The Rockets’ loss to Sacramento was absolutely inexcusable Tuesday night. It was a huge, huge loss in the Rockets’ quest to stay in the hunt for home court advantage in the playoffs since New Orleans and San Antonio both won earlier in the night.
The Rockets are now 2 ½ games behind those teams with only 8 games remaining, 1 game behind the Lakers, and ½ game behind Phoenix in 6th place in the West.
If the playoffs started today, the Rockets would play the third-place Lakers and would NOT have home court advantage. That’s how big these recent losses have been, including this one they should have won Tuesday, their first loss to a team with a losing record in 3 ½ months.
The Rockets still managed to blow it against a team that had lost one of their best players and rebounders, Brad Miller, who got ejected midway in the third quarter because of two technical fouls. And the Kings were already playing without another big man, Spencer Hawes.
Their absence in the game helped give the Rockets an incredible 49-28 rebounding advantage, including a 21-4 advantage on the offensive boards. I have never seen a team dominate on the boards like that and still lose a game!
Attribute this disaster to the Rockets missing their first 10 shots in the fourth quarter, and shooting only 20% in that quarter and 40% overall.
I am wondering what in the hell was Chuck Hayes doing taking 6 shots (missing all of them except for a tip-in), including a low-percentage jump hook with 1:12 remaining when the Rockets held a 98-97 lead. Scoring a bucket in that situation would have made a Kings victory much less likely.
To be expected, Hayes clanged that shot. I watched the replay, and there was no other player closer to the basket. That lack of execution on offense is not going to get it done in crunch time, including Carl Landry taking only 1 shot the entire game! How can you forget about using that guy?
On the ensuing possession after Hayes bricked it, Kevin Martin was fouled by Shane Battier for some unknown reason (why foul such a great foul shooter — if he misses his shot, so be it?), and Martin made both free throws to give Sacramento a 99-98 lead.
The Rockets couldn’t score the rest of the way. Rafer Alston drove into the lane and threw up a crazy shot that resulted in a rebound and jump ball between Alston and Mikki Moore. The Kings easily won the tip.
After Luis Scola managed to steal the ball on the Kings’ ensuing possession, the Rockets elected to not call timeout and instead brought it down the court to hopefully score in transition.
Tracy McGrady had a chance to win it with a last-second shot, but he missed it after pump-faking two King defenders into the air. I actually think he should have thrown his body into one of those defenders to get fouled, but like Dirk Nowitzki a couple of weeks ago (with Charles Barkley calling Dirk out for not making the smart play), McGrady tried to make a difficult shot and it hit the front of the rim and bounced away for the loss.
Ron Artest totally abused the Rockets by taking over and winning this game by scoring clutch shots on his way to 30 points while Kevin Martin scored 27. Martin seemed to play almost a full quarter and a half with 4 fouls, and the Rockets didn’t force him to pick up his fifth foul that could have benched him for some crucial minutes.
Meanwhile, McGrady was 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter, finishing 12-of-31 overall for 32 points. He was on fire the first 3 quarters where he shot 50% and scored 27 points. But he couldn’t close out the deal.
Alston finished 4-for-13 for 16 points and 8 assists. That means he has shot only 31.4% in the 5 games the Rockets have lost since the 22-game winning streak ended, and 37.5% in the 3 games they have won.
Meanwhile, McGrady is shooting 32.8% in those 5 losses and 39% in the 3 wins. As these guys shoot, so goes the Rockets.
Luis Scola was the main bright spot Tuesday night, scoring 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting, 10-of-10 free throws (a great improvement from the foul line compared to earlier in the season), and hustled for 8 rebounds, including some big ones in the second half that gave the Rockets a shot to win it.
Dikembe Mutombo also was inspirational, playing 21 minutes (alot for him), scoring 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting, grabbing 7 boards and blocking 2 shots. On the down side, he made only 3-of-6 free throws.
This 1-point defeat really hurts when you think about what happened in the first quarter. An idiotic ref who I guess had never seen Mutombo ever wag his finger after a block gave Deke a technical for doing so. What planet has that ref been living on? The Kings would hit the technical free throw, and wouldn’t you know that one point would loom large later in the game. Even the Sacramento TV announcers were shocked he gave Deke the technical. Stupid ref!
If there was ever a game where the Rockets would have easily won if Yao was around, it would have been this one. When the Rockets’ offense is struggling, they could sure use Yao deep in the paint.
Not having Yao around probably just cost the Rockets home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It will be up to McGrady to overcome that disadvantage, making getting the monkey off his back to win a first-round playoff series even more difficult.