It was a beautiful scene in Atlanta where the Rockets won their 20th straight game Wednesday night. The game was filled with anticipation as Houston had to make big plays in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory after a poor shooting night (33%).
Out of all the games we’ve watched since the Rockets’ incredible win streak began, the one in Atlanta on Wednesday night was one of the most impressive in which they overcame so many obstacles, like…
No Yao, sucky shooting (33%), their point guard hitting only 3 shots out of 18, missing athletic throw-down king Carl Landry for the 3rd straight game (huge), Luis Scola‘s early foul trouble, and Tracy McGrady shooting 20% by halftime, just to name a few.
After the game, Shane Battier felt the same:
“This is probably the best win out of the streak. We were down the whole night. We were in foul trouble. Couldn’t hit a shot. Everything was working against us.”
Yet they still pulled out a win when they needed it, incredibly winning their 20th straight game in an 83-75 gutcheck victory where they could care less about winning in double-digits again, and were just ecstatic to keep the streak alive and hit that magical ’20’ mark which gives ties them for the 2nd longest winning streak in NBA history.
With the victory, the Rockets are now the second seed in the West after San Antonio lost to New Orleans Wednesday night. Take a look at the image of beauty below, including that ‘20’ in the streak column. I don’t want it to end. Savor it while it lasts.
This was absolutely one of those games where the “Yao effect” was clearly evident. If Yao had been in this game, it would have been much, much easier to score when other Rockets’ shots kept missing.
Fortunately, McGrady put his team on his back when they REALLY needed it — I think even much more than what they got from him at Saturday’s home game against New Orleans when he scored 41 points in 48 minutes. This time around, no one was doing much damage offensively, and I felt watching this game that he was their last option.
McGrady came up big in an MVP-like performance that proved he has the mental toughness to pull out huge wins.
Down 33-32 at halftime (yes, HALFTIME) after his team shot only 28% from the field, McGrady only had 7 points on 2-of-10 shooting, and was 3-for-6 from the line.
But like we have seen many other times, McGrady bounced back from a poor start, and realizing the survival of the winning streak rested on his shoulders, came up big by scoring 21 points in the second half. Eleven of those points came in the third quarter when he hit 5-of-6 from the field.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Rockets were still only up two points, and you had a feeling the Hawks would continue to push the Rockets hard and pull off a huge upset that would make national headlines. In no way was this going to be a sure victory given the absence of Yao and Landry not being able to match up better against Atlanta bigs like Josh Smith and Al Horford.
The fourth started off disastrous with Bobby Jackson missing another point-blank layup (what’s the deal with him?), but he would atone for his mistake by scoring a layup a minute later on a fast break.
In between those plays, Luther Head hit a huge jumper with a hand in his face and with the shot clock going off to make it 61-59. That shot capped off a solid, but understated, night for Head, who hit two other big shots in the first half when the Rockets needed buckets in such a tight game. Although he scored 7 points, his swished jumpers were sorely needed mental pick-me-ups.
Jackson would continue to redeem himself by hitting a jumper to hold the Hawks at bay at 65-62 with 8:43 remaining.
About a minute later, Alston – who had only hit 2-of-15 from the field by that time – hit an unlikely 3-pointer to give the Rockets more breathing room at 69-64. Man, what stones he had to launch that shot! You gotta give him a lot of credit for taking and making it.
After McGrady missed badly on a jumper, Alston came up with another huge play…on an inbounds pass when he threw it inbounds from the baseline to McGrady, who caught it in mid-air, got off a shot, the ball bounced high off the rim, then bounced around some more, and fell for the score! 71-66 with 6:16 remaining. Hold on, Rockets. Hold on.
Then the bottom started falling out. Alston missed a jumper, Atlanta’s Joe Johnson tipped in an offensive rebound for a bucket, Scola missed a badly needed baseline jumper, and Chuck Hayes was called for blocking on Johnson. Johnson proceeded to hit 2 free throws with 5:00 minutes to make it 71-70, Houston.
At that point, the Rockets’ tenacity and refusal to lose kicked in. McGrady would miss a jumper, but Houston would scrap for the rebound to give McGrady another chance. He would take it strong to the hole, but he missed the layup, BUT ONCE AGAIN THE ROCKETS GRABBED THE OFFENSIVE REBOUND, giving the Rockets another crack at it.
That gave McGrady the chance to drive to the baseline where he would see Hayes underneath the basket alone for a split second. McGrady dished it to Hayes, who laid it in for a 73-70 lead with 4:07 remaining. What a backbreaker that possession must have been for the Hawks. Three chances at it, and the Rockets finally converted.
On the other end, Mike Bibby would take it strong to the hole, BUT HE WOULD MISS THE LAYUP! The Rockets rebounded and started a fast break with Alston leading the charge, who faked a pass to a wing man, then took it strong to the hole. BUT ALSTON MISSED IT. HOWEVER, SCOLA HAD HUSTLED ON THE PLAY, GRABBED THE REBOUND AND LAID IT IN BEHIND HIS HEAD FOR THE SCORE TO MAKE IT 75-70 with 3:51 remaining.
Although they were undersized, the Rockets would play great defense down low on the Hawks’ ensuing possession and get the defensive board. McGrady then would hit the unlikeliest of shots when the ball bounced high off the rim for a sure miss, BUT THE BALL CAME DOWN, HIT THE RIM AGAIN, AND FELL FOR A MIRACLE SCORE! ‘SHOOTER’S BOUNCE’ ALL THE WAY! That gave the Rockets a 77-70 lead with 3:04 remaining. Win #20 in a row was within site! Just hold on!
The Hawks would miss a wide-open 3-pointer on the other end (someone was looking out for the Rockets on this night), and McGrady would bring it down and take it strong to the hole and get fouled. He would make only 1-of-2 free throws, giving them a 78-70 lead. I just had to ask myself, “With all the blown chances they have had in this game, how are the Rockets ahead?”
Then on the next Rockets’ possession with the score the same, McGrady would launch a 3-pointer with the shot clocking winding down AND DRAIN IT! OH MY GOD! 81-70. THEY’RE GOING TO DO IT! THEY ARE GOING TO MAKE HISTORY TYING THE RECORD FOR THE 2ND LONGEST WINNING STREAK IN NBA HISTORY!
Houston would hold on for the victory, and you could just see the relief among all the players, including the guys on the bench who had been standing almost the entire fourth quarter trying to will the guys on the floor to a ‘W.’
I got a little choked up hearing long-time Houston broadcaster Bill Worrell getting emotional as the game wound down, saying outside of the Rockets winning their 2 championships, that he had never been more proud of the Rockets, and this was their “finest hour.” I had to hit the record button my DVR after that.
I can’t believe the Rockets pulled this game out after so many disappointments in Atlanta, like in 1993 when their 15-game win streak ended. Like I mentioned earlier, this time there was no Yao. No Landry. Terrible night shooting (33% shooting), 6-for-29 from three-point territory (20.6%), 65.7% from the free throw line, only 13 assists, only one other guy besides McGrady in double-figures (Battier with 15), Alston’s 3-for-18 shooting, getting outscored on fast break points 25-3, etc.
But it was guys stepping up when it was absolutely necessary, like Battier being more aggressive offensively by taking 11 shots. And Chuck Hayes hitting 4-of-6 shots for 8 points and grabbing 12 boards. And Scola making up for a 2-for-9 shooting night and being in constant foul trouble to grab 12 boards.
But the star was McGrady with 28, regardless of the wacky numbers in his boxscore: 10-of-28 from the field, 1-of-5 from three, 7-of-12 from the line, and only 2 assists.
With #20 in a row, though, no one cares. They got one of the most important franchise wins in regular season history. It was the most beautiful ugly win I’ve ever seen.
They can hold the #2 all-time win streak record by themselves Friday if they beat the Bobcats in Houston. Carl Landry should be back for that game, which will be good to have against studs like Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace.