There would be no amazing comeback victory in Salt Lake Tuesday night like there was in San Antonio on Sunday. The Rockets were discombobulated in so many facets of the game, they must have lost their composure somewhere between San Antonio, Houston and Utah.
First, Yao Ming and Ron Artest didn’t step up like you would expect your two best players to do in a game this big. They did against the Spurs, but not in the altitude of Salt Lake.
Artest was 5-for-22 for 13 points, taking it into the paint and putting up difficult shots or getting his shot blocked. The same goes for Yao, who not only missed 10-of-16 shots to score only 14 points, but seemed to have a hard time getting his shot off in the paint.
Utah’s Paul Millsap blocks Yao Ming’s shot.
Click here for more photos from the game.
I give Artest and Yao credit for attacking the basket for higher percentage shots or increasing the chances of getting fouled, but I can’t remember the last time the Rockets got blocked 12 times in a game before. I don’t know if that sets any kind of record, but when 13% of your 92 shots get blocked, it has to get in your head and make you rush your shots, thinking it’s going to get blocked again.
In my opinion, that’s clearly what happened as the Rockets shot only 35% from the floor, exceeded even by their 39% shooting from 3-point land where they had more breathing room against shot blockers like Mehmet Okur (4), Paul Milsap (3), and Andrei Kirilenko (2).
No one knows how much a difference Carl Landry and the way he attacks the basket would have made in a game like this, but because of some idiots in Houston with a gun, we won’t every really know. Side note: I hope they find those scumbags, lock them up, and throw away the key.
As much scrutiny Aaron Brooks may get for not being a ‘traditional’ point guard who passes first and shoots second, the fact is without his scoring punch (20 points on 8-of-17 shots), this game would have been a blowout much earlier on.
Keep in mind that Daryl Morey and the Rockets brass made the decision that they want that kind of player at the point rather than Rafer Alston, who was so inconsistent you didn’t know what kind of game you were going to get.
Brooks didn’t lobby for the starting guard position, nor demand it. He is still evolving as a player, but what he brings to this team now is still so much better than what JVG would have done by bringing in some old guy who couldn’t score and was way past their prime. Remember Mark Jackson? I’ll take a young player like Brooks any day, and his 16-5 record as a starter since the All-Star break speaks volumes.
I just wish Yao had kept shooting jumpers where he had some success, rather than trying to put it up among Utah’s shot blockers. People may wonder why he didn’t get the ball more, but I strongly believe if you have guys who can run on the break, and you’ve got a legitimate opportunity to do it, you do it because it increases your odds of scoring immensely. That’s been the key to their success since the All-Star break. And it worked pretty well for other teams who had big men who couldn’t run and keep up with the gazelles. Remember Kareem and the Showtime Lakers?
When a center like Yao is being double-teamed, and he’s having a hard time getting his shot off against a swarming defense or shot blockers, you don’t keep forcing it in there. You adapt. Your other players should attack the basket or kick it out to your perimeter shooters. If you don’t, you’re going to lose.
There were times when the Rockets had nice stretches of scoring and defensive stands, but many times their shooting went south for huge chunks of time (like when they missed 11 shots in a row), or they made egregious defensive lapses letting guys score easily on dunks and layups, with Yao, Artest and Von Wafer three of the culprits.
So much inconsistency in one game is not going to get it done. I’m happy that Yao got 4 blocks, but none of them were really game changers. It seemed every time the Rockets would get the ball after a block and went on a fast break, they would miss the shot, force up a shot in traffic, or turn it over.
Wafer and Kyle Lowry had an especially difficult night putting the ball in the hoop, shooting 2-for-7 and 0-for-6 respectively. Throw in Brent Barry’s 0-for-3 shooting, and you’ve got an uncharacteristic bad shooting night for a bench that has performed so well this season, getting outscored 34-11.
Amazingly the Rockets out-rebounded the Jazz 13-3 on the offensive boards, but they never really did anything with it. There were 2 possessions in a row where Yao really worked hard to grab O.R.’s, but I don’t think any score resulted from it. And 5 of those 13 boards came on ONE possession where Chuck Hayes eventually scored with a little baby hook.
On the bright side, Luis Scola shot decent (4-for-9 for 10 points). But the best player by far for the Rockets was Shane Battier, who was an offensive juggernaut who scored 18 points, including 4-of-7 three pointers, and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. I also loved how he stole the ball from former Duke teammate Carlos Boozer when Booz inbounded the ball, then took it strong to get fouled, and then proceeded to hit both free throws. That was complete hustle.
But Deron Williams (19 point), Boozer (13), Paul Milsap (15), Ronnie Brewer (17), and Okur (12) showed they will continue to be a tough matchup for the Rockets if they are to meet in the playoffs.
But now is not the time for the Rockets or their fans to hide in the corner hoping the Jazz won’t face them in the first round. It’s time for the Rockets to realize that although they have made tremendous strides this season, they still have lots of work to do if they’re going to get past the Jazz this time around. If they don’t, then this season will take a huge blow when it comes down to deciding if it was a success or not.
I for one wouldn’t mind them facing the Jazz because it will force everyone of them, from the head coach to the last guy on the bench, to prepare better and perform with more intensity.