The game against an 18-40 Timberwolves team Sunday night was still a big game for everyone on the Rockets’ side. The fans, the players, the coaches, the GM, etc.
After the Rockets had won 6 in a row at home and looked like they had left behind the ghosts of choke jobs from the past, they go out Saturday night and blow the largest lead ever in franchise history in a fourth quarter (17 points) against Chicago and lose.
So which team would show up Sunday night in Minnesota? That’s what everyone in Rocketville was waiting to find out.
Fortunately they were playing a team that had lost 10 of its last 11 games, and were without man-child Al Jefferson because of a torn ACL.
They took advantage by building a 25-15 lead in the first quarter making their first 7 shots and 12 of their first 14. But you had to wonder by halftime why the Rockets hadn’t built a bigger lead, letting the T-Wolves hang around down only 54-53.
As a team, Houston was shooting 60% by halftime and Yao was leading his team in scoring with 12 points on 4-of-5 shots. It’s not the 8 to 10 shots I’d like to see him get by halftime, but hey, you take what the defense gives you.
But finally they made their move in the 3rd quarter by going on a 17-0 run to pop the lead to 81-64. During that stretch, Yao was challenged defensively in the paint, and he responded with 2 blocks to rack his tally to 5 rejections by that time. He would finish with 6 blocks, matching his block total in Minnesota earlier in the season.
An unusual photo for YaoMania: a photo that barely has Yao in it. But it shows how aggressive Yao can be defending the paint from behind the shooter, this time Minnesota’s Craig Smith. Click here for more photos from the game.
Poor Kevin Love. With Jefferson out for the season, the rookie is now having to play center, and has at least an 8-inch disadvantage to Yao. Love is going to be a great NBA player, but he’s not the best leaper in the world and Yao’s presence affected his box score: 1-for-5 in the second half, and 4-for-12 overall for 9 points.
Since we’ve all been following Yao for so long, we tend to take his height for granted. That’s why I like being reminded when players in the league still marvel at Yao’s size. Minnesota’s 6’4” Randy Foye had this to say about Yao:
“I walked past him and I’m at his waist. He’s a huge human being. It’s tough to go in there and get shots over him.”
Some of Yao’s fans tend to get on him because he can’t jump that high. But when you’re already an intimidating force just standing flat-footed, you don’t really need to be able to jump that well. Just hold your ground.
That’s exactly what the Rockets did throughout the rest of the game. There would be no 17-point blown lead like the night before in Chicago.
The starters played deep into the fourth quarter to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. Yao would only take 2 shots after halftime, making 1 of them, to finish with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and hit all 7 of his free throws. He also grabbed 11 boards, but had 5 turnovers.
Aaron Brooks redeemed himself after a disastrous fourth the night before. A.B. would run the offense well and finished with 22 points and 10 assists. There was also a time where he played shooting guard spot while Kyle Lowry played the point.
Lowry would finish with 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting (not bad for a guard who doesn’t shoot all that well).
Ron Artest also redeemed himself with a 67% shooting night: 10-of-15 shots, including 3-of-4 treys, for a team high 23 points.
And it was Carl Landry’s first game back in 4 games because of his sprained ankle. Landry was active as ever as he hit 4-of-5 shots for 12 points. I think he would have made a big difference in Chicago the night before. But it seemed the team was very cautious in how they treated his injury because I could have sworn he was due back in action at least a game or two prior.
Even though Carl got almost 26 minutes of playing time, it didn’t affect Luis Scola’s playing time that much. Scola, who is Mr. Consistency, scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 11 boards in 18 1/2 minutes.
Both Carl and Luis will be needed when face Toronto’s Chris Bosh Tuesday night in Houston.