Although the Rockets won their 7th game in a row Monday night against a team they are battling for a playoff spot, there are still enough issues the Rockets need to correct considering how they played in a 95-83 win in Houston.
Not to be a spoil sport, let’s first talk about the things they did well Monday night. Yao was the force in the middle we expect him to be against a smaller front line of Joel Pryzbilla and Lamarcus Aldridge, leading all scorers with 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting, 11-of-13 from the line, and grabbing 7 boards. Just another day at the office for Big Yao.
Houston’s defense was great in the second half, holding the Blazers to 15-of-34 shooting. Shane Battier really put the clamps on All-Star guard Brandon Roy, holding him only to 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting (it didn’t hurt that Roy missed 5-of-10 free throws).
The parts I didn’t like about this game, even in victory, were the following:
In the first half, the Rockets turned the ball over 8 times, including two steals of Yao when smaller Blazer defenders came around his blindside and stripped the ball away from him. I can understand one strip, but another one just a very short time after the first one made you think they were slow in adjusting. They ultimately addressed that vulnerability the rest of the game by having Yao get closer to the baseline on many shots so it would be more difficult for a defender to come around his blindside to steal the ball away from him.
Rafer Alston and Tracy McGrady were terrible offensively in the first half. Alston was 1-for-4 shooting from the field and McGrady was 1-for-6, with both settling for way too many jumpers (what else is new?). I just couldn’t understand after all the quotes over the past few days from both players about how great the team was passing and sharing the ball and attacking the basket…then they totally ignore those approaches and settle for jumpers! Where’s the basketball IQ? As a result, the Rockets missed 7 of their last 8 shots at the end of the first quarter.
Part of the Rockets’ problem was that I didn’t see anyone cutting into the lane to catch passes for easy baskets, especially in the first quarter.
But then Coach Rick Adelman did something about it by putting Bonzi Wells and Carl Landry into the game near the end of the first quarter to get more active bodies into the lineup. Then he put Chuck Hayes and Aaron Brooks in at the start of the second quarter.
Brooks made an immediate contribution, throwing a pass underneath the basket to Chuck Hayes for a layup to make it 24-20, Portland. Then Brooks hit a 3-pointer to bring the Rockets within 3 points at 30-27.
The Rockets grinded it out the remainder of the quarter to hold a 44-43 halftime lead, but the stat sheet was awful for McGrady, who was only 1-for-6 from the field settling for all those perplexing jumpers. Where was his head? Why did he have to make it so hard on the offense by not dishing it more (he only had 2 assists at halftime)?
Rafer Alston’s 1-for-4 shooting in the first half included a 3-point attempt at the halftime buzzer that hit the top of the backboard. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 3-point shot miss that badly.
Even with McGrady and Alston shooting a collective 2-for-10 in the first half, it was incredible the Rockets were shooting 50% from the field. Yao’s 5-of-7 shooting (12 points), Luis Scola’s 3-for-6, and Bonzi & Battier both shooting 2-for-3 for 5 points made up for the starting backcourt’s offensive woes.
The Rockets finally got things rolling in the 3rd quarter to take a lead, but the way they did it was kind of gimmicky if you ask me. For example, in the second half Alston was 5-of-7 from the field, and 3-of-3 from three-point land. As much as I applaud Alston’s shooting, that’s not typical for him and he kind of bailed the Rockets out. We learned long ago you can’t rely on getting those kinds of numbers from Rafer.
McGrady was 3-fo-6 in the quarter, but I think most of those buckets came from low-percentage jump shots and not by attacking the basket.
Not to be forgotten, the Blazers were only 11-of-21 from the free throw line. If they had shot better from the line, this game would have been much tougher for the Rockets.
The performance that did happen that isn’t unusual is Yao scoring 7 points in the fourth quarter, including a basket made after Bonzi threw a long pass to Yao, who then pump-faked his man a few feet away from the basket, dribbled once to the basket, elevated, then hooked a shot in over his defender, and was fouled! After Yao made the free throw with 4:45 remaining, the Rockets led 86-68 and the game was basically over.
The Rockets have now won 7 in a row – their longest streak in 3 years — and they are starting to get the attention of the press, as seen by the screenshot below from Yahoo! Sports’ NBA home page late Monday night after the Rockets won.
What sucks for the Rockets is that they could have gotten more separation from Golden State Monday night if it weren’t for the Warriors coming back from a 23-point deficit against the Washington Wizards to pull that game out.
Now all the Rockets have to do is win one more game before taking almost a week off for the All-Star break. If they can beat an improved Sacramento team on Wednesday night, the Rockets can feel good about themselves that they have won 8 games in a row.
But it’s not going to be easy. Sacramento almost beat Golden State in Oakland Saturday night, and they beat Utah handily the night before. That should get the Rockets attention. Hopefully they won’t pay attention to the fact the Kings will be playing the second night of a back-to-back when they come to Houston Wednesday night.