I’ve been pretty quiet on this blog over the past few weeks, with me intentionally not getting too involved with the details of the preseason Rockets, and instead focusing more of my time on work, as well as the election. Like many of you, I’m not a big fan of the preseason – it’s way too long and not indicative of how the regular season will turn out for most teams.
But something magical has happened over the 24 hours. The juices started to flow in anticipation of Wednesday night’s regular season opener for the Rockets against the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s now time to get serious as the Rockets prepare to launch a winning campaign of their own with their new running mate, Ron Artest. [Click here for Raymond’s photos from the excitement of opening night].
It wasn’t pretty, but the Rockets overcame a disjointed offense to win 82-71 with their defense — ironically the thing that concerned them the most at the end of the preseason. The 11-point margin makes it seem like a bigger win than it really was. It was much closer.
Houston’s defense made an early statement against the Grizzlies offense when they stole the ball 3 times in their first four possessions, with Ron Artest getting two of them. This display before their very eyes of one of the league’s most celebrated defensive players whipped the fans in Toyota Center into a frenzy as the Rockets took an early 7-0 lead. I myself couldn’t contain my excitement as I envisioned what an extra 2 or 3 steals per game from Artest will mean to the the Rockets’ cuse this season.
The lead expanded to 11-2 thanks to an active Yao Ming grabbing two offensive boards for a tip-in and dunk.
Yao’s performance Wednesday night would remind everyone just how much he was missed during last season’s playoff series loss against the Utah Jazz. Anytime you take out of the lineup a game-high 21 points, 10 rebounds and 9-of-9 shooting from the free throw line like Yao had Wednesday night, you’re not going to be near as competitive against a playoff team like Utah.
Click here for more photos from the game.
Welcome back, Yao. We’re glad to have you.
Houston looked like they were well on their way to a blowout against a young Memphis team after building a 26-18 first quarter lead. But then Houston’s offense went south with Houston’s second unit getting more action, hitting only 4-of-21 field goals in the second quarter for 17 points, and scoring only 15 points in the third.
The loss of Aaron Brooks to a bruised foot injury (out 1-2 weeks) and Shane Battier still trying to recover from his ankle surgery clearly didn’t help things.
The youth and athleticism of young players like Rudy Gay (20 points), Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol kept Memphis hanging around to the point that they even took a 61-60 lead in the fourth quarter. When Memphis held a 65-64 lead, the Rockets had made only 14 of their previous 46 shots.
But the Rockets’ defense kept it close, holding the Grizzlies to 38% shooting for the game and 0-for-13 from 3-point land. Meanwhile, their offense continued to grind it out, with plays like Yao getting fouled and hitting 2 free throws to put them up 75-69.
Not until Rafer Alston finally hit his first basket of the game – a 3-pointer after shooting 0-for-6 from the field – put Houston up 78-71 with 37.2 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Outside of the struggles on offense, the other surprise was that Yao played more than the 30 minutes we are expecting him to play this season in order to prevent too much wear-and-tear. He played 38 minutes Wednesday night.
The other surprise involving Yao was his no-look, back-to-the-basket scoop shot he put up with his left hand as he was getting fouled in the third quarter. That was worthy of highlight reel love all over the country’s airwaves. Check it out here:
Yao concluded the possession by hitting a foul shot to give the Rockets a 58-51 lead.
On the bright side, to make up for 37% shooting from the field, the Rockets hit 21-of-25 free throws (84%), which is a nice improvement compared to last season. They’ll need to keep that up while Brooks and Battier are out.
Next up: the Rockets head to Dallas for a nationally televised game Thursday night against the Mavericks.