This post was written by guest author Ren Hsieh:
I like Von Wafer. Getting put down by the rim is not the way anyone wants to make SportsCenter but recognize the kid has heart. He bounced right back, called for the rock and hit a big three to quell a burgeoning Celtic run. And he’d be back for more in the 4th. Wafer is the only guard on the team with that combination of size, 3-pt shooting and ability to finish… so long as it’s not baseline.
More importantly, he plays with that underdog intensity. How does a guy go from what what you could at best call a journeyman to such a solid commodity for the Rockets? A question for another time.
Rockets vs. Celtics should have been a battle of conference powerhouses and a potential Championship preview. Instead, both teams limped into the TD Banknorth Garden (which just sounds terrible) as the two most talented slumping teams in the league, both losing 5 of their last 7 and both dropping winnable games to very beatable opponents just last night. There was little on-court swagger.
Give it up to Boston though for coming out to support, their energy alone seemed to put the Celts up early as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett couldn’t miss blindfolded. Boston converted roughly 65% of their FGs throughout 1st quarter and dropped 31 for the period.
Kevin Garnett defends Yao Ming by fronting him. Click here
for more photos from the game.
Good thing for Houston, the Celtic defense didn’t follow the lead, looking about as bad as it had throughout their slump. In fact, neither team locked it down on defense (which has likewise hurt the Rockets during their own slump) even with Ron Artest back in the Rockets lineup. Through 3 quarters, both teams were converting +.500 from the field.
Then came the 4th and finally both team defenses picked it up. The Rockets picked it up more. KG couldn’t buy a bucket in the 2nd. Ray Allen seemed out of the loop all night and the Celtics best 4th quarter scorer early on was reserve guard Gabe Pruitt. Pierce–the one bright spot for Boston through the slump–would take the reins down the stretch, putting up another solid night battling Ron Artest; even fouling Ron-Ron out in crunch time.
But Yao was bigger after returning in the 4th, running the offense through himself and finishing plays when he could pick out single coverage. It was just one of those nights; Yao was a purist’s dream. He never forced a shot (10-of-13 for 26 points), always passed out of the double team and finished when he sealed a one-on-one. Plus you can add about 5 hockey assists to his 4 assists for the game. Say what you want about his perceived passivity, if you run it through Yao in the half-court and the personnel is patient in finding the post and hitting the re-post, he can pick any team’s D apart.
At least, that’s what’s been most effective with this personnel. Without Tracy McGrady on the floor, Yao becomes the Rockets’ principle play-maker. Ron-Ron fills the gaps. Even the by-now-expected drought the Rockets suffered in the 3rd can be traced back to the Yao’s limited touches in the paint. It’s not a stat, it’s not flashy but the guy never gives up on a play and he trusts his teammates to finish.
It’s good to see Aaron Brooks find the stroke again. His return as a scoring threat kept Rafer Alston on the bench in the 4th and helped create open looks for his teammates down the stretch. Love his confidence; its rare. But it was his ability to find teammates that helped seal the win. And no look was bigger than his kick out to Wafer for the go-ahead 3FG in the game’s final minute.
Brooks’ number was called again in the game’s final :30 seconds with the Rockets up 2. Adelman isolated him at the top of the key as the shot-clock wound down. Brooks took his man off the dribble into a collapsing defense and handed it off to Carl Landry for what should have been a crushing good night brush off.
Kendrick Perkins, however, made a nice play rotating over to block the shot. Which left Yao to grab the rebound and finish with the putback. No dunk, just a quiet fatality. Like old school Liu Kang.
A fitting end for Yao, who needed it to redeem a quiet game last night and one of his career worst in their 103-99 loss to Boston back in November. Yao’s numbers weren’t staggering but his quiet domination of the Celtics front-court was pretty impressive and something we’d all like to keep seeing.