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For 6 consecutive games the Rockets had found a way to evolve from their charitable ways—meaning they stopped giving away games in the 4th quarter. That streak is no more with a souring 105-102 defeat to the Chicago Bulls.
For 43 minutes the Rockets played dominant basketball and built as much as a 17 point lead with less than 6:00 minutes left in the game. But they never actually kept the Bulls from doing what they wanted to on offense; the Rockets were just somehow able to keep outscoring Chicago. It seemed like every time the Bulls made a run, the Rockets would follow up with a better one. Until that is, they stopped scoring the ball altogether.
Yao Ming scored 17 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and had 3 blocks
in Chicago. But it wouldn’t be enough in a heartbreaking loss.
Click here for more photos from the game.
The last 5:00 minutes of this game should be a reminder to all of us fans that Houston is not that good. Artest was hot from the perimeter all game but he let it negatively alter his game in the long run by eschewing his Bogart ability on the drive and in the low post. He forgot he needed to get it done from the free throw line—the exact thing Houston had used to their advantage in their crunch time wins.
After the Bulls whittled the Rockets lead down to 12 late in the game, Houston put Yao back in the game only to not give him a single touch in the low post in the final 5:00 minutes. Traditionally, with a lead down the stretch, you win the game at the line but you can’t get there if you can’t get the ball in the low post. Yes, the Bulls did a great job of fronting Yao and playing a man behind him to discourage the lob but Houston gave up on Yao way to early in the possession, which is where Aaron Brooks comes in.
For the first time, we see how Brooks’ weaknesses can affect the outcome of a game. In the situation the Rockets were facing, one could expect a veteran point guard to force the offense through Yao or push Ron Artest into the low-post. Instead, Brooks deferred to a perimeter-happy Artest—who was understandably feeling it from distance—but he never looked twice at Yao on the block and he never went down there himself. They lost sight of what they needed to do to win and that’s always the point guard’s fault. Or the coach.
Then there’s the defense, where we finally saw a guard who could really take advantage of Brooks’ diminutive stature. Rose is just as fast and much bigger—a bad combination for Brooks. He just couldn’t do anything with him. Rose got wherever he wanted whenever he wanted and he made big shots. It was tough to watch. 16 fourth quarter points and all but the final two came against Brooks. Lowry received the honor of subbing in late (for defense no less) against a red-hot Rose only to have the game’s go ahead basket dropped on his watch. Poor execution again in the Rockets final possession sealed it for the Bulls.
I guess we all started to think the Rockets were finally beyond this—think San Antonio, think Philadelphia—but it seems as if they needed another little reminder that 6 home wins is no reason to believe they are infallible. With every game crucial in maintaining a home court bid for the first round, they just can’t afford to forget too much more.