Yao fans and Rocket fans will be talking for a long time about the 3-pointer that Yao hit with 2:10 remaining and the shot clock buzzer going off as a key to the Rockets victory over Charlotte Friday night.
Yao Ming drains a 3-pointer in the final couple of minutes of the Charlotte game to help the Rockets win. Click here for more photos from the game.
It was the first 3-pointer that Yao has hit in 6 years (I’m proud to say I witnessed the last one he hit in Golden State back in 2003; a video of Yao’s Friday night shot is embedded in my play-by-play synopsis near the bottom of this post).
That shot gave Yao a game-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting (along with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks). It’s the kind of shot I always thought Yao should take a bit more because he has the touch, but unfortunately he was brainwashed during the JVG era that he shouldn’t be shooting long jumpers like that. That’s a travesty because no one would ever be able to block it, and it’s a demoralizing shot for the opposition – like it was for Charlotte – when you see a 7’6” center drain one with the game on the line.
Who knows, with everyone in Houston wondering what’s going to be the Rocket’s “go-to play” when the Rockets need a late bucket, could it be like the one Friday night: pick-and-roll with Yao setting the pick, and him just staying put behind the 3-point line (and not dribbling it) so he can launch it if he receives the pass?
As great as that shot was, Yao’s defense Friday night was also good. He held Emeka Okafor to 3-for-11 shooting, and racked up 3 blocks overall.
But Yao wasn’t the only hero. A lot of people, including some in the Houston media, have come down hard on Ron Artest after his poor performance (0-for-8 from 3-point land) against the Lakers Wednesday night, or how he’s playing for a contract, or whatever. Others have questioned his ability to hit big shots down the stretch, and that maybe he isn’t worthy of being a “go-to” option when the Rockets need a bucket late in a game.
Personally, I thought his game against the Lakers was an off-night just like all players are prone to have, including Yao or LeBron James or anyone else. The number of bad nights Artest has had this season are a drop in the bucket compared to those from Tracy McGrady over the past several seasons. And Artest’s exceptional shooting from 3-point land, his tenacity, his continued willingness to attack the basket (something McGrady didn’t do enough), and his toughness, have bought him lots of leeway in my opinion to deal with a few bad games.
Oh yeah, the Rockets are also 11-3 since McGrady exited stage left and got out of Artest’s way so Ron-Ron could become the #2 guy next to Yao.
Well, there may still be questions about Artest’s abilities or anyone else’s, but for one night, he quieted a lot of his critics in the closing moments of a tight game in Charlotte.
After the Rockets imploded down the stretch with 7 turnovers in the fourth quarter and coughed up a 6-point lead with 2 minutes remaining, they needed 2 points in the worst way. They were down 86-85 with 32.6 seconds remaining, and every Rocket fan was wondering who was going to step up to take the big shot?
That person happened to be the “goat” of the Lakers game. Artest finished a dribble with a wicked crossover at the top of the key, made his defender Gerald Wallace fall down because of it, and Artest calmly elevated and drilled a jumper to give the Rockets an 87-86 lead that saved them!
After Raja Bell missed a jumper, Aaron Brooks was intentionally fouled and heroically hit 2 free throws to give the Rockets an 89-86 lead. The game would could down to defending against a sure 3-pointer that could tie the game.
That’s when Artest came up with a huge defensive stop – a block of Vladimir Radmanovic’s 3-pointer that he subsequently stole, took the ball down the court and scored on a layup for the win!
I heard someone the other day say that Artest is the best offensive and defensive “combination” player, or some similar term, in the NBA.
Well, he made a pretty good case on these 2 plays that he’s pretty good on both sides of the ball. What other player in the league constantly comes up with plays like that? Kobe is close, but his defense isn’t as good as Artest’s.
Artest’s game wasn’t perfect, by no means. He made a critical error when he dribbled the ball too much on one possession late that ended up causing a bogus foul to be called on Yao (see play-by-play below for more detail). He also was only 1-of-5 from the field in the first half, but recovered well and finished with 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
But Artest has a toughness that this team has sorely lacked over the years, and I’m glad the Rockets have him. How all the excitement after his signing has turned into such a blase? or negative vibe is beyond me. He hasn’t been a distraction on or off the court, nor the locker room, and he has a certain gravitas about him that you look for in a leader.
I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays in the playoffs when the stakes are even higher. But so far, I see no reason for the Rockets not to offer him a long-term deal at the end of this season.
I’m tired of “rentals” coming to Houston who make a great impact for their teams, only to leave because the teams didn’t pony up with some cash, and that player goes on to have great seasons in another team’s uniform. Remember the Astros’ Randy Johnson, and later Carlos Beltran?
Unsung heroes in this game were Luis Scola, who gave the Bobcats fits down in the low post with his shifty offensive moves, and scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting. And as you’ll see in the play-by-play below, Kyle Lowry had an awesome 4th quarter, attacking the basket, and finishing with 9 points on 3-of-6 shooting.
If the Rockets had lost this game, it would have been a huge step backward into the depression of all those games they lost before the All-Star break against inferior competition from the East. Thank God that didn’t happen to a team that was 3-28 overall when trailing entering the fourth quarter, and hadn’t won a game at home this season when trailing entering the fourth.
Okay, here’s the play-by-play of that topsy-turvy fourth quarter where you can really see what the Rockets did well, when they stunk it up, and where they were triumphant:
11:13 – Lowry takes it strong to the hole and scores! 72-65 Houston
10:31 – Artest takes it strong to the hole but is called for traveling
10:21 – Artest steals a pass from D.J. Augustin
9:54 – Von Wafer throws a difficult (and stupid) bounce pass to Carl Landry that Gerald Wallace steals and goes coast-to-coast for a dunk. 72-67 Houston
9:34 – Artest mishandles the dribble, it’s stolen, and Augustin takes it the length of the court for a layup. 72-69 Houston
9:07 – Shane Battier tries to pass into the paint to Landry, but it’s stolen. That’s 3 steals in a row for Charlotte!
8:37 – Yao’s baseline jumper rims in and out!
8:03 – Aaron Brooks takes it strong to the hole and misses, and no one is there to get an offensive rebound. Rockets haven’t scored in 4 minutes.
7:16 – Landry fouls Radmanovic on a 3-point attempt. Dumb foul. He makes 2 of 3 FTs. 72-71 Houston
6:52 – Landry misses a jumper.
Rockets don’t block out on a missed 3-pointer (Landry mistimes the rebound), and the Bobcats score to take the lead, 73-72!
6:09 – Shane Battier passes up an open 3-pointer, passes to Kyle Lowry who hits a huge 3-pointer. 75-73 Houston
5:33 – Lowry takes it strong to the hole, is fouled, and he hits both FTs to give the Rockets a 77-73 lead.
5:08 – Boris Diaw scores a floater over Yao’s block attempt. 77-75 Houston
4:38 – After Yao is pinned along the baseline on a double-team (could have been a travel), he passes it out, Battier gets the ball and throws up a rainbow 3-point prayer and he DRAINS IT right before the shot clock buzzer goes off! 80-75 Houston
3:54 – Augustin flops on a Scola offensive rebound to draw the foul and give the Bobcats possession
3:22 – Yao mishandles a decent pass into the post, and the ball almost goes out of bounds, but Yao saves it, then DECIDES TO DRIBBLE 3 TIMES against Okafor who knocks it away from Yao to make him turn it over! C’mon Yao, don’t dribble it so much, and just shoot it!
2:59 – Raymond Felton takes it strong to the hole and Yao rejects his shot for a block!
2:40 – Raja Bell hits a jumper. 80-77. He’s only 3-of-14 for the night
2:10 – With the shot clock winding down, Aaron Brooks is double-teamed as he’s dribbling it toward the left side of the court, he elevates, then throws it to Yao who is all alone behind the 3-point line, he launches it, AND HE DRAINS IT WITH THE SHOT CLOCK BUZZER GOING OFF! I love to hear the wincing oohs and aahs from the Charlotte crowd! A lot of people even leap out of their seats because they’re so amazed! Good going Yao! That gives the Rockets an 83-77 lead. Here’s the YouTube video:
1:50 – Raja Bell hits a jumper. 83-79 Houston.
1:28 – Yao dribbles twice with Okafor guarding him 1-on-1, then he elevates and shoots his turnaround jumper, and scores! 85-79 Houston
1:18 – Bell hits a 3-pointer. 85-82 Houston
1:14 – Brooks is double-teamed in the backcourt after the inbounds pass, the ball is stripped a few feet from the basket, and Diaw scores! What an inopportune time for a steal! 85-84 Houston
:56.3 – Artest dribbles the ball way too much with Gerald Wallace defending him. He had a chance to pass it to Yao who had Okafor 1-on-1, but he doesn’t, continues to dribble, and Wallace runs into Yao and falls to the ground. No call should have been made because it was a pick, and Yao wasn’t moving. But if Artest hadn’t dribbled so much, Yao probably wouldn’t have been in that position. Still 85-84 Houston
:34.6 – Yao blocks Okafor’s shot down low, but the ball bounces to Raja Bell who hits a jumper to take an 86-85 lead. The Bobcats have gone on a 7-0 run.
:32 – Battier throws an ill-advised inbounds pass to Yao which is almost stolen, but luckily Battier is able to pick up the deflected pass! Battier passes to Artest who shakes and bakes by doing a crossover dribble at the top of the key, making Gerald Wallace slip and fall because he’s so faked out, and Artest takes advantage BY DRILLING A 17-foot jumper to give the Rockets an 87-85 lead!
:10.2 – Raja Bell shoots a jumper that misses, and the ball goes out of bounds off Diaw. Houston ball!
:7.2 – The ball is inbounded to Brooks who is fouled intentionally. Aaron steps to the line and hits two PRESSURE free throws to give the Rockets an 89-86 lead!
Ron Artest blocks Vladimir Radmonivic’s 3-point attempt, steals it, and takes it the length of the court for a layup, and the Rockets win it 91-86!