Although the Rockets held on for a huge 109-106 victory against the Warriors at Golden State on Friday night, I was happy on many fronts, but irate on another.
For most of the game, and especially during the third quarter, I couldn’t understand what Rick Adelman was thinking. I thought it was one of his worst coached games in weeks. I can understand why he had decided to “go small” by starting Luther Head instead of Dikembe Mutombo to match up with Golden State’s smaller and speedier lineup.
But after awhile it was clear the strategy wasn’t working. By halftime, Luther had only scored 4 points on 2-of-5 shooting, while on the other end of the court, the Warriors were grabbing offensive rebounds (9 by halftime, 20-10 offensive rebound advantage overall) and getting to the hole for easy layups time-after-time. The Rockets were lucky to be up 52-50 at halftime. The lead should have been bigger.
Meanwhile, Luis Scola wasn’t doing much on the defensive end down low, and he had only scored 4 points on 2-of-4 shooting himself.
So they weren’t getting much from Landry and Scola offensively, AND they were being torched on the boards and in the paint defensively. Not a good combination, especially in the third quarter when their interior defense was pathetic by letting the Warriors get to the hole uncontested so many times.
In the third quarter, Scola and Landry combined for 7 points on 2-of-8 shooting. That kind of production at the expense of not playing the game’s best shot-blocker isn’t worth it to me. Why was it taking so long for Adelman to stop the bleeding? Why didn’t he put Dikembe Mutombo in the game rather than trying to go small all the time against the Warriors? At least put him in there for a few minutes to stop the carnage. Mutombo wouldn’t play one second in this game. Unbelievable.
Adelman finally played one guy who could help him rebound and contest shots — Carl Landry. Seeing action for the first time in 7 games because of a swollen knee, Landry was playing incredible in the second quarter when he scored 6 points on 3-of-5 shooting. But the way the game unfolded, you could tell Adelman was trying to save Landry’s minutes for the fourth quarter.
So why not play Mutombo some in the third? We’ve all seen how Mount Mutombo can make it very difficult for a player of any size to get to the rim. If he had played at all in this game, he would have probably had 5 or 6 blocks and shut down a lot of what the Warriors were doing inside as they kept it a tight game throughout.
Finally when Landry entered the game in the fourth, he immediately made his presence felt, scoring 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting, and making 5-of-6 free throws to score 11 points in the final quarter. On top of that, he provided the Rockets some defensive presence down low to grab important rebounds and make shooters think twice when they took it to the rack.
Surprisingly, Adelman pulled Landry out of the game in the fourth, for whatever reason. But when Rafer Alston turned the ball over two possessions in a row followed by Scola dribbling too much trying to make something happen around the free throw line area and getting stripped for the turnover, the Warriors capped a 6-0 run to tie it at 87-87 with 6:40 remaining.
Adelman was so visibly incensed at this third turnover in a row, he called a timeout, obviously angry that the Rockets could be so careless with the ball when it looked like they were on their way to a victory.
After Landry entered the game, Tracy McGrady hit a big jumper to give Houston an 89-87 lead. Then Bobby Jackson shot an off-balance 3-pointer where he double-clutched it to avoid getting blocked, then seemingly threw it at the rim AND IT WENT IN! That appeared to be the most important shot of the game since it gave Houston a 92-87 lead with 5:04 remaining.
Scola would hit 1-of-2 free throws, and Alston would score on a layup after a jump ball between Baron Davis and Shane Battier got loose when Davis and Monta Ellis accidentally knocked it out of each others’ hands. The loose ball came down to Alston, who took it all the way down the court and scored on an acrobatic layup to make it 95-87 with 4:30 remaining.
But Golden State wouldn’t go down without a fight. They would go on a 7-0 run in just 43 seconds to cut their deficit down to 95-94. However, Landry and Bobby Jackson would come through again.
Landry was fouled and hit two free throws to make it 97-94. Then after Baron Davis hit a long three-pointer to tie the game at 97-97, Bobby Jackson would hit another cold-blooded 3-pointer after great ball movement by the Rockets to make it 100-97.
Andres Biedrins would score down low on a dunk, but then McGrady penetrated into the lane, dished a bounce pass to Landry on the baseline, and Landry went underneath the rim for a reverse jam! That made it 102-99, Houston, with 1:30 remaining.
Subsequently on the defensive end, Landry’s presence down low forced Monta Ellis miss to miss badly as Ellis took it strong into the paint.
The rest of the game was a free throw shooting contest for Houston since they let the Warriors continually get to the hole for easy buckets. Why Mutombo wasn’t inserted into the game at this time was baffling to me because everyone knew there were going to be many stoppages of play considering all the timeouts both teams had, and they could have removed him from the game during those timeouts before the Warriors could have fouled him. They could have easily had Deke in the game to contest the easy shots the Warriors were getting when they were attacking the rim.
Fortunately for the Rockets, it worked out and they got an important win to halt their 2-game losing streak.
There were a few heroes to thank for this win. Of course, Landry the Beast was amazing in his first game back in two weeks, scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting and grabbing 8 rebounds. We all knew Landry was severely missed in the losses to the Celtics and Hornets. But could anyone have thought this rookie, who no one really knew last summer, would have such a large bearing on the outcome of games this late in the season? I would love for the Rockets to play those games against Boston and New Orleans again with Landry in the rotation.
Of course, I think we’re going to have to hold our breath to make sure Landry didn’t get so much action Friday night that his right knee will swell up again and not be ready against Phoenix Saturday night.
Jackson had a huge night hitting 5-of-8 three-pointers and scoring 16 points. He made every Rocket fan forget a little bit about how badly Bonzi Wells burned them on Wednesday night when Bonzi scored 25 points against his old teammates. Jackson showed a lot of courage to take the shots he did, and his experience was invaluable in this game.
Tracy McGrady was more of the McGrady we saw during the 22-game winning streak, hitting shots for a high percentage (11-of-23) to score 26 points. There were times – like when the Rockets’ offense got stagnant – where he put the team on his back to keep up with the Warriors’ scoring machine, which had 26 fast break points. McGrady would also finish with 8 boards and 8 assists, but he did have 5 turnovers.
In my opinion, the unsung hero of this game was Shane Battier. During the first and third quarters, he was aggressive taking it to the basket and scored 6 and 8 points, respectively, to give them more points they sorely needed since Scola (9 points), Head (11 points) and Alston (1-of-6 on 3-pointers, 13 points) were having such a rough night. Battier would finish with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 5-of-6 from the line. He also had 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block. Just a great all-around game for the All-American.
The Rockets now face the second night of a tough back-to-back Saturday night against Phoenix. This game is going to be huge for both the Rockets and Suns because Houston is only ½ game ahead of Phoenix for 3rd place in the West. If the Rockets lose, they will drop to the 5th seed just like that. Hopefully the signing of 7-foot center Loren Woods to a 10-day contract will help against Shaq.