continued strong play of Luis Scola, who scored 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 26 minutes of action. The impact he has on the game compared to Chuck Hayes (3 minutes) continues to be staggering.
Unfortunately, Aaron Brooks continues to struggle from the field, only making 1-of-8 shots, all of them 3-point attempts. It looks like AB is catching a little bit of Rafer/McGrady disease settling too much for the long ball. At this rate, Mike James may get another chance to earn some playing time while Luther Head recovers from his groin injury.
After 5 wins in a row, 9 of their last 10, and 14 of their last 18 since January 1st, the Rockets are now at 29-20 and have managed to get into the thick of things for the 8th seed in the Western Conference. It also helped the Rockets that Golden State was shockingly beaten late Thursday night by a mediocre Chicago Bulls team AT HOME without 3 of the Bulls top 4 scorers: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, and Kirk Hinrich. That loss ties the Warriors with the Rockets in the standings.
Looking ahead to the stretch run, there is a lot of talk that the Rockets need to make a deal to respond to all the deals happening to make other Western Conference teams stronger, like Pau Gasol to the Lakers, Shaq to Phoenix, Chris Webber to Golden State, and Damon Stoudamire to the Spurs.
We all have heard how the Rockets don’t really have much to give up to get a great point guard (their biggest need) like Jason Kidd, unless they are willing to part with Yao or McGrady. Yao is untouchable, of course, and I don’t think McGrady will be traded this season. But I can bet you Rockets GM Daryl Morey is trying to do whatever he can to get a great quality PG. Just look at how much work they put into finding Carl Landry and Aaron Brooks.
The main problem is that I think it’s harder to find a great PG compared to any other position, IMHO. So have faith that something will happen before the February 21st deadline. It may not be a blockbuster deal, but something positive may still happen, especially since the Rockets are short one point guard since Steve Francis is out for the season because of knee surgery.