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Mistakes in Game 4 mean big changes could be 1 loss away

April 27th, 2008
by John
Yao has continued to stay with his teammates in Utah leading up to Game 4 on Saturday night.  With the Rockets 86-82 loss to go down 3-1 in the series, it's not over yet, but Rocket fans can't wait until next year when they will hopefully play against Utah in the 2009 playoffs where they will have to contend against one of the best players in the league.Yao has continued to stay with his teammates in Utah leading up to Game 4 on Saturday night. With the Rockets 86-82 loss to go down 3-1 in the series, it’s not over yet, but Rocket fans can’t wait until next year when they will hopefully play against Utah in the 2009 playoffs where they will have to contend against one of the best players in the league. Click here for more photos from the game.

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.

17 Responses to “Mistakes in Game 4 mean big changes could be 1 loss away”

  1. AirChina23 Says:

    Hit your goddamn free throws!

  2. James Says:

    Hi John,

    Great post — very thought provoking. Regardless of whether one agrees with you or not, your willingness to take a bold, clear stand and ability to articulate the reasons behind your thinking are admirable qualities. As always, thanks for the consistently great work!

    James

    James, thanks for the compliment. – John

  3. Rocketswillbegone Says:

    The Rockets, especially McGrady, missed too many free throws. They dont deserved to win this game.

  4. GameNight Says:

    I agree with you John – enough is enough. I’d like to see McGrady gone as well next season. If only he is half as tough as Yao mentally. Scola is fine but this series shows why Spurs did not use him – Ginobili is a more deadly weapon and can create his own shots, especially down the stratch.

    Who knows what shape the Rockets will be in next season, but they have to undgergo a major overhull.

    Enjoy reading your post.

    Thanks, GameNight. I appreciate it. — John

  5. Vince Says:

    Common, give them one full healthy season John. I think this young team deserves that much after all they’ve done this season. Besides, do they really want to enter the second round this year with a injury depleted team facing the new Lakers? I agree with maybe a few bench changes, but please let the core players get one solid season together. Besides, no one would’ve blamed them this year for not making it to the playoffs in the first place, let alone getting home-court despite playing a overpowering team.

    Vince, my suggestion to trade McGrady was only IF they can find the things I mentioned in the post, which I think is going to be difficult to do since players of that caliber are rare. So chances are he’ll be around to play with Yao. He might be able a little more effective with Yao, but he’s not going to become a clutch player with Yao because he hasn’t been that over the past few years when Yao has been healthy. We’ve seen what he does under pressure with Yao, which ain’t much. — John

  6. Allen Says:

    Observations and responses to the above points:

    With all due respect for your basketball acumen John, I respectfully disagree on many points, although I agree with you on some.

    1) We all need to be damn glad to be here in the first place, let alone playing a defending WCF team this close. Every game has been close, all without the best (well arguably as well as D-Ho is playing) center in the game. Granted, Yao in the game makes it impossible to defend the Jazz (boozer + okur), but still, you have to account for that 20 points.

    2) While I agree with you that Tmac has regressed in terms of shooting % and fourth quarter performance, I don’t think your trade scenario makes any sense. No team in their right mind is going to trade quality players for a star (not superstar) player who a) can’t hit free throws, b) gets paid too much, c) disappears in 4th quarters, and d) can’t shoot anymore. I’m sorry but there are just no teams willing to do that. Tmac is not only past his prime, but he is now far overvalued. The only way players like this exit their teams is through free agency (yes I am aware of the Pau Gasol or Shaq situation, but I think that is by far the exception rather than the rule).

    3) Here’s where I will agree. The bobby jackson trade may not have been the best idea. While I do like B jax, and Bonzi was a fat lazy SOB, we could really use Bonzi’s rebounding in this series, along with his post game with Yao out.

    4) The offense simply flows and functions better with Rafer. There shouldn’t be any question about that. Brooks is not ready to start at the point, and chances are he will be a career backup as he is far better scoring than running plays. I do think he is the Rox backup of the future.

    5) The clear thing is this – we need better passers on this team in general. The only passing we get is out of Rafer and Tmac, Tmac moreso. That isn’t going to cut it frankly. No team gets away with less playmakers than the Rox. That is one reason why I am wary of letting Tmac, our ONLY playmaker, go. Yao can’t carry this team, we know that by now, and if Tmac, for all his flaws, goes, we will have, mark my words, the most stagnant offense in the league. Rafer is a decent deliverer of the ball, but he isn’t a playmaker. Yao is an overrated (yes I said it) passer, clear from what we saw when Adelman stupidly tried to make him a playmaker earlier this year at the expense of his brilliant scoring ability. And noone else on the roster is even close, so even if we trade Tmac for another star (highly unlikely), that star would have to be able to pass like Tmac, and honestly, how many players in general pass as well as tmac does? Very, very few. And the ones that do are guarded by their teams. This whole scenario really makes me wish we had someone like Lamar Odom or Luke Walton, guys who have a knack for passing the ball (maybe we could make a run at Odom when Bynum comes back!?)…

    6) Head is gone. You are right, problem is his market value was far higher last year.

    7) I doubt we will have 5-6 new players. Teams rarely undergo that much change. Hayes may be overrated (agreed), but he has little market value and we still owe him money. I think there is still a role, albeit dwindling, for him on the team. If Yao was still playing (a disturbing trend that he isn’t) I think Hayes would have a better role.

    *All that said, I understand your frustration and I feel it too. The only thing is, I knew this was going to happen as soon as Yao went out. Everyone did. You don’t win in this West in the playoffs without stars. Period. We salvaged what we could this season, and I will give the whole team credit for even making the playoffs. You take Nash from the Suns, or Duncan from the Spurs, or Dirk from the Mavs, or Paul from the Hornets, and those teams have a tough time making the playoffs in this West. Problem is, Yao can’t stay healthy. I really hope he isn’t the second coming of Bill Walton (although I don’t think Yao is that good yet). Take care, and thanks for everything in terms of coverage! We all appreciate it very very much.

    Allen, thanks for the thorough post. Regarding #1, this team has not lived up to that great team we’ve seen during the 22-game winning streak. If they had just done that (pass the ball, make free throws, make great plays in the clutch, not make so many stupid mistakes, etc.), even if they had lost, then I think Rocket fans could have accepted that.

    I think Regarding #2 and #5, my suggestion to trade McGrady was only IF they can find the things I mentioned in the post, which I think is going to be difficult to do since players of that caliber are rare. So chances are he’ll be around to play with Yao. He might be a little more effective with Yao, but he’s not going to become a clutch player with Yao because he hasn’t been that over the past few years when Yao has been healthy. We’ve seen what he does under pressure with Yao, which ain’t much.

    Regarding #4 (Aaron Brooks), I think I mentioned that he won’t be a starter (Rafer will), but it’s time for him to be the backup point guard as you mentioned. — John

  7. Kaolin Says:

    I think the Rockets were resilient and fought hard in the whole game. The refs called every foul on the Rockets and let the Jazz get away with a lot of things, the commentator Rick Carlisle said it multiple times. They are not perfect, as a chon story points out, the lack of attention to detail cost them the game. But again, they are a team with many new players under a new coach, with 3 Rookies playing important roles, missing their best player, and 3 starters (McGrady, Alston, Battier) with some sort of injury. They still fought hard and had a pretty good chance at winning and I think they should be given credit for that.

  8. Wendy Says:

    I still feel it’s not over yet. But John’s analysis is dead on, couldn’t agree more. It should have been 3-1 for us, well.

    Anyway, now it’s back to Houston! Somehow I feel another game 7 is in the air.

    Let’s see how this series plays out, and hopefully Morey can make the right conclusions and act on it.

    Go Rockets!

    Wendy, thanks for the compliment. I think Morey will make the right conclusions. That’s why I think he’ll try to do what I mentioned, if possible, and Leslie Alexander has proven for many years he’s willing to take chances to do whatever it takes to win. Great example is JVG. The guy won 50+ games last year, but he wasn’t good enough, so they got rid of him. — John

  9. Kumar Says:

    Can someone give McGrady the heimlech maneuver cuzz he’s constantly choking…

  10. Wilson Says:

    Next season:

    YAO + SCOLA + AB + LANDRY = ROCKETS NBA CHAMPIONS!!!

  11. Daniel Says:

    John, did you notice how our “stars'” inability to grab a key rebound has cost us each of the last two series against Utah. Last year it was Yao notting getting it done in game 7 to give us another possession, and this year it was McGrady doing it in game 4 leaving us down 3-1. I’m really starting to wonder if these two, even if healthy, are capable of leading us all the way. Both guys put up big numbers, but they’re about the most ineffective big numbers ever seen in the playoffs.

    Also, you can add Bobby Jackson to the list of guys who are as good as gone. He’s an expiring contract so he’ll either be packaged, likely with one of the 2 guys you mentioned to bring in a new starting pg(Hinrich hopefully) or traded by himself for more help up front.

    I analyzed last year’s Game 7 loss against Utah play-by-play, and I cut them some slack for not getting those late rebounds becausethe ball bounced so crazy, I think it was more bad luck. This year it’s completely different. There was no excuse for them not to grab that missed free throw.

  12. RICHARD Says:

    A guy getting pay $19 million per year should pratice his neck off in htting the free throw. come on, 57%????? i can do better that. But Tmac is a good playmaker. give him credit for that….granted, nobody is perfect but if you’re the superstar of a team and getting $19 million a year, you should practice more…..it just shows that Tmac don’t care enought to win games…..

  13. BOBBYNYC Says:

    John, as much as I love T-MAC, I mean I love the guy, I honestly do, but the Utah fans are right, he is overrated. The reason why he is settling for so many jumpers is because he feels he is not able to beat by his man off the dribble any more. Being tall myself and having my share of back injuries in the past, I tend to fake the jab step towards the rim but only to settle for a jumper. The reason being is that I don’t have the blazing first step anymore. And I strongly feel that is the problem T-Mac is having. It doesn’t mean he is no good, but he’s not great anymore because of his injuries but he is still good. Unfortunately the Rockets want a championship now so I think it’s best that Houston trade away T-Mac and start looking for another guy next to Yao. But here’s the other problem John, Yao’s been injury prone the last 3 years! There’s no saying that he’s even gonna finish up next season! Aiyaya! HELP! But true that, Yao’s still a keeper though cause of his size. I do like the toughness that Scola and Landry brings. Maybe we can break up the Nuggets tandem cause it’s not working out for them too and bring AI to team up with Yao? Whatcha think?

    Sorry for the delay in responding. I’ve been on a plane most of the evening. Regarding bringing Iverson to Houston, I just don’t see it. I like his toughness, but he would create a logjam at point guard. Although he can score, his shooting percentage is low and they would still need a shooting guard. After the season is over, depending on if McGrady doesn’t turn things around real quick, I’ll start proposing some possible names of replacements.

    John

  14. JW Says:

    Mutombo should be there for the rebound. Landry is a rookie and for the mistake he made (not blocking out Okur) I can take it. But not Adelman’s decision not putting Mutombo in for the potential missed free throw. Bad refs, bad calls what can I say. when you have two rookies, your chances are really not that great. Another year is wasted. Let’s hope we’ll go furhter next year.

  15. Daniel Says:

    I applaud your enthusiasm JW, but I think the Rockets really don’t have a chance with their current roster. Our “stars” are good, but they’re both 40 minute players. In big game situations neither of them show up at all. The team needs another player who can come in and be the team’s best player because its obvious you can’t win with Yao and McGrady.

  16. arthurko from LA Says:

    hey everyone, arthur from LA chiming in. I couldnt help but cheer for the Rockets in that game 4 even though I don’t want them to move on without Yao. It was close and I witnessed Scola getting robbed on 2 fouls, horrible. Tmac has always been full of talent but lacking a basketball head and killer mentality. I think that’s what makes the difference between him and Kobe. I would love to trade Tmac away but who would the Rockets even be able to get?
    The shining part of the Rockets for me right now is absolutely Luis Scola and Carl Landry. Those are 2 rookie studs who will go a long way for the Rockets. Have better health Yao!! Then the Rockets can make a long run!!

  17. andrew Says:

    Can anybody make a suggestion to Yao and McGrady that they volunteer a salary cut so that the Rocket Organization can use it to hire more fire power for the next season?

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