After the Rockets debacle of a defense let the Philadelphia 76ers slice their way to the rack all night long Tuesday night for easy baskets, I bet there will plenty of fans calling Houston sports talk shows Wednesday morning wondering if Jeff Van Gundy can come back to the Rockets.
Houston gave up 52 points in the paint to Philadelphia while allowing 56.2% shooting on their way to a 104-96 loss, their third in a row and their fifth loss in a row on the road.
Yao Ming sits on the bench exhausted as the 76ers offense kept him running all night long. Click here for more game photos.
Last year when the Rockets played such great defense, some people thought it was because Rick Adelman’s coaching staff had done something exceptional that he wasn’t very well known for doing – having a great defensive team.
Other people thought it was a carryover of the defensive attitude they had the prior season during the JVG era.
I know Shane Battier is out and he’s a good defensive player, as well as Ron Artest, and their absence makes playing great defense that much harder. But I think it’s becoming clear that last year was a fluke for an Adelman-coached team to play such great D, and that it must have been JVGs prior emphasis that had made them so great. On Tuesday there was just too much breaking down on defensive assignments to allow so many easy buckets like the Rockets gave up. The JVG attitude has worn off lately.
The Rockets allowed 53 points in the first half to a team that averages 95 points per game — 24th in the league out of 30 teams.
The Rockets trailed by 7 points in the second quarter, but came back to lead by two points at halftime, 55-53. If they gave up that many points in the second half, there was no way they could win.
Without Battier or Artest in the lineup, they allowed the Sixers to shoot 56% from the floor, with their bench scoring 27 of their 53 points. Luckily for the Rockets, the Sixers missed 9 free throws on 7-of-16 from the line, good enough to give the Rockets a 55-53 edge at halftime.
On offense, the Rockets were fine. They had balanced scoring in the first half with McGrady (4-for-6), Scola (4-for-6) and Von Wafer scoring 10 points apiece. Yao, Brent Barry and Carl Landry had 6 points each, with Yao making just 1-of-2 shots, but he shot 4-of-4 from the line.
They also had 17 assists that led to 20 field goals, a very good stat. Yao had three of them, opting to kick it out after getting swarmed by the defense.
But Aaron Brooks was 0-for-4 and Rafer Alston was 2-for-6. Even with the point guard spot being a weakness from a shooting perspective, the Rockets shot a sizzling 54% from the floor, and 57% (4-of-7) from three-point territory.
But in the second half, it got even more embarrassing. The Rockets played Swiss cheese defense as the Sixers got easy baskets near the hoop and pushed the ball to beat Yao Ming up the floor so he couldn’t contest shots. The Sixers went on a 12-2 run to open an 11-point lead, allowing 3 dunks in a row due to busted assignments. Pathetic. That’s not Rockets basketball.
Then around the 4-minute mark in the third, Yao had a wide open dunk, but went up to dunk it with just one hand, allowing it to get blocked from behind, although he was fouled.
But near the end of the third quarter, Yao got a couple possessions down low and scored easily using his height and bulk to cut the deficit to 76-68. Then on a third possession, Yao was doubled, but he kicked it out and Rafer Alston hit a 3 to make it 76-71 to cap an 8-2 run.
The Rockets trailed at the end of the quarter 79-71, and it looked like they had a chance to make a comeback given their decent play at the end of the third.
But at the start of the 4th quarter, the Sixers got back to their fast breaking ways, expanding the lead to 85-74. Then Theo Ratliff blocked Yao at the rim twice, leading to a fast break layup by Andre Iguadola. Although the blocks on Yao were embarrassing at first glance, Ratliff is a prolific shot blocker, so there’s not as much shame with that as you would think.
Then on the next possession the same thing happened with Carl Landry getting his shot blocked in front of the rim, leading to a fast break bucket the other way. That gave the Sixers an 89-74 lead as the Rockets missed 9 consecutive shots.
But when Yao checked out of the game, the Rockets went on an 11-2 run to cut the deficit to 91-85 with 5 minutes remaining. Iguadola countered with a 3-pointer to give the Sixers more of a cushion.
Brooks, who had been struggling all night from the field, finally took it strong to the basket, scored, and was fouled, but the 90% free throw shooter missed the penalty free throw! That made it 94-87.
The Rockets cut the lead down to 96-91 after Brooks took it strong to the hole, missed, but was fouled, making both free throws. Then after some good defense on the other end, Luis Scola tipped in a missed Brooks 3-point attempt.
McGrady cut it to 98-94 with a strong move to the basket, but rookie Marreese Speights slammed an offensive rebound home to make it 100-94 with just a couple of minutes remaining, and the rest of the game was basically a free throw shooting contest the Sixers won.
Looking at the box score, you couldn’t ask for more balanced scoring from the Rockets. Five players had 14 points, although McGrady’s came on 5-of-15 shooting, including 0-for-5 from 3-point land (for the umpteempth time, why does he keep jacking those up when he sucks at it?)
Yao also finished with 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting and had 6 boards. He played about the same number of minutes in the second half as the first, but hardly played in the fourth quarter because he just wasn’t a good matchup against the running and gunning Sixers.
Luis Scola was exceptional offensively, leading all Rockets with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbing 17 boards.
As great as the shooting was in the first half for the Rockets, it was terrible in the second: 14-of-43 for 33%. Bringing the percentage way down Aaron Brooks with his 1-of-11 shooting. I love AB, but I don’t think anyone could have expected his shooting to go south so quickly. His fast rise followed by mediocrity lately reminds me a little of Luther Head in his second season. Unfortunately, Luther has never really recovered to the expectations he set as a rookie. I think Aaron will, though. He’s got way too many skills to bomb out on us.
Now the Rockets head to Boston on Wednesday to complete back-to-back. We all know how that game is going to turn out. The main thing to watch for in that game is if the defensive effort will improve at all.