This is going to be a relatively short game summary because the Rockets play the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday against arch rival Utah in Salt Lake, and like the team, I need to “pace” myself.
Wednesday night’s game is going to be a war considering the Jazz have won 8 games in a row, are only 1.5 games behind Houston, and the Rockets have won 8 of their last 9 games after they beat Toronto 107-97 Tuesday night at Toyota Center.
It didn’t look like it would be easy as the Raptors came out and hit tons of outside shots, led by #1 draft pick of 2006 Andrea Bargnani, who gave Yao fits as he drew him out to the 3-point line. That was going to be challenge for Yao, who is more comfortable parking himself in the paint. It’s not that Yao played terrible defense, in my opinion, it’s just that a 7′6″ guy can’t get in the face of someone like Bargnani who can put it on the floor and drive past him.
On the flipside, Bargnani had to defend Yao down low in the paint much of the time, and you’d think that would be no contest given Yao’s size advantage. But he started off slow, only making 1 of his first 5 shots. However, the mismatch worked in his favor over the course of the game as he hit 6 of his next 7 shots, and would finish with 20 points on 9-of-16 shots in 31 minutes. He also had 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. But he also had his obligatory 5 turnovers.
Yao scored 20 points and grabbed 11 boards as Chris Bosh could only look on. Click here for more photos from the game.
Giving Yao a little more rest than usual was Carl Landry, who played lights out in scoring a career-high 22 points on 7-of-9 shots, hit all 8 of his free throws, grabbed 6 boards and blocked 2 shots in 31 ½ minutes.
Landry is really making an impact after having missed 4 games and then coming back against Minnesota Sunday night and scoring 12 points on 4-of-5 shots. Just think if he had been healthy against Chicago to help prevent the 4th quarter choke job, the Rockets might be on a 9-game winning streak right now and a little closer to San Antonio in the standings for the Midwest division lead.
As much as the media is raving about Landry’s play, which is much deserved, Luis Scola continues to play at an amazingly high level and has turned into the player I knew he would be when the Rockets got him before last season. Scola, always fun to watch, scored on an array of shots on his way to 20 points on 10-of-17 field goal attempts, 16 boards, and blocking a shot.
Scola has now racked up 23 double-doubles this season, and has had 8 in his last 9 games.
I think Scola is so valuable, I am nominating him to be the 3rd piece of the Rockets’ “new Big 3.” After all, his fellow countryman Manu Ginobili is part of the Spurs’ Big 3 that includes Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, so why shouldn’t he? I think he’s just as deadly, but in a different way down low.
Von Wafer was huge in the fourth quarter as he scored 8 of the Rockets’ 10 points in one stretch, which included two 3-pointers in a row that gave the Rockets a nice cushion headed into the game’s final minutes. He would finish with 14 points, thanks to pushing the tempo, and also dole out 3 dimes.
Throw in Kyle Lowry’s 8 points, and the Rockets’ bench of Lowry, Landry and Wafer outscored Toronto’s bench 44-16. They also had almost a 2-to-1 advantage in the paint, scoring 60 points, with many coming from highlight reel dunks and scores by Wafer, Landry and Scola.
It’s funny that the play of these guys kind of outshined reliable Ron Artest (oh yeah, that guy!), who didn’t have a bad game at all. He scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shots, had 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He’s just become someone you can start to count on to not really have an off-night, something his predecessor at the 2-guard was known to have quite often.
The Rockets are so deep that even when two of their starters, Aaron Brooks (2-for-10 with 7 points) and Shane Battier (1-of-6 for 3 points), have down nights, it doesn’t really hurt them. There’s always someone who can come in and pick up the slack. That’s called “depth.”
Chances are the Rockets are going to need everyone to contribute to beat Utah Wednesday night on a tough back-to-back. Why does the league office have to schedule such a marquee game as a back-to-back for one of the teams involved?
At least the Rockets are younger and healthier than they’ve been in years, so it should be a very good game. There was a time just a few weeks ago where I thought they didn’t have the mental toughness to play strong throughout a game like that one. But I have a lot of confidence it will be close down to the end.