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Spurs are still better, but Rockets getting closer

March 15th, 2009
by John

As disappointing of a loss it was for Houston to lose to the Spurs Saturday night at Toyota Center, I think there were lots of positive aspects to this game. Not to make excuses, but it was the second night of a back-to-back, and it’s tough for any team that has played 5 games in 7 nights to beat an elite team like the Spurs. Give them a ton of credit for the effort, coming back from 11 points down to make a game of it, having a couple of chances to tie it, before losing 88-85.

Yao had a nice game against Tim Duncan with 18 points on 9-of-17 shots, 11 boards, 2 blocks, and only two turnovers. His turnaround jumper was pretty much “on,” but he wasn’t going to be able to win the game himself. He was going to need help.

Yao Ming throws one down on Tim Duncan after a spin move along the baseline. Click here for more photos from the game.

Let’s talk about some of that help. First, Aaron Brooks was being exposed defensively by Tony Parker (28 points overall), which is expected because of the size difference. But when you’ve got a size disadvantage like that, you make up for it on the offensive end.

Brooks achieved that, finishing with 18 points of his own. He scored 8 points in the third on 3-of-5 shooting to spark a 17-2 run that brought them back from a 55-44 deficit. All 3 of the shots AB made over Parker in the third were aggressive plays: one where he took it strong into the lane and scored on a wild (but under control) shot 2) one on a little jump hook over Parker, 3) and the last being a long two-pointer that would have been a triple if he hadn’t had his foot on the line.

And I loved what the Rockets did several times late in the fourth quarter between Brooks and Yao: pick-and-roll, with Brooks taking it strong to the hole and either scoring, or if he missed, the Rockets getting the offensive board. That happened on 3 straight possessions in which he scored at the 1:50 mark. Then at the 1:12 mark, he attacked the basket, missed the shot, but Scola grabbed the rebound and was fouled. And then he attacked the basket with :43.6 remaining, missed, but Yao grabbed the rebound and slameed it home to bring the Rockets within 86-85.

They tried to do it one last time where AB took it strong to the hole, amazingly got past Tim Duncan, and put up a shot from underneath the backboard, but it hit the underside of it, the Spurs rebounded, and the Rockets were forced to foul Parker intentionally.

I think something is being completely missed by people complaining that Yao needs to get the ball more. When you’ve got guards who can take it to the hole and score like Brooks, Von Wafer and Kyle Lowry, you’d like for them to do that because it’s not only a higher percentage shot, but they will either score, get fouled, have an opportunity to dish for an assist, or IF THE SHOT IS MISSED, THE BIG GUYS CAN BE THERE TO GRAB THE OFFENSIVE REBOUND AND SCORE IF THEY’RE AGGRESSIVE THEMSELVES.

I believe big men actually prefer to grab an offensive rebound when a teammate puts one up on the rim for them, rather than have to slug it out in the low post dribbling the ball and having a chance of getting it stolen or blocked. That’s why I think it’s incumbent for the bigs to crash the boards more, including Yao, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to be happening enough when the guards attack the rim and miss.

Part of the problem with one option in that equation, dishing for an assist to Yao, is tough because Yao’s hands are not that great catching passes in traffic. That limits them greatly, but they can still do it with Luis Scola or Carl Landry, like they’ve done on plenty of occasions this season, but not in crunch time.

They’re still trying to find who’s going to be the guy involved in the pick-and-roll in clutch time. Give it some time. I think Scola and Landry can be those guys, as mentioned above.

Also, remember it took some time for Tony Parker to become who he is. Remember when the Spurs were thinking of getting rid of him early in his career and getting Jason Kidd? Brooks reminds me of that. He’s fast, can score, and he’s smart.

He needs to work on throwing better passes into Yao in the post, though. He’s throwing bounce passes into Yao that are very easy for defenders to read and steal. Part of the problem may be because since Brooks is so short, he can’t throw an entry pass over his defender, so going ‘underneath’ with the bounce pass is really his primary way of getting Yao the ball.

Another piece of constructive criticism I have for AB that I’ve seen a couple of times over the past couple of games: He’ll be pushing it up the floor on a fast break, will get it into the lane, there will be a defender in his way, but then he’ll kick it out to Wafer for a 3-pointer, which he has missed both times. I’d rather have Brooks attempt the shot because he can make a shot in traffic, and if he doesn’t, he’ll probably get fouled.

If for some reason Brooks isn’t the guy who can be the Rockets’ Tony Parker of the future, then the Rockets have Kyle Lowry to groom for those situations. With these two guys in the fold at PG, do you think the Rockets are better off than if they had kept Rafer Alston? It’s a good question. It may be tough to see them lose a few games as the Rockets mature in that position, but I have to think it’s completely worth it.

Another “go-to” option is what I have mentioned over a couple of my recent blog posts: the pick-and-roll with Scola and Landry setting the pick, or even Yao in which he becomes a spot-up shooter after setting up a pick.

Another option: post up Ron Artest more. He’s got a strong physique, so have him use it more, but without alot of dribbling.

Another play to run in crunch time that we’ve seen in the first halves of Rocket games this season: the give-and-go with Yao getting the ball in the post, then Brooks cutting past him near the baseline, and Yao giving him the ball for an easy layup.

Other random thoughts about this game…

It was a defensive slugfest: 42% for San Antonio, 41.8% for Houston

The Spurs are always able to find guys off the scrap heap who end up being productive for them: Avery Johnson, Robert Horry, Michael Finley, and Drew Gooden, just to name a few. Finley killed them with 5-of-7 3-pointers for 17 points, and Gooden in only his 2nd game as a Spur, scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

It looked like a defensive goaltending should have been called against the Spurs before Finley hit that half-court shot at the end of the 3rd quarter.

I’m disappointed that Carl Landry wasn’t more of a factor. His athleticism is sorely needed against a team like the Spurs. They can’t handle him. But he only took 2 shots, missed both, and only scored 1 point. It was the same thing for Shane Battier: 0-for-1 with 1 point. I know Shane does many of the “little things” to help them win, but he needs to start doing the “big things” because they can’t afford that lack of production from a non-starter.

Tim Duncan is so good, and his passing ability combined with a cutting Parker, is a tough combination to beat. Experience counts for something. I believe that Yao can be that good of a passer from the high-post that Duncan is, or like Brad Miller or Vlade Divac were under Rick Adelman in Sacramento, but people think the paint is were he belongs.

6 Responses to “Spurs are still better, but Rockets getting closer”

  1. Luckyme Says:

    I find that AB seemed to be very hesitant or slow to pass the ball to Yao even if the latter was wide open, although both AB and Ron were doing it more last night than the game against Charlette. For AB, like you said it could be his height hindering him to do so.

    If the game plan is to get Yao to kick the ball out to his opened teammates when he is double-teamed, players like Von Wafer, Battier, Artest must do better in getting their shots to fall; otherwise it is not going to work. Yao should realize it earlier and should attack the basket more himself. Somehow, Von is not shooting as well when he was starting in place of T-Mac a while back. And Battier is still in a slump.

  2. James Says:

    Regarding complaints that Yao needs to get the ball more often, Matt Bullard pointed out that it's a two-way street — the Rockets do need to get Yao the ball more often, but Yao also has to be more willing to shoot it when he does get the ball. I completely agree. Many times Yao passes the ball back out TOO willingly, as if he's thinking too much or too hesitant to shoot the ball. I remember one time a journalist interviewed mainland Chinese fans about Yao, and some mentioned that Yao wasn't “jian jue” (determined, resolute in action) enough, and I often see what they mean.

    But I've been really impressed with Yao's defense in the past stretch of games. His shot-blocking skills have really improved and his defensive presence seems to be creating more havoc than usual.

  3. YaoMingMania Says:

    Good comment about Yao's tendency to pass it out too much. I'm thinking he may be a little gun shy to fiddle with it too much when the defense collapses on him because of all the turnovers he can cough upt. So it's kind of double-edged sword. But if the man Yao passes it to has an open shot, then that guy should take it. One problem is that Shane Battier is not a reliable enough shooter to make the defense pay. But Brooks, Wafer, Scola, Landry, and Barry are.

  4. Jeff Says:

    Idleman does not need a big guy in his system. What he needs are perimeter shooters. A big guy slows down his up-tempo system. He is too old to absorb new elements in his system to accommodate a big guy.

    Therefore, Yao has to move on as long as Idleman is in Houston. Yao should be improving his game gradually. But instead, he is declining from 25 points per game to not even 20 in this season. It is not because of Yao's skills, but because of the Idleman system. Move on! The sooner, the better!

  5. Harlem Choi Says:

    I agree. Rick Idleman MUST GO! I say bring in Avery Johnson!

  6. Harlem Choi Says:

    I agree. Rick Idleman MUST GO! I say bring in Avery Johnson!

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