Yao and his teammates react to an important play late in Game 3 of the Rockets-Jazz playoff series, a game the Rockets won 94-92, in part because of late game heroics by rookie Carl Landry. Click here for more photos from the game, which include some of Yao.
Carl Landry has returned! The man who proved to be so valuable during the Rockets’ 22-game winning streak, and who we thought could be the X-factor in the playoffs, finally made the impact we thought he could in the Houston-Utah playoff series.
Landry came up big with a block of a Deron Williams‘s drive into the lane and field goal attempt that could have won the game for the Jazz. Instead, it was the Rockets who won a game on a court where only 3 other teams had beaten the Jazz all season long.
Landry’s block coupled with him saving the ball as it headed out of bounds with less than a second remaining in the game helped the Rockets escape the night with the 94-92 victory. If Landry hadn’t blocked Williams’ shot, then chances are that Carlos Boozer would have tipped the ball in for the win. That would have absolutely sucked since the Rockets had blown a 7-point lead in about 40 seconds leading up to that possession where Landry blocked Williams’ shot.
Landry had been so effective earlier in the game hustling for rebounds and loose balls (he finished with 11 rebounds total, 7 offensive, 7 points on 3-of-4 shooting, and 2 blocks), the Rockets were loving the impact he was making on the game that had been missing during the first two games of the series.
But when Carlos Boozer threw a cheap shot at him during a blockout for a rebound a few minutes before halftime, Landry was rushed to the locker room holding his face and it looked like the energizer was going to be out for the rest of the game. Just the Rockets’ luck as they were making a series of it, right?
Fortunately, Landry was able to return to the game and continue to be effective even with a missing front tooth. And it’s a good thing for Boozer that Landry’s tooth had been knocked out by Dikembe Mutombo in a practice a couple of weeks earlier. If it had been all of Boozer’s doing, then if I were Landry I would have been pissed and probably would have been thrown out of the game for retaliating upon my return.
I thought for sure Dikembe was going to seek out Boozer and throw an elbow of his own toward Boozer’s face to send a message that kind of garbage wouldn’t be tolerated. But now I understand why Deke didn’t do it – because he was partly responsible for making Landry’s tooth loose in the first place.
Amazing that Landry came up with such a big block when he only had 7 blocks the entire season. What’s even more impressive was how he was the key to giving the Rockets an advantage on the offensive boards (7 of Houston’s 16 offensive) over the Jazz (13).
Now that Landry has seen he can be successful against the Jazz doing his thing that made us love him just a few weeks ago, you’ve got to think his confidence will be extremely high, realizing that he can hold his own against these foulers and floppers. So look for great things again from Landry the rest of the series.
* If Landry hadn’t gotten that block at the end of the game, you would be reading a very short post from me (kind of like the one after Monday night’s loss in Game 2) because it would be intolerable for me to write a summary for a team that had the game in the bag and let it slip away. One play (or ref’s call) can make such a big difference between joy and misery.
* Rafer Alston had an epic performance that will be remembered as one of the biggest returning games from an injury in Rocket history, considering all that was at stake. Having missed the past few games because of a strained hammy, the Rockets were almost dead in the water down 2-0 and having to play IN UTAH of all places to get back into the series.
But Alston came in and helped them overcome all the odds, providing a scoring boost (20 points, 4-of-8 from three-point land) that the Rockets had been missing in Games 1 & 2. Even Charles Barkley said after the game something like, “Not many guys can come off the street (after being injured) and score 20.”
Alston’s 3 treys in the first quarter to start the game were huge. For the game, he also had 5 assists and only 1 turnover. His performance was so huge, it could be one of those games that could change how people perceive Alston for a long time to come.
It’s also clear that with Yao Ming out, Alston is the true leader of this team, not Tracy McGrady. The offense was much more efficient with Alston leading the team (20 assists as a whole), assists numbers we hadn’t yet seen from Houston in this series.
Speaking of leadership, did you see when Alston was calling out McGrady as he returned to the bench, giving McGrady an earful? I’m not sure what it was about. There’s speculation that it might have been because McGrady hadn’t run back on defense after missing a layup. Whatever it was, McGrady wasn’t happy about Alston taking liberty like that. But I respected Alston for it more than ever. He wasn’t intimidated by the situation at all.
* Although Tracy McGrady scored 27 points (only 11-of-26 from the field), he was teetering on the edge in the fourth quarter from turning himself into a hero then returning to the role of goat.
McGrady scored 7 points in the fourth quarter on a couple of impressive jump shots. But right when you thought he had gotten the monkey off his back by propelling his team to a 7-point lead late in the fourth, you couldn’t help but look at what he did wrong: he missed a free throw, made poor shot selection decisions (jumpers clanging off the rim or not even hitting glass to hit only 2-of-8 shots in the quarter) and got caught up with Andre Kirilenko trying to break through his defense and having Kirilinko sell yet another flop to the refs. He should know better that Kirilenko is going to do that kind of crap late in the game.
That turnover gave the Jazz the opening they needed, and they responded with two straight almost-backbreaking 3-pointers to make the score 93-92 with 37 seconds remaining. McGrady could have widened the lead to 3 points on the next possession, but he threw up a terrible jumper that didn’t even hit the rim, giving the Jazz one last chance which led to Williams’ shot getting blocked by Landry.
* No surprise that the officiating was pretty bad once again, sending the Jazz to the line for 33 attempts compared to 22 for the Rockets. There were just too many bad calls to list them all here. But the Jazz got Rocket-itis at the free throw line and missed 13 of those 33 for only 60.6% shooting.
* Entering the fourth quarter down by 6 points, I wrote a note to myself that it would take a miracle for the Rockets to win. They had no momentum at all and were being outclassed by a superior team with everything going for them.
But then the Jazz hit a stretch early in the fourth quarter when they racked up 5 fouls in a little over a minute. Finally the refs were exposing them for the foulers and floppers they are!
Those quick fouls would be key because it put the Jazz in the penalty early in the quarter, and the Rockets ended up going to the line 13 times in the fourth quarter alone (and they made 10 of them). Those fouls and Luis Scola‘s 8 points and Shane Battier‘s 4 points in the fourth quarter made it a brand new ballgame.
* Can the Rockets turn the tables on Utah and do what the Jazz did last year against the Rockets: lose the first 2 games then come back to win the series? Wouldn’t that be sweet? You can just feel the momentum turn like it did last season when the Jazz won Game 3 and entered game 4 of that series with more confidence and a swagger. Incredible what one block at the end of the game can do.
There were so many other keys to this game, but it’s getting late and I’ve got to hit the sack. But I will try to write some more of my thoughts by late Friday to give this victory justice before we look to Game 4.