So this is what happens when the Big Three finally play together in a month, huh? A 95-93 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, including a blown 14-point second-half lead, their second game in a row where they blew a fourth quarter lead, and a terrible play call in the game’s final seconds.
Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala throws down an alley-oop pass for a dunk over Yao Wednesday night. Houston’s defense this year has been nowhere near its norm, which is a different topic for another day. Click here for more photos from the game.
You would think after getting embarrassed in New York by blowing a 4th quarter lead to an inferior team that the Rockets would have had the motivation to take care of business and make a statement that the Knick game was a one-game lapse.
I was nervous about this game against the Sixers for days, with all of the Big Three playing or not, because Philadelphia is very athletic and they had defeated the Rockets 3 straight times heading into Wednesday’s game. Plus, they were going to have Elton Brand in this game, a force they didn’t have in their victory against Houston on January 6th.
Surprisingly, Tracy McGrady was decent, especially in the third quarter when he scored 13 points, taking it to the rack more often in this game than I’ve seen in a long time. But he missed all four of his shot attempts in the 4th quarter, including a terrible play in the game’s final seconds that could have tied or won it.
The Rockets tried to run a slow-developing pick-and-roll between Yao and McGrady, with both of them starting way out high, but that was stupid because there wasn’t enough time for Yao to start so far away from the basket, then get position in the paint down low for a high percentage shot, all in 5 seconds before time expired.
Second, McGrady was very slow in starting the play. It’s almost like the Rockets DESIGNED this play for McGrady to take a low-percentage 3-pointer, and not find Yao instead. The result was predictable – McGrady’s shot was partially blocked by Samuel Dalembert, who switched over to guarding McGrady once he sensed he was going to jack up a low-percentage three.
After the game, I believe Rick Adelman said THAT was the play they wanted. If that’s the case, YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! When is the last time McGrady hit a 3-pointer to win a game in the final seconds….maybe 3 years ago against the Spurs? That’s not a very good track record. Can’t anyone learn from history any more?
This isn’t the first time this has happened with the Rockets late in a game needed a score with just a few seconds on the clock. Let’s just say Adelman isn’t a mastermind for designing creative offensive sets when they really need a basket. I wouldn’t mind if he just ran a play that his motion offense is supposed to run when there is PLENTY of time on the clock. You know, the idea of BALL MOVEMENT.
In defense of Adelman, he did have some comments after the game that, for him, were scathing but warranted, and explained just as much the loss as the last second shot attempt by McGrady:
“We have guys that have been in this league. You have to finish the game. You’re missing point-blank shots at the basket. You can’t get better than that. Just concentrate and finish it.
“I think it’s execution, concentration. You go to your strengths, and we didn’t do that. We missed a lot of opportunities. It’s a matter of just staying with it. The fourth-quarter stuff, usually you have an inside-outside game in the fourth quarter. The good teams have that. We haven’t had that all year long because of everything that’s gone on. We have to find a way to execute.”
“How many good shots did we have in the game that we didn’t finish?” It’s amazing. I just couldn’t believe the plays that were made. We just didn’t finish it.”
Adelman was referring to several missed layups and fast breaks in the first half that would come back to haunt them later in the game when every point was crucial.
I get the sense that Adelman is like one of those high-priced CEOs at a Wall Street investment bank who has a big salary, but has very little control over the performance of the assets in his portfolio – some ‘toxic’ assets that offer little hope of becoming valuable and making everyone feel that everything is going to be okay.
What the Rockets need is some kind of “stimulus package” to get rid of the feeling they are going to choke away late leads. I was hoping Artest would have been that stimulus in games like the past two, and he might ultimately be, but for the second straight game, he struggled offensively, making only 3-of-10 shots for 9 points Wednesday night.
Yao wasn’t that great either in his first game back. He made 5-of-11 shots for 13 points and also had 5 turnovers, including a couple in the fourth quarter that really hurt. He hit a nice shot in the lane with just under a minute remaining that rattled in after dancing on the rim for a couple of seconds. He was also fouled on that shot, but he missed the penalty free throw that could have pulled the Rockets to within one point.
After the game, Yao was clearly distraught about his performance after missing 2 1/2 games, ““I don’t know how to play basketball now. I just forget what is my game.”
Earlier in his post-game interview, he showed frustration that the Rockets don’t ever seem to learn how to put teams away as seen by their 8-for-22 team shooting performance in the fourth quarter…
“Coach said that we have to learn from this game. Why do we [need to] keep learning this game? Learning from these games means we lost again, and this happened again, and this happened months ago and two months ago. And now it is the end of January, and we are still learning. When is the end?”
For a complete transcript of what Yao said post-game, click here for Raymond’s translation.
It’s amazing to me that Von Wafer, such a reliable and dynamic scorer while McGrady was out for 2 weeks, only played 9 ½ minutes in this game. And Brent Barry didn’t play at all.
Meanwhile, Shane Battiter was only 2-for-4 with 5 points. I love Shane and his defense, but to have him in the game for that final play at the expense of Wafer and Barry is dumbfounding to me.
The other guards, like Rafer Alston, went back to the bad old days, hitting only 3-of-11 shots for 8 points. But at least he hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter when they needed as much scoring as they could get.
And Aaron Brooks…oooh boy. 1-for-8 from the field. I’m starting to get very concerned about AB. The Rockets need as much firepower as they can get when 1, 2 or all all 3 of the “Big 3” are struggling. I thought Aaron was going to be that extra stimulus in the backcourt this season that would supplement the great contributions the Rockets continually get on the front line from Carl Landry and Luis Scola, but for the past two months, he’s been struggling big-time.