You probably couldn’t have picked a worse game for Yao Ming to not play because of flu-like symptoms: a game against a division rival right on their heels with several teams right behind them bunched together vying for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Without Yao, the Rockets sucked it up and won one of their biggest wins of the season (they all seem to be huge these days, don’t they?). It didn’t look like they had a chance at one point: the Rockets’ offense and defense stunk it up as New Orleans went on a 22-3 run stretching from the end of the 2nd quarter to the start of the 3rd.
The Rockets missed 13 of 15 shots during that span, and after the Hornets scored on 3 straight alley-oop dunks, it looked like it was going to be a blowout.
Ron Artest was terrible, missing his first 11 shots, and I could hear the Ron-Ron critics come out of the woodworks. But being the warrior he is, he stopped settling for jump shots, started attacking the basket, and got it rolling to spark a 95-84 comeback win.
Artest would finish with 18 points, all scored in the second half. You’ve got to give credit to a guy who has that much mental strength and fortitude to overcome such a poor start.
But it wasn’t just Artest who stepped up: 5 other players scored in double-figures to show just how balanced the Rockets can be. Aaron Brooks (14), Luis Scola (14), Carl Landry (12), Von Wafer (12), and shockingly Shane Battier (11 points).
Although he was 1-for-6 from the 3-point line, Battier finally got aggressive by posting up in the lane more, and taking it to the basket and getting fouled where he went 4-for-4 from the line.
If Battier just scores 10 points per game like he was doing before he came to the Rockets from Memphis, then that will really help take alot of pressure off the other players, including Artest, to pick up the slack.
Major props go to Dikembe Mutombo filling in for Yao. Although he scored only 1 point, his 3 blocked shots — all against Julian Wright — were nice to see to get into the Hornets’ head. His 8 rebounds in 24 1/2 minutes didn’t hurt, either.
Dikembe Mutombo blocks the shot of Julian Wright, one of 3 blocks he would have against Wright on the night. Click here for more photos from the game.
Other notable stats: Wafer had 5 assists. Scola filled the gap left by Yao’s absence by grabbing 12 boards. The Rockets got back to their good free throw shooting ways, hitting 27-of-31 from the line. Brooks scored 9 points in the first quarter, didn’t take a shot in the second quarter (hardly even handled the ball), but got back to being aggressive and scoring 5 in the second half. That gave AB a respectable showing against Chris Paul, who finished with 29 points on 9-of-21 shots. And through great defense on almost all of their other players, holding the Hornets to 39.7% shooting, the Rockets were able to overcome Yao not being there.
Houston is now only 1 1/2 games behind San Antonio (who lost to Oklahoma City Monday night!) for the 2nd seed in the playoffs, but only a game ahead of Portland for the 5th seed, 1 1/2 games ahead of New Orleans for 6th, and 2 games ahead of Utah for the 7th. Every game continues to be HUGE, with Detroit coming into Houston on Wednesday. Although the Rockets did well without Yao Monday night, they need him from here on out.