The Rockets lost Game 4 Saturday night because of stupid mistakes and terrible execution down the stretch. Bad officiating (as always) didn’t help them either.
Through Houston’s 86-82 loss on Saturday night and on the brink of elimination in yet another first round playoff series, I think many things became clear about what the Rockets need to do in the off-season with their personnel. I’ll save that for the end of this post.
But back to their performance in Game 4. They were stinking up the place in 3 different stretches of the game, but timely 3-pointers got them back into the game very quickly each time. However, every time they got close, they went brain dead and as a result, they didn’t deserve to win.
I’m sure you all saw it, but for those of you who didn’t…the final chance they had was when the Rockets were down by 82-80 and fouled Deron Williams intentionally with 7.3 seconds remaining to put him at the line. Unbelievably, Williams missed both free throws to give the Rockets a chance to win the game, BUT 3 ROCKETS FAILED TO REBOUND THE SECOND MISSED FREE THROW, LETTING MEHMET OKUR GET THE BOARD, FOULING HIM, AND SENDING HIM TO THE LINE!
Of course, Okur made sure the Jazz didn’t blow a golden opportunity like the Rockets had just done. He stepped to the line and both free throws, and now the Rockets are only 1 game away from their season ending once again in the first round of the playoffs.
What an embarrassing way to lose this game. That play is going to be played on Sportscenter over and over. It’s Jeff Van Gundy‘s most hated play in basketball – failing to get the rebound after a missed free throw. If there was ever one play that showed the Rockets miss Yao Ming, this was it! But my question – as well as everyone else’s question — is this: why wasn’t Dikembe Mutombo in the game to try to grab a potential missed free throw? That’s one of several questionable personnel decisions by Rick Adelman in this game.
If there was ever a game where the Rockets could steal a game and tie the series up 2-2, this was it. The Jazz missed all 14 of their 3-pointers and shot 43%.
But instead of exploiting those problem areas, the Rockets’ 3-point shooting wasn’t that great, either: 7-of-22 from 3-point land. They were also a pathetic 36.7% overall in one of their biggest games of the season.
There were other embarrassments in that fourth quarter, like an offense that had no movement and lots of ill-advised jump shots. All that great ball movement we saw during the 22-game winning streak was an afterthought. They were basically free-wheeling it. In other words, when it was time for them to stay calm and run their sets, they choked.
On top of that, in the fourth quarter, Tracy McGrady took only one shot and missed 2-of-4 free throws (4-of-8 overall). I also couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw he only made 3-of-12 shots in the third quarter! He finished 9-of-25 overall for 23 points.
He also settled for jumpers too many times (and missed them) when he had smaller or slower guys on him guarding him one-on-one. I’m sick-and-tired of asking why he doesn’t take it to the hole more. But I think I finally figured out why he doesn’t take it to rack as often as he could. Because if he’s fouled more often, it would put pressure on him to hit more free throws! McGrady is hitting 57% from the line in the 4 playoff games against the Jazz. $19 million a year should get you better than 57% from the line.
That’s not good enough, and he continues to show more times than not in this series that he is not a clutch 4th quarter player. That’s 3 of 4 games where he has disappeared in the 4th (and don’t forget the mistakes in Game 3 after he scored 7 points in the 4th that almost blew that game).
The Utah fans were right when he stepped to the line late in the fourth quarter and chanted in unison: “Over-rated! Over-rated!” It was painful to watch, but he lived up to their chant by missing 1 of those 2 free throws.
If the Rockets can swing it, I think it may be time for the McGrady era to end in Houston, just as sure as I was last year when I felt that the JVG era ended after Houston’s Game 7 loss against the Jazz. More on McGrady later.
The Rockets also broke down on defense in the fourth quarter in containing Deron Williams. They did a great job in the first 3 quarters holding him to 2-of-6 shooting, but then Williams destroyed the Rockets in the fourth on 4-of-5 shots, including a pair of embarrassing defensive stands where they let him take it down the middle of the lane for a dunk in one of the most important possessions with 2:35 remaining in the game. Then he took it strong to the hole on the very next possession for a layup, making it 82-73 with 2:04 remaining.
And that wasn’t the first time that happened. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Williams scored on 2 consecutive layups, doing what McGrady should have been doing: attacking the basket.
It looked like the Jazz were going to blow the game wide open when they took a 16-point lead in the third quarter as the Rockets went through a stretch where they missed 15 of 16 shots and had gone 7 minutes without a field goal, dating back to the second quarter when they made only 5-of-20 field goals.
But all of a sudden Shane Battier, McGrady and Rafer Alston hit 3-pointers to key a 13-3 run to pull within 6 points. However, mistakes like a turnover between McGrady and Carl Landry and a missed free throw by McGrady made the task even harder before the Rockets went on another surge of 3-pointers to pull within one point at 68-67 before more mistakes did them in down the stretch.
Here are a few other random thoughts about this game:
* It’s hard to believe that Luis Scola only scored 7 points on 2-of-4 shooting (he seemed more active than that). He also missed an important free throw in the 4th quarter. But he got jobbed by the refs over and over in this game.
* Missed free throws also killed the Rockets (7-of-10 in the 4th quarter, 17-of-25 overall). Those 8 points would have really come in handy down the stretch, dontchathink?
* The other bad personnel decision by Adelman was when the Rockets couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when they were struggling so badly in the 2nd and 3rd quarters and close to getting blown out. Adelman decided to stick with the guys who weren’t doing much offensively. I thought that was the time to put Steve Novak into the game. Even with his defensive liabilities, the Rockets were desperate. This was one of 3 stretches where the Rockets were stinking up the place. But luckily for Adelman, he had guys like Battier and Alston finally start hitting their shots.
* There were just too many bad calls in the game to list them all here, but those two foul calls against Luis Scola where he’s going after the ball in the paint, no one has possession, and getting called for a foul by the refs is unconscionable. These games are almost unwatchable. The league has a huge problem, folks, because all of the playoff games where so much is at stake is being tainted by terrible calls and no-calls. It’s not whining – it’s called wanting to watch games that are fair so that the best team is allowed to win.
* The triumphant return of Rafer Alston in Game 3 got a setback in Game 4 with a 6-of-18 performance for 15 points. He had some good plays, like a steal in the fourth quarter for a layup and a 3-pointer late in the game that brought the Rockets within 2 points. But shooting 33% from the field, jacking up bad shots in the fourth quarter, and a point guard not getting the offense into set plays in the fourth quarter isn’t good enough.
* How come the Rockets can never deny the ball from the other team’s best free throw shooter on an inbounds pass? That’s what happened when everyone knew Kyle Korver was going to be the main guy the Jazz were going to try to find on a late-game inbounds pass. Korver easily got the inbounds pass before a foul was called against Shane Battier. Battier and others may say he had tied up Korver for a jump ball on that play, but the fact of the matter is that Korver shouldn’t have been denied the opportunity to catch that ball.
* Well, at least we learned even more through this playoff series a few things we always suspected, but needed confirmation through the crucible of one more playoff series to make the Rockets sure it’s time to make changes:
– If you can deal McGrady for a player who can play smart down the stretch and be a go-to scorer in the clutch, make that deal. The problem is that players like that don’t grow on trees. McGrady is a very good ball player (most of the time) during the regular season, or in the first 3 quarters of playoff games when the game isn’t on the line yet. But JVG is a very good coach, and we know what happened to him. It’s time to move on with someone who brings a mental toughness, a few leadership skills, and it wouldn’t hurt if they didn’t say stupid things to the press that make you wonder how insecure he must be. Hopefully that new guy will make free throws, too.
– Luther Head is a goner. He brings nothing to the team during the playoffs, can’t run the offense, and plays below average defense. Most importantly, the Rockets’ backup “shooting” guard needs to be able to shoot.
– As much as I want to believe in Bobby Jackson, he’s just 15-of-52 from the field (31%) in the playoffs (1-of-10 Saturday night), so Aaron Brooks needs to seize the opportunity to be the backup point guard next year. Could the Rockets have used Bonzi Wells in this series more than Jackson? By the way, what’s up with Brooks only getting 2 minutes of action? His ability to penetrate when the Rockets couldn’t score at various times could have helped. Luckily the Rockets’ 3-pointers got them back into the game on a couple of occasions.
– Chuck Hayes makes too many mistakes to get the playing time he receives. In his 18 minutes he had 3 fouls and two turnovers. Those numbers don’t seem to be that bad, but when you look at Rafer Alston’s 44 minutes, he had the same number of turnovers and fouls, and he handles the ball much more than Hayes. Throw in the fact that Hayes is an offensive liability, and I think he’s overrated defensively, can the Rockets really afford to have him as their backup power forward?
On the positive side, Carl Landry played as great as you could expect, playing 31 minutes and scoring 13 points. He also had 6 offensive boards and made 7-of-9 free throws. Landry, Scola, and Brooks are the stars of the future. Yao is the current superstar. Shane and Rafer are solid most of the time. Novak has a chance to be a consistently deadly shooter. Deke can be a good 10-15 minute backup for one more season. That’s 7 players, meaning 5 or 6 new players could be joining the Rockets next season, if you ask me.