It wasn’t pretty. It took 2 OTs for Houston to beat a Detroit team without its top scorers (Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton). The Rockets were lethargic at first, letting the Pistons out-hustle them for offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Detroit hung around long enough to threaten all the good karma Houston had built since the All-Star break beating most teams they should beat.
But the talent and energy of Houston’s roster finally prevailed in the 2nd overtime of a 3-hour game (ending at 11:41pm), finally pulling away with a 106-101 victory to go 45-25 on the year.
Like most wins these days in the thick of the playoff race, it was a huge victory. Earlier in the evening, Denver had beaten Memphis to take a half-game lead over Houston at 45-25 to take over 3rd place in the West. By the time Houston closed the deal over Detroit, the Rockets had tied the Nuggets with the same record.
Four Rocket players rose up at different times that made the difference.
First, we’ve got to start off with Yao, who scored 31 points on 13-of-22 shooting in 45 minutes of action. He also racked up 15 boards and had 4 blocks.
He scored 8 of the Rockets’ 24 points in the 2 OTs, with his turnaround jumper as automatic as I’ve ever seen it. He’s been hitting that shot from the right post so regularly with such a sweet touch, it’s the most Hakeem-like play I’ve seen Yao master in my 7 years of watching him. He has such confidence in that shot — like Dream had with his turnaround J — every time it swishes through the net, it has to demoralize the opposing team.
Although it would have been nice to have seen the Rockets milk that shot of Yao’s more often since he was being defended man-to-man most of the time, at least they went to him more times than I’ve seen in the past during crunch time. Just imagine how much more Yao would score if starting small forward Shane Battier was a threat offensively that the defense had to respect. Battier took only 1 shot in 44 minutes of play!
Ron Artest had a solid game scoring 26 points on a decent 11-of-24 shooting. Many times late in the game he would take it to the hole and score, like he should. He seems to have learned more since the All-Star break that he can’t get rely on the 3-pointer or outside shot all the time, especially when it’s not falling (he only took 4 shots from 3-point land, missing one of them). That’s something he has learned in the course of the season, unlike Tracy McGrady, who seemed to forget all the time.
Aaron Brooks came up big with 14 points on 4-of-8 shots, with no shot being bigger than the 3-pointer to start the second overtime, giving the team some breathing room to play a little looser and take a 10-point lead. The Pistons would cut the lead down to 3 points, but Brooks would come through with 4 straight free throws after being intentionally fouled twice. Those FTs alone are shots I would always be afraid that Rafer Alston couldn’t drain, but AB did what point guards should do — hit their throws with the game on the line.
Luis Scola also became a clutch player in the fourth quarter after the Rockets fell behind. Alot of people probably didn’t notice, but Adelman put him in the game after getting upset about Yao not staying down low in the paint, letting Will Bynum score more easily to give the Pistons a 5-point lead early in the fourth.
Scola would deliver with shifty moves down low in the paint DURING CRUNCH TIME and showed he can be a legitimate scoring option when the Rockets really need a bucket. It’s always good to have more options when the matchups aren’t favoring Yao, Brooks or Artest.
With Landry being out because of the terrible circumstances regarding his gunshot wound, the Rockets really missed his athleticism on the boards. Detroit seemed to be getting the offensive boards all night long, grabbing 21 for the game. As great as Yao’s rebound count was (15), he only had 2 on the offensive glass, obviously because he’s not the best jumper, doesn’t have the quickest reflexes, and his hands aren’t reminiscent of Dennis Rodman’s or Ben Wallace’s.
In comparison, other Rockets’ big men have better offensive rebounding ratios: Scola’s 6 boards included 3 offensive, Chuck Hayes‘ 5 rebounds included 3 ORs, and Artest’s 4 boards included 2 ORs.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not complaining. Similar to how Brooks may not be the best assist man for a point guard (yet), Yao Ming makes up for it in so many ways, being more of a go-to guy in crunch time, a no-brainer of a first option for all his teammates when he’s being single-covered.
That’s what he was late in the fourth quarter, scoring 7 points in a row to get the Rockets’ lead back and help send the game to the OTs where Yao would score 8 more points and the Rockets would take care of business.