Yao Ming & Steve Francis cheer on the Rockets Tuesday night as the Rockets blew out the Utah Jazz to force a Game 6 in Salt Lake City on Friday night. Click here for more photos of Yao and Steve at the game.
Now THIS is the way it should be. Down 3-1 in their series to Utah and facing elimination with one more loss, the Rockets manhandled the Jazz in Game 5 Tuesday night 95-69, extending their playoff series to at least one more game that will be played in Utah Friday night.
Finally everything came together like we knew this team was capable of doing. We just wonder why it took four games for it to happen. Sure, they won Game 3 in Utah thanks to a Carl Landry block at the end of the game. But this game was different. Unlike that Game 3 win, the Rockets built a double-digit lead in the first half, and every time the Jazz made a run to make it look like they would rip the heart out of their Rockets and fans with a comeback win to win the series, the Rockets would respond and hold them off.
When they could have just laid down and died against the big, bad Jazz, and head into the off-season with a sour taste in their mouths, the Rockets were like an animal backed into a corner and they came out fighting. And they never let up.
With this effort, you have to be proud the Rockets rose to the challenge in Game 5 even if they lose the series. I know it’s hard to forget about all the missed free throws, mistakes, bad shooting and bad referee calls that have contributed to their 3 losses in the series. But if the Rockets do lose the series, they still took their playoff series longer (6 games or more) than what Phoenix, Dallas and Denver did in their series losses. And they did it all without their best player Yao Ming playing at all, their starting point guard missing 2 games, and winning a game in Utah when no one game them a chance. Not bad.
Tracy McGrady played the game that we had all hoped he would. He shot 50% from the floor (13-of-26). It’s funny, but when he was playing so well, I told myself I hadn’t seen him shoot that well since the last game I saw him play against New Orleans at Toyota Center when he played all 48 minutes. Remember that was the one where he played all 48 minutes because making the playoffs at the time seemed to be at stake, and he shot 17-of-27 from the floor for 41 points. That was also the game where people said that was probably his best game of the season, and it was.
Well, I was listening to the post-game news coverage Tuesday night, and they said McGrady hadn’t shot 50% from the floor since March 8th. I looked it up, and it was that same New Orleans game! So I guess my instincts were right.
Anyway, the thing he did in Tuesday night’s game that was the main difference in getting his field goal percentage up was that HE WASN’T AFRAID TO ATTACK THE BASKET. Time and time again he was willing to expend the energy to get to the rack and take any contact that came his way. Sure, there were several times when the shot didn’t go in, or he was hacked and no foul was called, or he was stripped, or he threw up a bad shot. But I say, “That’s okay,” because good things can still happen when you take it to the rack: you can get fouled, or if you miss the shot, you or a teammate can get the rebound, and if you’re fortunate, you can score. That’s exactly what happened on multiple occasions Tuesday night, and it *should* provide positive reinforcement for him to repeat it.
Everyone in the world knows McGrady is a better player if he mixes into his repertoire being aggressive by taking it to the hole. It’s just too bad it took the Rockets to be on the brink of elimination for it to happen. But hey, I’m not going to be a party pooper. Maybe this game will be the catalyst for McGrady to do this every game from here on out. But we’ve said that a million times before only to see him go back to his old ways and settle for jumpers. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen until the Rockets win a ring, then McGrady can relax.
There were a couple of plays where McGrady’s taking it to the hoop was absolutely breathtaking. Like when he blew by his man and switch hands in mid-air and laid it in. Or that pump fake he threw on Andrei Kirilenko to get him to jump into the air, then did a 270-degree spin, took a giant step, elevated, and banked it off the glass. That’s the McGrady the Rockets traded for a few years ago and for who everyone chanted his name in his first press conference when thousands of Rocket fans showed up to welcome him.
The one area we don’t know if McGrady can still excel is if his team is behind or tied with a team in the fourth quarter. Because the Rockets built a nice third quarter lead, there was no reason for him to show what he can do in that situation that’s different from the past. Can he still have that aggressiveness, smart decision-making skills, and drive to the hoop and take smart shots in a late-game situation? Maybe we’ll see Friday night.
The only flaw in his game Tuesday night was his turning the ball over 2 times in a row in the third quarter, and when he tried to throw a fancy behind-the-back pass that was picked off easily by Ronnie Brewer for a fast break the other. McGrady finished with 5 turnovers.
Rafer Alston was the other force that Utah now has to contend with. When the Rockets started off the game poorly by shooting 2-for-10 from the field, it was Alston’s two 3-pointers that kept the Rockets from falling behind too much in the score. Alston would finish with 4 triples, and his only other bucket was a sweet shake-and-bake move on Deron Williams where he shook him off and got to the cup for a bucket over another defender. If Williams is going to see more of that, then Rafer could be giving the young phenom a taste of his own medicine the rest of the series.
Alston would finish with 6 turnovers, but I really don’t remember many of them like I did with McGrady’s TOs.
Luis Scola was awesome, hitting 7-of-12 shots for 18 points and grabbing 12 boards. I loved how he made several jump shots that hadn’t been falling for him in this series. He also showed great hustle running up court to be the lead guy on a fast break. Rafer Alston rewarded him with a perfect pass that he caught just in front of the rim on a dead run, then threw it up from underneath the basket as his momentum was carrying him out of bounds, and the ball laid on the rim for a second then dropped for the score.
As great as the offense was, shooting 47% from the field, making 15-of-19 free throws, and 6-of-18 three-pointers, the Rockets’ defense was even better, holding Utah to only 36.5% shooting from the floor. And when the Jazz missed, the Rockets seemed to get most of the defensive rebounds, something that was severely lacking in the games they lost. The Rockets are getting tougher around the rim, which is happening in the nick of time.
Now we look forward to Friday night’s game. Although the Rockets have renewed confidence and momentum, it’s going to be a tough, tough game. Rarely does Utah shoot poorly 2 games in a row, especially when the next game is at home. I just want the Rockets to play up to their capabilities like they did Tuesday night. If they do that, and players like Shane Battier can shoot a little bit better (1-for-8 shooting) as well as Luther Head (0-for-4 with two turnovers as he continues to play terribly), and if the Jazz still win without getting help from the referees, then they deserve to win the series.
Because of the late start and because I watched all the post-game news coverage, it’s a little late so I’m going to get some sleep. But I took lots of notes and I still have plenty of thoughts about Tuesday’s game and the upcoming one on Friday. So this time I really plan to blog at least once more before Friday’s big game to give my take on what I think will happen in that game.