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Ankle injury to Rafer too much to overcome. Rockets season ends in Game 6.

May 3rd, 2008
by John

A picture is worth a thousand words. By the looks of it, Yao wants a playoff rematch against Utah in 2009 when the Rockets will be playing with a full deck. Wouldn’t we all.

In a playoff series where the Rockets had gone so far pushing the series to 6 games by overcoming many obstacles, like:

Yao’s injury
Andrei Kirilenko‘s late-game flop the refs bought involving Luis Scola, as well as others
– Terrible officiating in general
Tracy McGrady‘s disappearing act in the fourth quarter in Games 1 & 2
Rafer Alston missing Games 1 & 2 because of a hamstring injury
– a bad shot by Utah off the side of the backboard in the closing minute that got a lucky bounce and resulted in a game-winning shot for them

…the Rockets couldn’t overcome the final blow Friday night – Alston severely spraining his ankle in the second quarter and missing the rest of the game. That injury would be the final straw that broke the camel’s back, leading to a 113-91 loss. At least this loss was only about half as bad as the 40-point loss the Rockets suffered in 2005 in Game 7 against Dallas.

Although the Rockets showed heart by cutting a 19-point deficit in the first half down to 1 point late in the second quarter, the loss of their floor general was so devastating, it really showed in the 3rd quarter when they only made 4-of-22 shots.

To make matters worse, without Alston in the game on defense, his absence helped his counterpart Deron Williams go off in the 3rd with 13 points, including 4-of-5 three-pointers, opening the Jazz lead up again to 20 points entering the 4th quarter.

The 4th quarter was merely a formality as the Rockets were visibly deflated and played out their final game of the season.

If you’re bummed about this loss and the fact the Rockets still haven’t won in the first round yet again, you’ve got to look at more than what happened Friday night or even over the past couple of weeks in this series for why they didn’t advance.

Remember that if the Rockets had just won 1 or 2 more games this season, they could have played Dallas or Denver in the first round, much better opponents for them. But noooooooo (with a Steve Martin inflection), they had to finish with a tougher match-up against Utah.

It’s easy to look where the Rockets could have won those extra 1 or 2 games. Maybe earlier in the season when personnel changes weren’t made fast enough, like not starting Luis Scola instead of Chuck Hayes for way too long. Once Scola became the starter like many of us had wanted, the Rockets reeled off 22 wins in a row.

Or how about those late-season losses to Sacramento on April 1st and Denver on April 13th, which were very winnable games? I had been pushing hard for the Rockets to take those games seriously because I knew match-ups against Dallas and Denver were at stake.

Before Game 6, I wrote up some keys for the Rockets to win the game, and needless to say hardly any of them worked out. Here’s how they fared in each category:

* I said that the guard shooting between McGrady, Alston and Bobby Jackson would have to be 43%. McGrady did his part, shooting 50% (13-of-26) for 40 points. But Alston was 2-for-7 before getting hurt and Jackson was 2-of-12 (ouch!). Aaron Brooks got playing time (mainly in the 4th during garbage time) because of Alston’s injury and he was 0-for-5. So outside of McGrady, the guards shot 4-of-24, or 17%. Combine that with McGrady’s shots, and you’ve got 34%, way below the 43% I had set as a goal.

* Fouls. There were many bad calls, like how about that one where 2 Jazz players pulled Scola down to the floor and they called Scola for the foul? There were many other bad calls, but even if they had all gone Houston’s way, the Rockets still played poorly enough in THIS game to lose.

* Shane Battier‘s shooting. He only took 7 shots and made two of them in a game when they could have used more production from him.

* Foul shooting. I wanted 72% and they made only 69.4% (25-of-36).

* Deke. I wanted a handful of shots from Mutombo, and he didn’t end up taking one shot. He also got in foul trouble that took him out of the game early, and had another rebound slip right through his fingers and bounce off his hands for a turnover.

* Luther Head played 7 minutes and put up terrible numbers again, missing both of his shots and getting schooled embarrassingly by Kyle Korver on a post-up move where he faked Head out of his jock and stepped right past him to lay the ball in. Bye Bye Luther. Head is just one more example of a wasted first-round draft pick by the Rockets…right up there with Houston’s 2002 pick of Bostjan Nachbar, 2001’s Jason Collier and Eddie Griffin (Griffin was acquired on Draft Day for 3 first round draft picks), and 1998’s Bryce Drew and Mirsad Turkcan. The Rockets’ 2nd round pick in 2006, Steve Novak, should have received more minutes in this series. He was inserted late and made 3-of-3 shots, including 2-of-2 from 3-point land. His not getting more playing time from coach Rick Adelman was a disappointment. (see related topic above about personnel moves that could have won them 1 or 2 more games).

* Defense. Utah’s 113 points was nowhere near my goal of 85. Williams made 9-of-17 for 25 points. Mehmet Okur torched everyone who tried to guard him with 19 points on 7-of-13 shots, including a 3-pointer where he was wide open on a defensive breakdown. The Jazz had a total of 6 guys score in double-figures. And I keep saying it but it continues to happen: Chuck Hayes may be a decent one-on-one defender, but his help defense is very overrated, just like in last year’s series. Did you see how Paul Millsap easily cut into the paint past Hayes for an easy layup?

* Confidence. After Alston’s injury, it seemed like the Rockets couldn’t recover in the 3rd quarter after losing their point guard for good.

* 4th quarter execution. It didn’t really matter because the game was a blowout by then.

With all that was going against them in the above categories, what really surprised me was Carl Landry having no impact at all with zero points on 2 shots in just 9 minutes. On defense, Millsap schooled him, scoring on him multiple times and even blocking a shot of Landry’s at the rim.

Meanwhile, the Rockets other power forward, Scola, was one of the Rockets few bright spots, hustling for 9 boards and scoring 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Back to Bobby Jackson for a minute. Although he shot poorly in the series except in Game 5, he played the starter’s role for 2 ½ games because of Alston’s injuries. Jackson isn’t a starting point guard, but more of an energy guy, and he didn’t do well as both. Jackson kind of reminds me when the Rockets brought in Sedale Threatt late in the 1997 season when they were hurting for depth at point guard, and they flamed out with him in the first round of the playoffs. Threatt was effective at times, but he wilted down the stretch. You just can’t expect an older player to get you over the hump when playing big minutes in the PG role. Remember when JVG brought in Mark Jackson a few years ago? Same thing. Meanwhile, Bonzi Wells gets to play in the second round for New Orleans. I guess he got the last laugh in that trade.

McGrady played his best game of the season when it counted. He was phenomenal in the first half taking it to the hole many times, and scoring 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and that’s even with a missed layup where he could have had 30. He would finish with 40 points, but he got cold in the 3rd quarter missing all four of his shots. As much as I was tempted to blame him for disappearing in that pivotal third quarter, there’s only so much you can ask of a guy who is already doing so much, right? He also had 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 turnover.

Because the game was a blowout in the fourth quarter, like in Game 5 when it was a landslide in the Rockets’ favor, we still weren’t able to see if McGrady can play under pressure in a tight game in the fourth quarter. But I think everyone who wants to criticize him at times, like me, can’t say he didn’t step up when the stakes were huge. His stats were there in this very important game. He just had no help.

No matter what happens in the future, this playoff series will forever have an asterisk next to it in my mind because the Rockets were without Yao for the entire series, and without Alston for almost half of it. I don’t mind diminishing what Utah did in this series because IMHO they have too many fans who are a bunch of white trash losers (there, I said it!). I’ve never seen an uglier lot (both physically and class-wise), like when they cheered after Alston sprained his ankle and hobbled to the locker room. That’s just one example of how low-class many of them are. Losers.

Well, that about does it for this season. No doubt I will be blogging occasionally over the coming days and weeks about what the Rockets are doing, or should do, in the off-season. One topic for everyone to ponder is that since McGrady played so well in Game 6 and showed he still has the ability to take over games, do the Rockets try to deal him while his trade value is high and get an emerging scorer and point guard? If so, who should the Rockets try to acquire? It’s that kind of topic that will be interesting to speculate here.

Of course, I’ll also be blogging more about Yao-oriented news as he prepares for the Olympics.

But the other thing I’ll be doing on a personal basis is getting back to a more normal schedule, not watching every Rocket game and blogging about it so late, getting back in shape myself (like Yao) since the schedule takes its toll, and focusing more on my home life and projects around the house that have gone neglected over the past few months. I hope you guys are able to do the same now that the Rockets’ season is over. Make sure to come back every once in awhile, though. It’s going to get exciting as the Olympics draw closer.

13 Responses to “Ankle injury to Rafer too much to overcome. Rockets season ends in Game 6.”

  1. Billy Tom Says:

    I’m happy the Rockets lost without Yao. That’ll shut the Yao haters up!

  2. andrew Says:

    “Lose Her Head” must go. It was painful to see him being backed down by Korver and scored upon. More importantly, SHE cannot score.

  3. Wendy Says:

    Hi John,
    Thank’s for a great season of Rocket blogging! I’ve really enjoyed the journey, though it’s shorter than we would have liked.

    I was hyped at halftime, already dreamed of a TMac vs Kobe match up, but it wasn’t to be.

    It’s beautiful weather outside, a perfect weekend – if only the Rocket’s had won 🙂
    But somehow I don’t even feel half as bad as last year, when I was crushed for a week. Maybe in 2 days I’ll be able to watch the other playoff games again, who knows!

    Anyway, my 2 cents for this game:
    Tracy can only do so much. It seems that he don’t have the strength to dominate all 4 quarters by himself – as seen tonight. The second quarter was awesome though. If the other players don’t step up, like tonight, well that’s it.

    Deke is a good back up, but dunno if he can hold on for another season. We need a reliable backup for Yao. We also need another PG.

    And on, and on …

    Anyway, have a nice offseason y’all!

    Thanks, Wendy. Have a good one. — John

  4. AirChina23 Says:

    Well, another season ends in disappointment, although I really didn’t know what to expect so I wasn’t that disappointed. I mean, I feel a lot better than last year’s game 7 loss at home. The Rockets needed another key player who can create his own shot/play key defense that would stop the other team’s momentum. Now we might have to agree that had we kept Bonzi, he would probably have made a couple of plays that would have stopped the momentum of Utah. Of course, depending on which Bonzi shows up. But I’m not going to bash on Jackson, he played tough, the shots weren’t falling for him, and sadly that was the case for the whole team outside of McGrady and Scola.

    I have enjoyed this season the most. Some of the best memories were the 22-win streak, the big numbers that Yao was putting up, The play of “Carluis Scolandry”, the emergence of Alston, and others. I really hope that everyone can stay healthy next year. I believe if for one season that all the key players are healthy, the Rockets would have a good chance of winning it all.

    Thanks for your work throughout the season, John. I can’t believe that you have been doing this for six years now! I will check back here from time to time during the off-season, but I will see you and all of the other Rockets and YaoMania fans in November!

    Here is that classic saying again: Better luck next year!

    I feel the same way you do — this isn’t as bad as last year’s Game 7 loss at home. As Peter Vescey said last night on NBA TV, after Alston went out, the Rockets had no chance. When the national media recognizes that Yao and Rafer being out was too much to overcome, it makes you realize there was no way they could have done much more, and that in life, “stuff happens.”

    Thanks for your kind words, AirChina23. Six years is a long time. I appreciate it. — John

  5. Vince Says:

    Excellent season John, appreciate your tireless hours of hard work and dedication to bring information to Rockets fans all over the world. A great big thank you for all your hard work. This sure has been a season to remember and hopefully the start of something special for the Rockets for many years to come. I believe the Rockets did all they could this season with what they had… or should I say what they were left with on the roster. Maybe it was a good thing the season turned out the way it did, so our young guys were able to have the opportunity to gain valuable experience that would benefit us next season.

    However the one thing on my mind is… that couldn’t of been the ending of Dikembe Mutumbo’s career right? Everyone must admit that his age is catching up to him, but would the front office actually keep him on the Roster if he does choose to come back? I know he is loved by everyone and is a great role model and supporter in and out of the locker room, but can the Rockets afford the space on the Roster to bring him back?

    Lastly… “IMHO they have too many fans who are a bunch of white trash losers (there, I said it!). I’ve never seen an uglier lot (both physically and class-wise), like when they cheered after Alston sprained his ankle and hobbled to the locker room. That’s just one example of how low-class many of them are. Losers.” I could not agree with you more John… this Jazz team with Harpring, Okur, AK, Boozer, and Deron looks so shady and dishonest which showed from the “few” times that they WERE actually caught. This team kinda reminds me of what a hardened and disciplined Denver team could become if they took it under the table more. As for the fans, probably 3/4 of them are 45+ blue collared Caucasians with a couple wives of the same group. And to think… these are the only classless people that the Jazz have to call fans, what a pity. As for now… I’ll be showing my hometown Lakers a little love on their way to demolishing the Jazz. And I bet there won’t be any Jazz jerseys compared to all those Rockets jerseys over here when Houston plays at Staples Center.

    Once again, a big THANK YOU everyone who has provided us a great place to find all the Rockets Videos, Pictures, Interviews, etc. throughout this year.

    Thanks for the nice things you said about me. Thanks to all of you who kept coming back to read my posts. You made it easier for me to push through the fatigue.

    It will be interesting to see what they do with Deke, and if he even wants to return. He’s such a liability on offense, fumbles the ball too much, and he’s starting to miss getting rebounds he used to get so easily. But he can still get lots of rebounds and can block shots. And his locker room presence is incredible. The Rockets would probably make him their 3rd string center after getting Yao a younger backup center, play him minimum minutes, and pay him the minimum salary since they’re going to need every dollar they can to pursue a free agent or two. I just wonder if Deke would want that. — John

  6. Zhuang Says:

    John – thanks for your hard work over the past season. Time to get a break and recharge the batteries. You will need the energy to cover the next season.

    It will be an exciting season, with a healthy Yao, a team that has had the time to gel and to understand the scheme under a new coach, and promissing rookies getting some exposure and experience.

    It absolutely will be an exciting season next year. And thanks for the compliment. — John

  7. Billy Tom Says:

    If Yao Ming played, we would’ve won. Nuff said.

  8. JW Says:

    Great work, John, all season long! It’s been a real joy reading your blog since day one. I can say every season is a great one. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a single post.

    A little disappointed we could not go further. But very hopeful for this group of players. Well, with some adjustments over the summer. I think we will come back stronger.

    Thanks, JW. Your continued reading means alot to me. — John

  9. Wilson Says:

    Another disappointing loss in the first round of the Playoffs, but it was a great season for the Rockets!!!
    I feel the Rockets will win it all next season and beyond with Yao healthy, Scola and Laundry more experienced!!!
    I am not sure what to do with T-Mac after this season…but just wondering…how about T-Mac for Jason Kidd??? or get Shaq to back up Yao???
    Thanks Yao and the Rockets for a wonderful season and good luck next season!!!

  10. Brian Says:

    thanks for all the work man
    i appreciate it

    Thanks Brian. That means alot to me. — John

  11. Daniel Says:

    Excellent work this season. My only issue is that I’m tired of saying wait til next season. The Rockets need to add another offensive weapon. Rafer was treated unfairly by a lot of fans including you, but his value in allowing T-Mac to concentrate on scoring more can’t be understated. 3 of our 4 losses came when he wasn’t on the floor. Bobby Jackson is as good as gone. He’s an expiring that will hopefully be packaged with someone else and net the Rockets Kirk Hinrich or Mike Miller. That plus getting Yao healthy and ready to play a full season would really be a huge step in the right direction. Those guys would get a ton of looks from Yao in the post. I’m still tired of waiting til next season to make any progress.

    If the Rockets had Yao but not T-Mac I’m not sure they would have even made the playoffs. He’s the MVP.

    Thanks for the compliment. For the record, Rafer was not treated unfairly at the beginning of the season. He was terrible. Even the front office thought he was bad before the season by bringing in Mike James and Steve Francis. But I have said many times that he should have been a serious candidate for Most Improved Player within the same season, which would be a first. When fans are critical of players, most of the time it is because they are trying to light a fire underneath them to get better. Rafer responded; unfortunately Luther Head has not. So should the Rockets keep Luther because he’s the victim of unfair criticism? Should fans never criticize players? Who really knows if criticism is fair or not? Is Bobby Jackson really that bad? I say let the fans say what they want (like you have done here with other players) since the players should be strong enough to handle it. Plus, they get paid millions of dollars – I’d gladly sign up for that kind of scrutiny to be set for life for a couple of years of work.

  12. Luckyme Says:

    As usual, visiting this site and reading your blog were the first thing I did after the game this morning. But I was too disappointed to make any comments this morning when I read your report.

    When they pulled within one point, I was elated and thought they were going to make it. But it was not going to be. Anyhow, the team actually achieved more than anyone predicted they could after Yao’s injury. So, we could not fault them too much. As I wrote previously, they should find a good backup for Yao. In addition to your suggestion, ie. keeping him as a third string backup, I would suggest that due to his incredible contribution in the locker room, perhaps hire him as an assistant coach may not be a bad idea.

    Anyway, thank you for all you have done and – have a good summer! I will come back here often to check up on your news stories especially on Yao’s contribution to the Olympic team.

    Thanks, Luckyme. You’re welcome. About Deke: I don’t think he would be interested in an assistant job. He is set with enough money, the job is a lot of work, and I think he’s probably more interested in continuing his philanthropy.

  13. DWC Says:

    hey john and everyone,

    long time reader, first time poster. Regarding this season, it was a great season despite the first round loss. Of course the 22 game win streak was a big reason why. I never liked the bonzi trade. mike james woulda done the same work bobby jackson did, so it was like givin bonzi away. I guess bonzi never lived up to expectations, just like stromile swift, but i woulda liked to see him with the team….and he was always a spurs killer.

    regarding next season. my take on the roster is this. Yao obviously in the middle. Scola and Battier at the forwards. Battier is highly limited on offense, but his 3 pt shootin is always timely, he’s a team player and he plays solid D. I do hate when Battier posts. His left handed hook does not seem very accurate. i would like to see TMac paired with Yao for one more season. i really feel Tmac gets a bad rap. yes he takes too many jumpers and doesnt’ drive enough. yes his free throw shooting is poor for an elite player. the difference between him and kobe is the accuracy. kobe shoots a higher FG % and FT %. but then how many kobe’s are there in the league. if i recall, Tmac also had a huge game 7 last year vs Utah. and i think Tmac also played great in that dallas series. the man can only do so much. the key is i feel yao is much improved from 2 seasons ago. his stats are similar, but its beginning to become more yao’s team rather than tmac’s. finally alston. i was just like you, wanted alston out. but he has won me over this season. rafer beat out all the guards houston brought in and has time and again proved his doubters wrong. rafer’s shootin still needs improvement. lets hope he can continue to play like this and not return to the old rafer. if only him and tmac can both improve there FG % by 3-5% and there FT % by 5-10 %. so the starting 5 shall remain intact.

    the backups??
    backup point – aaron brooks. give him a chance
    backup sg – steve francis. i hope he returns
    backup sf – steve novak. why can’t he play a kyle korver type role
    backup pf – landry. hope he can return to what he was during that 22 game win streak. i think he can do it. utah is a bad matchup for landry cuz they are very physical. landry i feel can get his hustle boards over most west teams. and can get those game changing dunks vs most of them as well. utah does not give up layups so gettin a dunk on them is very hard.
    backup center -Deke. we’re not askin deke to play 20 -24 min like he was this season near the end. 10-15 min outta deke would be fine. and somtimes we could go small with scola and landry.

    luther head needs to go. we’ve given him plenty of opportunities. i like the guy, but he just can’t get it done.
    chuck hayes needs to go as well. although, if he’s the 11th or 12th guy off the bench, i guess its not so bad.

    the team did well this season, but obvioulsy the loss of yao hurt. we never got to see the 22 game win streak team in the playoffs. with scola starting and yao back, why not give this roster another chance. and if stevie franchise can come back and become any semblance of what he was……that may be the secondary playmaker the rockets need.

    in closing, thanks for the great work john. you are one dedicated individual. one questoin for you……what are your thoughts about steve francis?? is he returning?? would u like to see him return? do u think he can be productive? everyone mentions the bonzi trade, the yao injury and the rafer injury. but noone really mentions francis.

    Hey David, welcome to YaoMingMania and thanks for your first post. I agree with you on the Mike James and Bobby Jackson similarities. They were pretty close, but I guess in their scouting reports Bobby Jack had a slight edge, but probably not significant.

    I agree with most of your other comments other than Deke. He can stick around as a 3rd string center as insurance, but IMHO the Rockets are going to need a backup center who can SCORE to take a few more minutes from Yao to save his feet from pounding so he doesn’t wear out and get injured again. So maybe Yao plays 30 minutes, a new backup center who takes Loren Woods’ roster spot (assuming he’s not good enough to stick around) plays 13 and also switches over to backup PF, and Deke plays 5 when needed for defensive purposes, especially late in the season and in the playoffs.

    I think the odds of Francis being able to make a contribution are very low. Even when he wasn’t hurt, he didn’t play that great except for one game. I don’t think he has much left in his body, and he reported to camp out-of-shape last season. I’ll be very surprised if he makes the team, and if he does, I think he’ll get injured again. I think the Rockets will go hard after a scoring SG.

    Thanks for the compliment about my work. I appreciate that. — John

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