With the trade of Bonzi Wells, Mike James and Kirk Snyder within the past 24 hours, you wondered if the Rockets would have a lapse and not take care of business against a Miami team Thursday night that had lost 24 of its last 25 games.
Or perhaps the Rockets would look ahead to their huge match-up Friday night against their toughest opponent, New Orleans, since Houston’s 9-game winning streak began – coincidentally against the same team to whom they traded Bonzi and James late Wednesday night.
To the contrary, the Rockets came out on fire in the first quarter, making a statement to score the most number of points they have scored in a quarter this season, 41, and lead by 15 at the end of the first quarter.
In that first quarter, the Rockets hit 17-of-21 shots and 4-of-5 from 3-point land. And get a load of these other first quarter numbers: Tracy McGrady hit 6-of-8 shots for 14 points. Yao Ming was 4-of-4 for 8 points. Rafer Alston was 4-of-5, including 3-of-3 from three-point land. And Luis Scola was 3-of-4 for 6 points. Amazing.
The only flaws were when McGrady blew an easy alley-oop dunk in the quarter, and the Rockets had at least 4 turnovers.
The Rockets would open up a 20-point lead in the second quarter after a Steve Novak 3-pointer and go on to hold a 62-48 lead at halftime after shooting 61% in the first half, including 7-of-14 from three-point land.
As I expected he would, Yao bounced back strong after shooting 3-of-17 on Tuesday against Cleveland by hitting 6-of-6 shots for 12 points in the first half against a Shaq-less Miami team.
In the first half, the Rockets also showed the national TV audience on TNT how well they have been sharing the ball during their winning streak: 19 assists on 26 field goals. The more they do that, the more I’m willing to compare them to great teams in the past like the Spurs of recent years.
But it hasn’t been unusual for the Rockets to let teams back into games, and even against the 9-42 Heat, that’s what happened in the third quarter as Miami went on an 8-0 run to cut their deficit to only 8 points, which would happen a couple of times in the second half.
Each time, though, Houston would respond. Not necessarily with big shots, although Yao’s hook shot with 3 defenders around him with 4:24 remaining in the third quarter making it 76-66 was huge. But just a few seconds after that play, the refs robbed Yao with a terrible call when they called him for blocking when he clearly hadn’t moved when Earl Barron barreled into him. That was Yao’s fourth foul, sending him to the bench as both Yao and Rick Adelman let the idiotic ref have it.
Without Yao in the lineup, I felt the Rockets fell too much in love with long jumpers since those shots fell so easily in the first quarter…but not so much in the second half. However, it seemed each time they needed an offensive rebound or steal, they got one to get another crack at scoring. That seemed to be the story all night long and the key to the Rockets 112-100 victory.
Yao would finish with an impressive 10-of-11 shooting night for 21 points and grab 9 boards. Tracy McGrady had 23 points on 8-of-19 shots, but more importantly 10 assists with only 1 turnover. Rafer Alston had 16 points on 6-of-14 shots for 16 points and 11 assists.
Luis Scola would finish with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, many buckets coming from his typical strong shifty moves taking it to the rack. But his hustling for rebounds was even more impressive, leading all Houston rebounders with 10.
But the guy who really came through for the Rockets in the fourth quarter when the Rockets were trying to fend off Miami was rookie Carl Landry. Landry finished with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter (19 overall), most of them coming from acrobatic dunks. Man, the dude can fly! He also hustled for 5 rebounds, 4 of them coming on the offensive boards. At this rate, Landry is making Daryl Morey look like a genius regardless of what you think of the Bonzi Wells trade.
So when you combine the Rockets’ sharing the ball (32 assists leading to 42 field goals), hustling for rebounds (42-34 advantage), and opening a big first quarter lead, the Rockets are pretty hard to beat – especially if the team is lukewarm like the Heat.
Now the Rockets head to New Orleans to play their biggest game of the season thus far IMHO since the Rockets’ schedule has been very kind to them during their 10-game winning streak. Of course, it’s not a must-win game. But it will be a really good indicator to let us all know if the Rockets have had some luck go their way to win their last 10 games in a row.
What will make it even more difficult for the Rockets is the fact they will be playing against two guys — Bonzi and Mike James — who were on their bench just a couple of days ago who want to show how wrong they were in trading them and/or not giving them enough minutes in Houston.