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Rockets hold off Hornets to win 18th straight

March 9th, 2008
by John
Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston celebrate as the Rockets distance themselves from the New Orleans Hornets Saturday night and ultimately win 106-96.  McGrady and Alston combined for 61 points to extend Houston's winning streak to 18 games in one of the most exciting games of the season.  Unbelievable.Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston celebrate as the Rockets distance themselves from the New Orleans Hornets Saturday night and ultimately win 106-96. McGrady and Alston combined for 61 points to extend Houston’s winning streak to 18 games in one of the most exciting games of the season. Unbelievable. Click here for more photos from the game.

After each Rockets win during their current winning streak, it has become increasingly difficult to come up with new things to say. You can’t criticize perfection too much. That’s why I decided the other night to make the trip to Houston to attend the Rockets-Hornets game in the flesh since last season’s disappointing Game 7 against Utah.

IF the Rockets were to win Saturday’s game, I wanted to see if there was anything different I could write having been there, especially against a very good New Orleans team.

Well, it was worth the 320-mile round trip drive (at $3.09 cents per gallon, I might add) to watch one of the most exciting regular season games the Rockets have played this season, even during their 18-game winning streak. Rockets 106, Hornets 96.

Absent Carl Landry because of a swollen knee (he should be out only two games, hopefully) the Rockets were now down TWO big men: Yao and Carl.

That meant the other Rockets would have to step up even more, and that coasting to a victory was very improbable. You can only lose so many rotation players before it starts to take its toll. They were going to have to scratch out a win, even with Hornets’ All-Star David West out because of a sprained ankle.

We hadn’t seen it in such a long time because of all the balanced scoring the Rockets have had during the streak, but Houston decided to go back a bit to the “JVG way” of winning games by having one guy put the team on his back. In this case, it would be Tracy McGrady. It was probably the safest bet to get the victory: ride the hot guy, especially if he’s motivated and wants to prove he can be the guy to do it.

Earlier in the day, McGrady learned if the Rockets beat the Hornets that they would move into the third spot in the Western Conference playoff seeding. That was enough for McGrady to do whatever it took to win this game. Coach Rick Adelman knew they would need McGrady to step it up, especially without Landry to keep the Hornets off balance.

McGrady delivered in one of the best performances I’ve seen from him, which is saying a lot given how well he has been playing during the streak. 41 points on 17-of-27 shots. 3-of-8 from three-point land, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots. And he played all 48 minutes.

It was interesting to hear at the end of the game when McGrady stepped to the free throw line to hear “MVP! MVP!” chants from the Houston crowd. I don’t think that has happened since he was introduced to Houston fans at his initial press conference after the Orlando trade. We all know the odds of him winning MVP are virtually impossible given how Kobe has been playing this season. But if Houston were to finish ahead of the Lakers in the West, you never know…

As well as the Rockets are playing, I love how McGrady and others are not getting a big head, not saying anything foolish, and keeping it all in perspective. Here’s what McGrady said:

“Our concentration and focus is really all about the playoffs. We’ve had pretty good runs in the regular season. Not quite like this, but, this is a team that’s won 50 games in the past. It’s all about the playoffs with us.

“The streak is great. We’ll make a little history. But it really doesn’t mean anything.”

Shane Battier, the consummate professional, echoed similar sentiments:

“At this point, the numbers are a little academic. That’s not what’s important, that’s not what’s driving us now. We’re striving to play good basketball and that’s the focus of the team right now.”

In the locker room after the game, everything was fairly low key. Some of the players hadn’t showered yet as they watched the end of the North Carolina – Duke game on a big screen TV. In front of the screen watching intently was Battier, who obviously had a vested interest in the game being a Duke alum. Once that game had been decided, he headed to the showers disappointed his team had lost. That’s just a sample of how the Rockets aren’t getting too full of themselves and celebrating.

The key part of this game that turned out to be the difference, and the most thrilling, was in the second quarter when the Rockets went on the most exciting scoring run (14-0) I can ever remember seeing in person. Maybe it had something to do with me being in the arena and hearing the roar of the crowd, seeing everyone go bananas, and watching the players leaping 10 feet in the air chest bumping each other when the Hornets had to call timeout to stop the bleeding.

You probably all have seen the highlights, but to relive the glory, here’s what happened during that run:

8:40 – McGrady passes out of a double-team to Chuck Hayes in the lane for a layup. 28-28
8:23 – Hayes steals the ball and throws a long pass to Rafer Alston for a layup. 30-28, Houston.
7:28 – McGrady hits a 3-pointer. 33-28, Houston.
6:58 – Alston throws an alley-oop to McGrady for a beautiful dunk! Toyota Center is rockin! 35-28, Houston.
6:16 – Steve Novak hits a long jumper. 37-28, Houson.
5:55 – McGrady is feeling it, and hits a long three-pointer. 40-28, completing the 14-0 run.

That second quarter was as wild as it gets for both teams as they slugged it out from behind the arc. Houston made 9-of-13 from behind the line IN THE SECOND QUARTER to score 39 points, while New Orleans made 7-of-12. In fact, 11 of the last 12 shots made in that quarter were 3-pointers. It was back-and-forth, like watching a tennis match.

It makes you wonder: when one team gets hot from long distance, does it inspire their opponent to try the same? And if both teams are hitting from three-point land, do they keep trying to retaliate until they just start missing? I digress.

That second quarter explosion by Houston gave the Rockets a 59-46 halftime lead. To no one’s surprise, Chris Paul and company wouldn’t go down without a fight, pulling within 5 points near the end of the third quarter. But McGrady’s will carried the team in the fourth as he scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting.

What I really liked from McGrady that was subtle near the end of the game was when he took it to the hole on two consecutive possessions to score to hold the Hornets off. You know he had to be tired playing the entire game, yet he didn’t settle for jump shots like he would have done in previous seasons. We’re witnessing the maturing of McGrady before our very eyes.

McGrady isn’t the only one who seems to have grown. Rafer Alston continues to shoot lights out, hitting 7-of-13 shots for 20 points against the Hornets. The basket must look like the size of the ocean right now to Alston, because in my mind it has reached the point when he attempts a 3-pointer, I feel it’s going to go in. Saturday night he hit 4-of-8 treys, with one miss coming as the shot clock expired as he had to hoist a shot a couple of feet from behind the 3-point line to get it off in time.

Alston was in foul trouble most of the night, so Adelman had to save him for the fourth quarter, and once he came back in, he made a big difference. At the 7:04 mark, he sliced through the Hornets’ defense by scoring on a coast-to-coast layup to give them a 95-83 advantage. CP3 would respond with a 3-pointer, then on the next Rockets’ possession, he hit a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 98-86, not his usual spot. Those buckets were huge.

Before the game I was concerned that Landry’s absence was going to be a problem, but McGrady made up for his missing points by scoring his 41, and Chuck Hayes filled in admirably on the boards with 9 rebounds to lead the team. He also made 3-of-3 shots, most coming off McGrady dishes as Hayes broke off pick-and-rolls a couple of times with his defender never following him, leaving him wide open for layups. Hayes also had 3 steals.

Also stepping up in Landry’s absence was Steve Novak, who hit 3-of-5 shots including 2-of-3 treys. Because New Orleans’ David West was out with the ankle injury, the Rockets didn’t have to worry about defending his replacement Ryan Bowen, the former Rocket who we know is offensively ‘challenged.’ That gave Novak a chance to thrill the crowd with his 3-pointers.

It’s hard to believe that Luis Scola only scored 6 points on 2-of-7 shooting because when he did score, they seemed to come when the Rockets really needed them (with one being a crafty move around the basket), and he was active as always on the boards by grabbing 8 of them.

Although Luther Head was only 3-of-9 from the field with 9 points, he was 3-of-7 on treys. And Battier scored in double figures, hitting 4-of-9 shots for 10 points and 2-of-6 from three. Collectively, the Rockets shot 14-of-34 from behind the arc (41.2%) and 50% overall. They also had 27 assists and 42 field goals. The ball continues to move.

The only Rocket that had a very disconcerting night was Bobby Jackson. After his fantastic debut with the Rockets, he has been awful. Saturday night he started off great by chasing down Chris Paul from behind and stripping the ball from him, then following up with a long two-pointer. But after that, he missed all 6 of his remaining shots to finish 1-for-7 from the field – another poor shooting night – including missing 2 easy layups.

As I heard Clyde Drexler say astutely (a rarity) during the broadcast (there was a TV next to me as I watched the game) – “In the NBA you cannot afford to miss layups and stay in this league.”

Jackson also had 3 turnovers Saturday night in just 17 minutes. It’s becoming more clear the Hornets knew what they had (or didn’t have) when they traded Jackson away to the Rockets. Bobby Jackson is starting to remind me of Mark Jackson during the JVG era. Even though he had 5 assists, at this rate I have a feeling that Aaron Brooks could be getting more playing time soon. It happened after Steve Francis and Mike James couldn’t cut it, and it may be happening again.

It’s amazing the Rockets are now ahead of New Orleans for the 3rd seed in the West. A few weeks ago I never thought it could be possible. I’ve never seen a team make up ground like this in my 30+ years of following NBA basketball. I guess winning 18 in a row will do that. Is this too good to be true?

One more win against the New Jersey Nets, and the Rockets will have won 19 straight – something even the New England Patriots weren’t able to do this year.

It’s getting late here at Toyota Center and I’m the last person in the press room, so I better get out of here.

12 Responses to “Rockets hold off Hornets to win 18th straight”

  1. jeff Says:

    The commentator said that Jackson must wake up. But I think he is too sleepy and will continue to be sleepy. Idleman must also wake up and play Brooks as a back up to Alston. Idleman should not repeat the same mistake as he made on Scola. Jackson almost lost this one single-handedly.

  2. Derek Says:

    John, thanks for the excellent article. I also feel that this is too good to be true. Not long ago, everyone thinks the Rockets are going to miss the playoff. Magic thinks the Yao-T-Mac experiment is not working. Fans are screaming to bring JVG back. Now, what a difference after the 18-win streak.

    I know that at some point the Rockets will lose, but I still hope that it will never end. At least not until we meet the Lakers. The next three games are very winnable games. With the way the Rockets are playing, it takes another “philadelphia” game for the Rockets to lose. So I really hope that we at least win the next three. That will put the Rockets 2nd place on the longest winning streak list in NBA history.

    Wow, I can’t believe we are already making history.

  3. throwed Says:

    its the H-town baby and ya know what it is……………….

  4. Zoe Says:

    Dear John:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights with us. It is a great time to be a fan of both Yao and Rockets! I wonder if the Rockets will be able to do what the Goerge Mason University did in NCAA – a black horse to all the way to the NCAA final. If they place like this, everything is possible. Hopefully, they keep playling like this, everything can happen, including Yao Ming comes back to join the final games of NBA final. It is the Time.

    However, if they do so, they need to minimize any errors, such as those made by B Jackson. Hope it will not take the coach RA very long to realise this, as he did for starting Luis.

    In this 18 streak history making time, we all should give Yao the credit, even when he is absent from the last a few games.

    He is the one who started this winning streak by crying out to his teamates after the Philadephia lost (“softness”) when the Rockets was at the bottom of this season; he was the one who continues to deliver by playing hard with heart regardless good time or bad time; he was the only Rocket who has been there to experience the evolution of the Rockets in the past 6 years. He will be there always. I am sure he will be extremely happy to see what his beloved team is doing.

    A great time to follow the Rockets.

  5. Luckyme Says:

    When they won the 17th, the only word I could mutter was a “WOW!” , now, with the latest win, ie the 18th, I have run out of exclamatory word to describe the amazing feat we are witnessing.

    It must be out of the world to be present in the crowd last night; I wish I had a chance like you – but I am in the great white north covered in two feet of snow right now!

    Thank you for the great report – as always, John. They are always a fun to read.

  6. Wendy Says:

    Nice streak, huh? But like T-Mac says, it’s all about the playoffs, and for me, they have already started – every game, win or lose, make a big difference in the standings, it’s exciting.

    Anyway – I still have a li’l concern: we still cannot stop CP3! T-Mac makes it up this time, but I don’t feel like we can rely on that too much for every nite. Besides CP3, we also have to worry about D-Williams and Tony Parker! Can Aaron Brooks handle this?

    Another thing: John, you haven’t write about the Yao effect yet the last couple of games:) The last time we beat the Hornets, Yao had 28/14, a big difference. If we had him, the Hornets would think twice about using the Zone… This time we beat the Zone by being smoking hot from outside, but once again, we shouldn’t rely too much on it.

    Anyway… I savour every game and every win, it’s ben a long time since I have this nice feeling! Can’t wait for the Lakers game!
    Go Rockets! Do it for Yao!

    You’re right about my not commenting on the Yao effect. Last night was difficult because I was up so late and the last person to leave Toyota Center, so I didn’t have time. It definitely would have been easier with him in the game. As far as other games (like Dallas), it wouldn’t have made too much of a difference since they played so well without him. — John

  7. Wilson Says:





  8. Joseph Says:

    Since Yao is out, I hope Rockets don’t get out of the 1st round of the playoff. That shows Yao is the most important and best player on this team.

  9. David Says:

    Hey John,

    You mind telling us what city you’re from? I’ve always thought you were from Houston.

    David, I was born and raised in Houston, but I now live in Austin where I went to the University of Texas. Luckily Houston isn’t too far away. If I did live in Houston, then chances are I would never get anything done in my real career since I would be going to Rockets games all the time. I talked to the guy who runs ClutchFans.net a few months ago, and he said there’s no way he can go to the Rockets games, either, because it would actually take more of his time when you factor in driving to the game, parking, driving back, then writing about it (although he doesn’t write as much as he used to do). — John

  10. Daniel Says:

    Want proof that Yao is not the most important and best player on the Rockets??? Check the record in games with Yao but without McGrady then check the record in games with McGrady but without Yao. There’s an obvious advantage in McGrady’s favor which proves he’s the most important and best player.

    I for one always want the Rockets to win, and I’ve said it before, Yao wouldn’t want anyone who wants the Rockets to lose just because he isn’t playing as a fan. So Yao doesn’t want you as a fan Joseph, and since this is a Yao Ming fan site you’re not welccome here.

  11. richard Says:

    Thanks for the recap John! A question for you. Do you know why the rox got rib of the Cupcake man?

    Rox should start playing AB a little more and bench Boddy Jackson.

    I think the Rockets wanted to bring on guys like Mike Harris and Justin Williams who can help them this year just in case of another injury to the front line (Landry’s knee, Dikembe’s age). I don’t think they thought Gerald Green could really help them this year. I think when the Rockets waive a player like they did with Green, they typically do it with dignity and class with the potential to have them come back (like they did with Harris). So hopefully we’ll see Green get invited to the Vegas Summer League next summer, and if he shows potential there, maybe get invited to training camp next October. I would think the Rockets would have an inside track on him since Green is from Houston and I’ve got to think he liked his experience with the Rockets, although it was short. — John

  12. Joseph Says:

    Daniel, I see English is not your first language.

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