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Novak whacks SAC with huge trey to win 8th straight

February 14th, 2008
by John
Yao Ming, Shane Battier and other Rocket teammates congratulate Steve Novak after he hit a game-winning 3-pointer to save the game for the Rockets and give them their 8th victory in a row.  Houston had blown an 18-point 4th quarter lead before Novak's shot.  Yao led all Houston scorers with 25 points and 14 rebounds.Yao Ming, Shane Battier and other Rocket teammates congratulate Steve Novak after he hit a game-winning 3-pointer to save the game for the Rockets. Houston had blown an 18-point 4th quarter lead before Novak’s shot. Yao led all Houston scorers with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Click here for more photos from the game.

The Rockets narrowly escaped disaster Wednesday night and an All-Star break where they would have been torn up inside thinking about one of their most devastating losses of the season. Also…

Thinking about how their recent hot streak might have been a fluke.

How they were chokers when it came to winning close games.

How they weren’t really that good after all, despite winning 7 games in a row coming into the game.

That maybe some trades need to happen before the February 21st trade deadline after all to change the chemistry on the team so that nothing like that happens again.

That’s what they might have been thinking if they had lost Wednesday night. After all, when you’re leading by 18 points against a sub-500 team, you’re expected to close the deal if you’re a good team. Especially after the Rockets had lost in similar fashion to the 76ers at home on January 15th when they had blown a 16-point fourth quarter lead.

But the Rockets miraculously pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat when seldom-used Steve Novak rescued the Rockets “Robert Horry style” by hitting a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds remaining to give the Rockets an 89-87 lead. It was one of the biggest shots hit by a Rocket at Toyota Center in years.

Up until Novak’s 3-pointer, the Rockets had been outscored 26-7 by the Kings led by Ron Artest’s 15 points in the fourth quarter on 6-for-6 shooting. Meanwhile, the Rockets had only hit 2-of-14 shots in the fourth quarter, playing offense as bad as they had done previously in the season. How disheartening that the “old” Rockets offense reared its ugly head right when everyone had felt they had turned the corner and that couldn’t happen to the “new” Rockets.

When they were blowing that 18-point lead Wednesday night, I didn’t mind too much that they were being tested and forced to make some plays down the stretch. That’s never a bad thing to have to do to remain sharp and not get complacent.

But when Brad Miller hit a three-pointer with 6:10 remaining to cap a 15-1 run and pull the Kings to 80-76, I obviously thought that was too close for comfort and the time for the Rockets to make a play was long overdue.

So what happened on the ensuring possession? Tracy McGrady jacked up a 3-pointer and missed. It was like it was Game 7 of the Utah series all over again.

Thankfully Yao decided to take it upon himself to do something about it on the next possession, spinning baseline and throwing down a dunk to make it 82-76. Finally we saw a Rocket exhibit some leadership!

Then Shane Battier came up with a big block on Justin Williams with 4:48 remaining, and on the ensuing possession Yao hit a big shot in the lane to make it 84-78. Finally some breathing room!

McGrady proceeded to blow an easy alley-oop dunk, but Yao was fouled with 3:34 remaining and hit 2 free throws to make it 86-79.

But then Artest proceeded to score 8 points in a row while the Rockets offense continued to struggle (Yao missed a jump hook, Rafer Alston was forced to jack up a three because the offense was so out of sync, McGrady was stripped by Artest, and Alston threw a bad pass into Yao that was stolen by the Kings).

That set up the big-time shot by Novak that turned everything around.

Although McGrady disappeared in the fourth quarter by scoring 0 points, a lot of credit goes to him for finding Novak after penetrating into the lane and throwing it back out to Novak for the winning shot.

McGrady mentioned after the game that he told Rick Adelman during a time-out earlier in the fourth quarter that he thought Novak should be in the game because the Kings were double-teaming McGrady hard on pick-and-rolls and he thought they needed a shooter like Novak in the game. So give McGrady credit for advising Adelman on the rotation change, and for Adelman listening and doing something about it.

Still, it shouldn’t have come down to Novak rescuing the team from so much of the potential pain I mentioned at the top of this piece. Hopefully the Rockets will go into the All-Star break with a determination to never let that happen again. I was disappointed that McGrady said after the game that because of the victory, they can go into the break “with a little bit of swagger.” Swagger? Give me a break.

The Rockets were one missed shot away from potentially going through some major changes before February 21st if they had lost. After the 4th quarter collapse that GM Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander saw Wednesday night, that could still happen. So I think “swagger” may be too strong of a word when they were one missed shot away from a better term being “stagger.”

On the bright side, you may remember on January 20th when I wrote a post about what I thought the Rockets needed to do to find player(s) who could hit big shots late in a game. Part of that involved playing the young new guys like Luis Scola, Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks and Novak.

Now that Novak has hit this big shot to win a game, the Rockets now have a guy they can use in late-game situations who has loads of confidence and has the mental toughness to block everything out and hit the big shot.

They also have an outside threat in Novak who can help free things up for Yao and McGrady, who usually have to take highly contested shots in the paint in late game situations. I have always thought it’s usually easier to shoot a 3-pointer than try to drive into the lane or pass into the post late in the game when the defense is packed in. I don’t think Novak will be left off any lineup cards anytime soon. 🙂

I could go into a lot of detail about how the Rockets played fairly well the first 3 quarters, but that doesn’t really matter too much since they didn’t put the Kings away when they had the chance, and the Rockets let them back into the game in the fourth.

A couple of examples of blown chances were like when the Rockets had a 3-on-1 fast break in the first quarter, and turned the ball over when Battier wasn’t prepared for a pass that came his way when McGrady passed it to him and it sailed out of bounds for a turnover. I don’t think I had ever seen a 3-on-1 break botched that badly before.

Another problem area that could have helped put the Kings away earlier was the 5 free throws they missed out of 16 attempts through the first 3 quarters – which was only a 69% free throw shooting average.

I will say, though, that the Rockets looked great offensively for most of the game. They were moving the ball around, running the fast break, and had their way most of the first 3 quarters.

Yao was fantastic with 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots in 39 minutes, and scored 6 of the Rockets 7 points in the fourth quarter before Novak hit his 3-pointer to win it.

Rafer Alston had 23 points on 9-of-20 shooting, including 3-of-7 from three-point land. He also had 7 assists and was actually fairly decent (except for that 4th quarter when the offense bogged down not being able to get a good shot off most of the quarter).

McGrady was only 3-of-12 from the field for 10 points. But I’ve always said I’m okay with McGrady taking that “few” field goal atempts and restraining himself from jacking up too many jump shots, even if he shoots a low percentage. That’s because he can do other things like rebound (7) and dish assists (5). I’m still not happy that he jacked up 5 three-pointers and made only one, but it could have been worse.

Shane Battier picked up the scoring slack from McGrady’s lower-than-average output, scoring 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting, including an encouraging 3-of-8 from three-point land.

Surprisingly Luis Scola only played 11 minutes and scored 6 points. That was partly because he picked up his second foul 3 minutes into the game, but I’ve also got to think it was because of defensive purposes (like Artest).

The guy who continues to concern me is Bonzi Wells with his inconsistency. After some strong games recently, he was 0-for-4 from the field Wednesday night, so his point production was severely missed (especially in that fourth quarter).

As I stated in my last post, I’m still not convinced that Bonzi can be relied upon to be a force offensively because once you think he’s snapped out of a shooting slump, he slides into another one. He also had 3 turnovers in just 19 minutes of action, which is way too high. Two of those TOs came from bad passes into Yao. But at least he had 4 assists. Nevertheless, I think the Rockets are really going to need Bonzi if they are going to make a strong run for the playoffs and beyond.

Now the Rockets are 32-20 heading into the break, and unfortunately for them Golden State pulled out a narrow victory over Phoenix to also up their record to 32-20. That makes a 3-way tie between the Rockets, the Warriors and the Nuggets for the 7th and 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs at this moment and time.

Like previous All-Star game breaks, I’ll be posting a few thoughts here and there over the next few days, like Yao’s activities in New Orleans. If my schedule permits, I may even head over to the Crescent City to check things out and take a few photos.

13 Responses to “Novak whacks SAC with huge trey to win 8th straight”

  1. Will Says:

    I think Yao played well today. He shot well over 500 and in the 4th quarter he made some big plays(starting with that reverse dunk) to bring some life to the Rox offense in the 4th. Other than Yao no one else stepped it up(except Novaks 3) He made his late 4th quarter free throws and I wasnt too mad he missed that jump hook in the 4th. He was being guarded heavily and had to take the shot since no one else seemed to be able to make anything. Either way, he still had 6 out of 7 of the rox 4th quarter points before Novaks 3. How about Carl Landry though? The guy knows how to hustle!

  2. curtis Says:

    its a gutsy call to have steve in the game handling the ball at that moment, give credit to aldeman for doing that, trusting rarely used rookies, and he made a big plays, also for regenerate alston to become a tony parker like point guard, he can turn some average players into gold, I am sure he is makinghis way to all of his players now, even if they go down this season, I think they have what it takes, I don’t see any need for any trades right now, I like what they got. Why is landry and brooks got quiet lately, are they just one time wonders? I wonder….

  3. jeff Says:

    A win is a win. However, screwing up a huge lead is too familiar with the Rockets. It is time for the head coach to show us that he can turn this around. It is obviously not a problem of one or two individual players. It is a problem of the team as a whole. We expect something different after the All-star break.

  4. Bob Says:

    “That makes a 3-way tie between the Rockets, the Warriors and the Nuggets for the 7th and 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs at this moment and time.”

    John, this is not correct. According to NBA playoff tiebreaker rule #3, if the playoffs were held today, the Rockets would edge out the Nuggets for the 8th seed because Houston (18-13) has better conference record than Denver (17-14).

    As of now, the Warriors have advantage over the Rockets in both head-to-head and conference record.

    (1) Head-to-head
    (2) Division record (if the teams are in the same division)
    (3) Conference record
    (4) Record vs. Playoff teams, own conference
    (5) Record vs. Playoff teams, other conference
    (6) Net points, all games

    Anyway, last night’s game exposed once again Houston’s weakness at guards in pressure situation. Adelman has to address this problem heading into the late regular season. The only viable hope seems to rest on McGrady’s revival.

    Bob, I didn’t bother to go into the tie-breaker like you did since it was 2:00am when I finished my post and I had to get to bed, and there are still 30 games to play and alot can happen during that time. But technically there is a tie…that’s why they call it a “tie-breaker.” Kind of like the U.S. Open in golf if you look at the leaderboard and there is a tie at the top, the players will have the same score, but then they will designate through an asterisk or something who won the playoff round to break the tie. Thanks for describing the tie-breaker, though, since that saves me some time from doing it right now.

    Yup, you’re right about exposing the weakness of the Houston’s guards. After the Rockets game, I watched the end of the Suns-Warriors game, and I wished the Rockets had a point guard who can get into the lane anytime he wants like Steve Nash can. — John

  5. AirChina23 Says:

    In the last few minutes of the game when the Kings have come back, I was looking for Carl Landry or Luis Scola at the PF. Instead I saw Novak staying in the game. I thought to myself, “they are not gonna rely on Novak to bail them out, right?” It was definitely a bail-out by Novak. Thank goodness! I don’t think the Rockets should have any more 4th quarters like this one. Now they can finally rest for a little bit.

  6. Allen Says:

    No the ox aren’t championship contenders. No they don’t have a superstar point guard. No Yao is not the animal that Shaq was in his prime. No Mac isn’t LBJ. No the personnel are not ideal for Adelman’s system. BUT, we are doing exactly what we need to do to keep pace in the playoff race. We simply are not studs, but that doesn’t mean that it is irrelevant that we are doing well. We are the hottest team in the NBA going into the break, and for anyone who has watched the NBA for long, it is the second half that matters.

    All teams need to go through growing pains in both the reg. season and in the playoffs. We have undergone a coaching and philosophy change, so it is premature to think that we would have been contenders this year. No coach I can remember won a championship in his first year as a coach, and if there was one it was probably more fluke than practice.

    For the way we started the season, I am frankly glad that we are where we are. Think, while we aren’t out of the lottery yet, we were definitely there before. At least now we have played our way into a contending spot, which will make us more attractive to FA’s this summer. It could be a LOT worse.

  7. Brian Says:

    thanks for the coverage man
    go rockets!
    btw, what type of trade would you propose for the rockets?

    I wouldn’t mind the Rockets getting Sam Cassell for either Mike James or a first-round draft pick. However, I think Sam wants to go to Boston or another team that’s high up in the standings. I would hope he wouldn’t mind getting nostalgic and go back to the team where he started his career. And Houston isn’t chopped liver, either. They could make a nice run with him. — John

  8. Josh Says:

    From what I have read, I believe the reason Novak was seldom used in the lineup is because his defense. But if he has the mental toughness you have mentioned, then he can be as Steve Kerr to the Bulls, and Robert Horry to the Lakers, a last dagger to finish off the game.

    Thanks for the great blog!

  9. Nuuj Says:

    John, good analysis, and I pretty much agree with the way you looked at this.

    I think McGrady needs to do much less swaggering and sincerely put more heart and effort into playing great basketball. The latter takes humility and maturity which seems to lack at a level that enables a championship. He obviously has not learned much from the the 2 first round play-off exits. This forebodes much about the potentials of the team’s post-season endeavor. It is pretty obvious to me that at circa $20 MIL/year, he is a liability and not an asset for the team. And then there is the issue of his health or lack thereof. I think that last assist should not be given too much credit. That was to my knowledge the only contribution he made in the 4th quarter in a game in which he played mediocre throughout. Conversely, his defensive responsibility scored at will. I thought that McGrady is supposed to be the superstar and not Artest.

    It doesn’t seem that there’s much attractive trade option out there for a TMac package? But what scenarios can you imagine? I acknowledge that chemistry shouldn’t be taken lightly, but McGrady is as solid as glass in so many aspects.

    Nuuj, I think the Rockets will keep McGrady this season, then depending on how he and the team does in the playoffs will determine his future. If the Rockets don’t make the playoffs or they play horribly in the first round and are eliminated, then I think McGrady will be traded for a 1st-tier point guard and they will fill the shooting guard role that McGrady leaves behind with someone who is affordable. If he plays well and the Rockets advance, then I think they will keep him and the Rockets will try to get an experienced 2nd-tier point guard (but someone better than Rafer) who is affordable. — John

  10. Wilson Says:




  11. Derek Says:

    It takes a lot of guts to leave Novak there for the final period. And it paid off. The win probably wouldn’t trigger a lot of things that would happen, for better or for worse. But it did give the Rockets as a team a great deal of confidence going into the second half of the regular season.

    I wondered why Adelman didn’t want to double Artest in the 4th quarter. Apparently Artest is too strong for T-Mac (or anyone on the team) to handle. I think it would be better if we doubled Artest hard to force him to give up the ball. And the Kings played great defense. How did they double T-Mac and Yao at the same time and still no one could get a good shot off? Why didn’t we have some plays like the Novak’s shot more often?

  12. Bob Says:

    John, the reason I felt the need to make a point on the conference playoff standing is that I see NBA.com (http://www.nba.com/standings/team_record_comparison/conferenceNew_Std_Cnf.html) is not doing its job right and many people who are relying on the information listed on that page might be duped. By comparison, ESPN’s NBA Standings page is much better.

    But you are right, a lot can happen with 30 games to go in the regular season. The optimist in me even believe we may end up being the number 1 seed in the west … hehe. Realistically, barring major injuries to our key players, I see the Rockets will mostly likely go up in the standing. If our guards can hold their own, this team has potential.

    Back to the game analysis.

    There is no doubt that Novak saved our ass and McGrady sorta redeemed himself a bit with his penetration and assist on that 3-point shot. But it bugs me greatly that Novak was not involved much earlier. Time and time again Novak tried to move his way into the paint and was called by Yao and others to step back to the 3-point line. I don’t understand why Adelman couldn’t come up with a few simple plays for Novak to unleash his long-range bombs. Good thing Adelman stuck with our 3-pointer specialist till literally the last second even though Novak was virtually ineffective for much of time he was on the court. This could be a monumental confidence boost for Novak’s NBA career, something unimaginable under JVG.

    Another thing that bothers me Adelman didn’t play Scola in the 4th quarter. I guess Scola’s three quick and cheap fouls annoyed the heck of Adelman, who decided to give him a lesson.

    The Rockets could match the Kings neither in defense nor in offense for the entire 4th quarter. Rafer thought he could be Jordan after a good 3rd quarter, but was dealt with a hard cold reality check. It’s disgusting to witness another gigantic 4th quarter collapse with the team in near full staff. I hope this game wake our players up.

    Rants over.

    Thank you again John for your blog and your diligent work. We Yao Ming/Rockets fans owe to you great deal of appreciation.

    Bob, Thanks for the compliment. Yes, I agree that the Rockets should have gotten Novak more involved with some long-range bombs before that final shot. — John

  13. Wilson Says:



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