I did something I rarely do watching a Rockets game. They were stinking it up so bad in the first half in Phoenix Saturday night, I changed the channel.
I couldn’t take the massacre I was watching. As they fell behind by 17 points in the first quarter, they didn’t deserve any Rocket fan’s attention. Things got worse as they fell behind by 23 points in the second quarter. So instead, I watched a much better game between UCLA and Texas A&M, a hell of a game which the Bruins pulled out in the final minutes. That was the best decision I made all day.
For good measure, I decided to record the Rockets game just in case some fluke happened and they made a game of it. To my surprise, when I watched the recording I saw the Rockets end up closing the deficit to 8 or 9 points a couple of times in the second half. But the whole time I thought Phoenix was just toying with them. Anytime the Rockets got close, the Suns would turn it on and make the Rockets look like pretenders.
When I had earlier changed the channel away from the game, it was halftime and the Suns had shot an incredible 76% from the field, had 18 assists, and scored 30 points in the paint to lead 74-57. You’ve got to be kidding me — 74 points by halftime?
Amare Stoudemire was killing Luis Scola and anyone else trying to defend him. (I was tempted to make my headline above read, ‘Stoudemire schools Scola,’ but I didn’t want to blame it all on one guy), Stoudemire scored 26 points in the first half on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 12-12 from the line
I can’t remember when I last saw one player dominate the Rockets in a first half. This is another game where the absence of Yao Ming down low really hurt since they didn’t have much of a chance to slow down Stoudemire and Shaq (13 points at halftime, 23 overall).
The Rockets scoring 57 points in the first half is fairly decent, but to make up for their inability to slow down the Suns’ attack, they needed more points. Unfortunately, Rafer Alston went to his old brick-laying ways, making only 1-of-7 shots in the first half.
Since Alston turned into Mr. Inconsistency again, Bobby Jackson got a lot of minutes starting in the second quarter to provide more scoring, and he contributed by scoring 5 points in the the second and 8 points in the fourth to finish with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
And for some unknown reason, Dikembe Mutombo decided in the second quarter to put up 2 shots from a few feet past his range, which is typically only 2 or 3 feet. Both attempts were embarrassing air-balls. How can a 17-year veteran who knows his limitations fall into the trap of jacking up shots like that in Alston-esque fashion?
Down by so much, I would have loved to hear what Rick Adelman had to say in the locker room. Did he rip into his team?
When it came to the second-half game plan, I figured this was the perfect scenario for Adelman to let McGrady, who scored 18 in the first half, turn on the offense since all the pressure was off and they needed as much offense as they could get. So why not let him go crazy like the inner McGrady really wants to do? It couldn’t hurt.
So that’s what McGrady did. He put up 18 shots in the second half, but he only made 5. It wasn’t all his fault the entire team only shot 42% in the second half, BUT THE THING THAT REALLY BURNS ME UP IS THAT HE COULD HAVE CUT THE DEFICIT TO 9 POINTS WITH 4:19 REMAINING IN THE GAME, BUT HE MISSED TWO FREE THROWS THAT CONTRIBUTED TO A 7-FOR-12 NIGHT FROM THE FREE THROW LINE. OF ALL PEOPLE, SHAQ HAD A BETTER NIGHT FROM THE LINE, MAKING 7-OF-9! AND STOUDEMIRE MADE 20-OF-20!
MCGRADY MAKES $19 MILLION A YEAR, AND HE IS ONLY SHOOTING 68% FROM THE LINE THIS SEASON. IS THERE AN EXCUSE FOR THAT? HE SCORED 30 POINTS, HAD 8 REBOUNDS AND NINE ASSISTS SATURDAY NIGHT, BUT HE WAS 11-FOR-31 FROM THE FIELD. MOREOVER, FREE THROWS ARE VERY IMPORTANT AND CAN BE FIXED THROUGH HARD WORK, AND IT APPEARS HE’S NOT PUTTING IN THE TIME THERE. THAT’S ONE OF SEVERAL REASONS WHY I REFUSE TO CALL HIM BY THAT RIDICULOUS NICKNAME THAT STARTS WITH A ‘T’ AND HAS A HYPHEN IN IT. NICKNAMES ARE FOR ICONS WHO CAN VIRTUALLY DO NO WRONG.
I said right after the Rockets lost Yao for the season that a big part of the Rockets’ success this season was going to come down to other players making free throws since Yao was shooting an incredible 85% from the line. Since their 22-game winning streak ended on Monday, they have shot from the line in their 3 losses 61%, 65%, and 74% for a combined 68%. That’s not going to get it done.
After the Rockets decided to play defense in the second half and put together a few scoring runs, they had their chances to pull off a shocking comeback win, but whenever they needed a score to really put pressure on the Suns, they couldn’t come up with one. Not even superman Carl Landry who had a decent game shooting 4-of-8 from the field for 9 points.
For some reason, Adelman decided to play Luther Head in this game, including the crucial fourth quarter. Luther was absolutely awful (again) hitting only 1-of-5 shots in the game and turning the ball over twice on terrible passes in the fourth trying to make plays, something he’s not equipped to do.
I like Luther, but his inconsistency isn’t going to get it done, either. There are too better good shooting guards around the league looking for playing time, and I have a feeling if Head doesn’t start playing better this season, he probably won’t make the team next season. He’s in his third season now, and by that time, you pretty much know what you’ve got in a player. On top of struggling as a shooter, he’s not that great of a defensive player, either.
There were a couple of plays involving Mutombo that really sucked. Early in the fourth quarter, Shaq grabbed a rebound with Deke in between him and the rim, and Shaq elevated and threw it down on Mutombo without Deke even lifting a finger to try to provide some resistance. I’m not used to seeing that kind of passiveness in Deke’s defense as he watches someone dunk on him in his vicinity without putting up a fight.
Late in the fourth with the Suns only up by 9 points, Shaq grabbed another offensive rebound and shoved Deke out of the way with a blatant elbow as he went up for a put-back, AND THE FRICKIN’ REF DIDN’T CALL A FOUL ON SHAQ! Instead, Shaq was supposedly fouled by Scola. Shaq would go to the line and make both free throws, pushing the Suns’ lead to 11 points with 3:28 remaining, which was huge. NOT CALLING AN OFFENSIVE FOUL ON SHAQ WAS AN ABSOLUTE TRAVESTY!
The only positive I saw come from this game is that Landry, who I think could be a budding superstar, saw firsthand how incredible of a player Amare Stoudemire has become (38 points, 20-of-20 from the line, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks). Landry has some of the same athletic gifts that Stoudemire has: explosive, powerful, can jump, nice shooting touch.
Perhaps Stoudemire set the bar for how good Landry can become in the years to come. Can you imagine if Landry averages 20+ points a game to go along with Yao on the front line, and Scola continues to do his thing? The Rockets will be unstoppable for years. If the result of seeing Stoudemire dominate in tonight’s game ended up showing Landry how good he can become some day, then I’ll take it.
Looking at the short-term, though, the Rockets will have no chance against the Suns if they face them in this year’s playoffs. After seeing Phoenix play tonight, I think it’s going to be Suns vs. Celtics in the Finals.