With Ron Artest‘s sprained ankle forcing him out of the lineup for Saturday’s game in Atlanta (like Tracy McGrady and Shane Battier), the team’s poor play lately, and it being the second game of a back-to-back, the Rockets had almost no chance of beating the Hawks in Atlanta where they are 14-2 at home this season.
Yao Ming reacts after the refs don’t cut him any slack in a frustrating second half against the Hawks. Click here for more photos of Yao during the game.
But like other times this season after losing games in embarrassing fashion, the Rockets’ role players showed up and played with hustle and guts and almost pulled out a miracle win, but they lost on a last-second 3-pointer from Mike Bibby with 1.5 seconds remaining.
Aaron Brooks had a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but the shot just rimmed out as time expired. Hawks 103, Rockets 100.
The Rockets have now lost 5 of their last 7 games, and their 21-14 record is not holding water in the ultra competitive West. With Saturday night’s loss, they are in a battle for 8th place: on the bubble for a playoff spot. Every loss like the ones they’ve had recently makes a big difference at the end of the season where one win or loss can make or break you.
Yao Ming had a good first half with 10 rebounds and 16 points, but that’s all he would score as he was swarmed by defenders in the second half, getting off only one shot to finish 7-of-12 from the field.
On top of that, late in the 4th quarter Yao tried to back it down on Zaza Pachulia a couple of times, but I thought he was TOO determined to score, holding the ball unusually long, giving Pachulia time to get his hand in Yao’s wheelhouse and poke the ball away for a turnover. That led to a Josh Smith reverse dunk the other way to give the Hawks a 100-96 lead with 3:33 remaining in the game.
Then a couple of minutes later, he tried to do the same thing. Pachulia fouled him, but the ref didn’t call it, and it left Yao with a terrible shot down low as he heaved it up and the refs called him for traveling. It was a bad no-call, but I think if Yao tries to work the ball too much in the paint giving his defenders time to adjust, it’s going to spell trouble for a turnover-prone big guy like Yao. I believe Yao thinks he has to be a determined scorer in the paint late in games, but I’d much rather see him kick it out almost every time to a jump shooter like Hakeem Olajuwon did back in the glory days.
On the bright side, Von Wafer stepped in as a starter, and like he showed in Toronto 24 hours earlier by scoring 18 points in 12 minutes, he demonstrated why the Rockets were so high on him after the preseason by rewarding him with a roster spot. On top of that, not accustomed to so much playing time in such a short amount of time (40 minutes), he fought through leg cramps in both legs to score 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting.
As disappointing as McGrady has been over the last 5 games – along with the disgrace of giving up on Jamario Moon’s uncontested slam dunk on Friday (see the Chronicle’s Fran Blinebury raking McGrady over the coals here, and deservedly so, with even Toronto’s TV announcers asking, “Where’s the defense?” and “Make an effort”) — Von Wafer has been the antithesis of that the past two games.
To be honest with you, I wouldn’t mind seeing McGrady being benched for a couple of months to heal up (or traded if they can get anything of value for him), and having Wafer and Brent Barry (but not Luther Head) getting more playing time along with his replacement. In all the years I’ve been following McGrady’s career in Houston, I don’t think I’ve seen as much fervor I’m seeing now from fans and some of the media saying that it’s time for McGrady to go.
I’m usually been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I think with all the injuries he’s had over the years and his propensity to jack up shots from the perimeter and not take it aggressively to the hole, I’m probably willing to give him only one more chance. To get that last chance, he has to heal his knee completely to prove he can help this team win a championship.
There were some shining moments for the Rockets in this game, though. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Carl Landry. After hitting only 1-of-7 shots in Toronto, he came back with a vengeance, scoring 18 points on 5-of-5 shooting (THAT’S the high-percentage we saw last season) and hitting 8-of-8 free throws.
Rafer Alston came up with 2 big steals in a row late in the fourth quarter on Joe Johnson to get the Rockets back in the game, but he lost the ball as he went up for an open shot in the lane with 20 seconds remaining in the game that could have put the Rockets ahead 102-100. That was the play before Bibby hit his big shot.
The Rockets got off to a good start to the game, with their first 6 baskets coming from 5 assists, and they even led 27-22 after the first quarter, shooting 50% and turning the ball over only 3 times. But in the second quarter, the Hawks went on an 18-6 run and outscored the Rockets 32-19 to take a 54-46 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, the Rockets managed to hang in there as Yao Ming was swarmed by defenders, forcing other players to make shots. And they were, with two three-pointers each from Brent Barry and Wafer, and outscoring the Hawks 31-25 in the quarter.
It’s amazing the Rockets even made this game close given the Hawks shot 59% overall from the floor (61% in the first half), with Josh Smith hitting 8-of-9 shots in the first half and 13-of-16 overall for 29 points. As proud as they should be to have made it a game, a Rocket defense that allows that high of a shooting percentage is unheard of. With Artest and Battier in the lineup, that just doesn’t happen.
On the negative side, Luther Head continued his disappearing act, hitting only 1-of-5 shots for 3 points. You can’t have your backup shooting guard playing so poorly, especially when your starting shooting guard (McGrady) is out of the lineup because of injury, and struggling when he does get into the game. Thank goodness Wafer is there to pick up some of the slack. The Rockets have sorely missed that in the past.