If you’re a fan of basketball in the state of Texas, you had to be dumbfounded that some of the geniuses at the NCAA decided Friday night to schedule the huge ballgame game between the Texas Longhorns and Memphis for Sunday afternoon so that it would conflict with the Rockets-Spurs game, another huge basketball game in the state of Texas.
What were they thinking? There was plenty of opportunity for the NCAA to schedule the UT-Memphis game in the mid-afternoon so there would be no conflict. But nooooooo, they had to screw the basketball fans having tickets to either game from watching the other game on TV, or fans at home who wanted to watch both games without having to flip channels every 10 seconds.
Luckily for the NCAA, hoops fans in Texas who wanted to watch both games really didn’t have to face a choice since the Rockets game was essentially over as the Spurs took an early lead, built it up to 25 points, and coasted to a 109-88 win.
The Spurs started off shooting hot, making 76% of their shots in the first quarter to take a 35-24 lead. The Rockets were trying to keep the Spurs from getting into the lane and creating all kinds of problems, so they forced them to shoot outside, and the Spurs made them pay.
You’ve got to give credit to the Spurs for hitting those outside shots, especially Michael Finley who had 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting by halftime and 22 overall. Tony Parker had 13 by halftime and also finished with 22.
At halftime, the Rockets had to decide if they were going to try to change their defense or stick with their initial strategy and hope the Spurs started missing. Usually you play the percentages and hope the Spurs start missing. You can’t expect them to shoot like that the entire game.
But they just about did. The Spurs finished the first half shooting 64% and led 66-48 (their most number of points in a first half all season), and they only had 1 turnover. ABC commentary Mark Jackson was an idiot by repeatedly saying the Rockets needed to start playing better or they were going to face an early exit from the playoffs. But I believe this is one of those games where you’ve got to tip your cap to the other team because they have great players and they hit their shots.
Hitting shots is exactly what the Rockets had been doing during their 22-game win streak, and you didn’t hear announcers saying other teams sucked when they lost to the Rockets. Instead, they gave Houston credit for playing better and being the better team.
This was one of those games for the Spurs, except it didn’t hurt that Tracy McGrady had a bad shooting game. He started off strong by taking the ball to the rack 3 times in the first 12 ½ minutes for dunks. But he was only 3-for-13 from the field in the first half, and finished the game 5-for-22 for 13 points. He’s clearly going to have to play better than that.
But the Rockets had proven in the past even with Yao Ming out and McGrady not shooting well, other players could still make up for it and pull out the win. But the Spurs are just too good for that, having won their 7th game in a row.
It didn’t help that Rafer Alston finished 4-for-16 for 13 points, and 0-for-4 from three-point land.
One change the Rockets made before the game compared to what they are accustomed to doing is not starting Shane Battier. That’s only the second time that’s happened this season. Rick Adelman wanted Battier to match-up with Spurs’ sixth man Manu Ginobili.
So Luther Head started in Battier’s place, and he actually didn’t do too bad by scoring 10 points in the 1st half on 4-of-4 shooting. But that’s all he would score in the game. Maybe by not starting Battier and getting him warmed up early, it kept him from getting hot offensively. Battier would only finish with 5 points on 2-of-6 shooting.
Who knows if it would have made a difference. But let’s face it, the Spurs are tough and without Yao Ming in the middle to give fits defensively to Tim Duncan (13 points, 6 rebounds), the Rockets are at a severe disadvantage. I’m pissed the Rockets are playing with such a great handicap and the Spurs haven’t had to face any injuries to their big men. But it’s the reality.
With this huge loss and only 9 games remaining in the season, the Rockets fall 1 ½ games behind the Spurs and are 3-4 after the 22-game winning streak ended.
The game was so uneventful, probably the most exciting part of the game was the argument Jackson had with Jeff Van Gundy about who was the MVP of the league. After debating their very different lists of who they thought are the top candidates, Jackson got frustrated and told Van Gundy, “I’m so glad I don’t think like you.”
JVG took exception to that statement and called Jackson on it mat for going beyond the argument and leading it into a personal insult. Caught red-faced, the normally arrogant and know-it-all Jackson actually apologized to Van Gundy right then. I couldn’t believe it, but it made me respect him a little bit more. Having received an apology out of Jackson, JVG started to rub it in a little bit. Jackson rightfully retaliated by telling Van Gundy that after someone apologizes, you’re supposed to “let it go.” JVG responded, “You’re right.”
Isn’t that sad that this argument on-the-air was the most exciting part of the game?
The Rockets now have a day off and head to Sacramento to try to get back on track. Even if they win, you’ve got to wonder if the Rockets really have a chance in the playoffs against New Orleans, Phoenix, San Antonio, and maybe even Utah. Hopefully in a 7-game series, Rick Adelman and the players have the ability to make adjustments to counter what their opponents would do.