It’s hard to believe the Rockets pulled out a victory in Denver given the things that had been going against them. It was the second night of a back-to-back, they were playing in the thin air of the Mile High City, and they couldn’t hit their free throws, finishing a pathetic 20-of-35 from the line.
Yao had only scored 2 points on 1-of-6 shooting by halftime, they let a big lead slip away, and Yao fouled himself out of the game with 2:33 remaining on a silly foul at half-court trying to steal the ball from Chauncey Billups.
Yao started off slowly with only 2 points at halftime,
but he would finish with 15 points in a big win in Denver.
Click here for more photos from the game.
But the Rockets came through thanks to a huge 3-pointer by Shane Battier in the corner with 1:02 remaining to give them a 92-85 lead. Throw in a few free throws by Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry after that, and Houston got one of their most surprising road wins of the season.
Although I knew the Rockets were going to be much improved after they put a lot of their past drama behind them during the All-Star break, even I’m surprised they pulled this game out.
Houston started off slowly by shooting only 33% from the floor. But in the second quarter, they finally got it in gear by going on a 16-4 run to take a 34-32 lead, and extended it to 45-40 by halftime.
They had only shot 38% by that time. Ron Artest and Brooks had scored 9 points each, and Carl Landry had 8. But those were the only highlights offensively, given Houston made only 7-of-15 free throws. They offset their lowlights by holding the Nuggets to 34.1% shooting, with Nene Hilario missing 8-of-11 shots, most at point-blank range.
The Rockets started rolling in the 3rd quarter as they opened up a 19-point lead after Artest hit a 3-pointer to cap a 15-0 run.
But you knew the rest of the way wasn’t going to be easy since the Nuggets are still explosive, even after losing 7 of their last 10 games, and have come back 10 times this season when trailing by 10 or more points.
They would do just that, but Yao came back into the game in the fourth quarter, hit a jump hook and a couple of free throws, Battier would hit that 3-pointer, Chuck Hayes would make a huge play in the final minute by sacrificing his body to dive and save a ball that was headed out-of-bounds, and the Rockets would hit 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to seal it.
Although he fouled out and only played about 27 minutes, Yao hit 4-of-5 shots in the second half to score 15 points and grab 7 boards. Shockingly, Luis Scola only scored 4 points, but he racked up 15 boards.
Artest was money again scoring 22 points, including 4-of-9 three-pointers. And Brooks continues to answer the call in big games, hitting 7-of-13 shots to score 19. Give credit to the front office and the coaching staff for having faith in Brooks as a starter in this league when no one really thought the same.
But it was their defense that was the key to this win, having held Denver to 38.1% shooting overall.