In my mind…Thursday night against the Dallas Mavericks, Yao Ming scored some of the ‘quietest’ 30 points I’ve ever seen in a 112-102 victory at American Airlines Center for the Rockets to go 2-0 on the season.
(Click here for more photos from the game, thanks to Raymond in the forum)
Maybe it was because I had to watch a game in a sports bar and didn’t have access to my statistics over the Internet during the game, thus surprising me when I saw the final boxscore.
But I think a big reason had to be the incredible display that Ron Artest put on. We all knew he was good, but I don’t think many people expected he would be this valuable to the Rockets this fast. Having an injured Shane Battier out of the lineup is requiring Artest to get more playing time than originally intended, and it hasn’t hurt the Rockets too much.
Yao was his usual solid self, shooting 11-of-15 from the field, making a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line (he was 9-of-9 Wednesday night in the season opener), and grabbing 13 boards. Amazingly, we’ve almost come to expect these kind of numbers from Yao, which is a sign of his greatness, and hell, might ultimately win him the league MVP if he keeps this up and doesn’t get hurt like in previous seasons.
But on this night — since we’re still getting used to seeing him in a Rockets jersey — it was Artest who dazzled just as much, scoring 29 points (10-of-22 from the field), making 6-of-6 from the free throw line, and get this: 3-of-4 from the 3-point line.
Whenever I see a guy with a big body like Artest hoisting up 3-pointers, I just think there’s no way a guy with those kind of muscles can consistently hit treys. My brain tells me it just HAS to be a bad, low-percentage shot. But with his picture perfect shooting form, you can see why Artest can make them better than most. Can you ever remember a guy with a frame like Artest’s hitting 3-pointers like this?
It looked like the Rockets were going to run away with it in the second quarter when they went on a 16-0 run to go up 44-33, living up to the expectations that this season could be a dominant one.
But like the night before, their opponent scrapped to get back into the game, and Dallas even led 86-85 heading into the fourth quarter.
That’s when the Rockets exploded with a 16-2 run, with Artest scoring 7 of those points, and led 108-94 with 3:01 remaining, capped by Artest hitting a beautiful 3-pointer from straight on behind the arc. That would launch a celebratory explosion by several Rockets as they bumped chests in mid-air as Dallas called timeout to stop the bleeding.
Dallas would go on a run to make it closer down the stretch, but the Rockets would hold on for the W.
The other star in this game was reserve point guard Aaron Brooks, who came back much quicker than the 1-3 weeks projected to heal his bruised ankle. He lived up to the great preseason he had (14 ppg) by scoring 14 points again on 5-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-4 from three-point land.
In comparison to Yao and Artest, Tracy McGrady had a so-so night, scoring 16 points on only 3-of-10 shooting. But he did make 10-of-11 free throws, an area that was a big disappointment from him last season. With those kind of numbers, he didn’t drag down the team FT shooting percentage like he did so many times last year. Thursday night the Rockets had their second great free throw shooting night in a row: 29-of-31 (93.5%)!
The team also had a very low 10 turnovers. Well done!
Rafer Alston struggled for the second straight game, hitting only 1-of-6 from the field, but he did dish 5 assists. Just imagine how good the Rockets can be if he gets back on track.
The only real blemish from Yao’s night was missing a wide-open dunk. Other than that, he met expectations in the boxscore, and even exceeded them in minutes played.
After playing 38 minutes the night before, I think everyone thought he would get closer to playing the 30 minutes that’s expected he’ll average. Instead, he played almost 41. Oh well. Maybe he can get a lot more rest Saturday night against an opponent they are expected to beat handily – the Oklahoma City Thunder — to make up for it.
One other moment I liked from Yao was when he caught an elbow from Josh Howard. Put off by the way he was fouled, he “accidentally” bumped into Howard to subtly retaliate. I like it when Yao stands up for himself and doesn’t take crap from anyone.
Artest came over and put a light hand on Howard to provide support for his Big Man. He got T’d up for doing it, but you’ve got to respect Artest for doing what he said during the preseason he would do: stand up for Yao.