After the disappointment of watching the Rockets fall apart against the Jazz for what seems like eons ago (last Tuesday), we knew they would come out strong against the Clippers Saturday night considering 1) they’re much better at beating teams they should beat given the changes to the roster during the All-Star break, and 2) all the practices they’ve been able to get in over the past 3 days might get rid of some of the bad habits they suddenly developed in Utah.
Add in the fact that Marcus Camby and Baron Davis were out because of injury or health reasons, and it made it that much easier for the Rockets. The game was essentially over in the first quarter as Houston opened up a 30-12 lead, and won convincingly 110-93.
Yao Ming shows Chris Kaman he still can’t stop him. Click here for more game photos.
So who was the catalyst in that first quarter to open up a lead they wouldn’t relinquish? Aaron Brooks with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, which helped propel the Rockets to a 22-point second-quarter lead. But the Clips would go an on 11-2 run late in Q2 to cut it to 49-36, and you had to think the Rockets were in for more of a dogfight the rest of the way.
But Brooks would close out the quarter hitting two 3-pointers sandwiched around a Luis Scola bucket, capping a 9-0 run. That gave them a commanding 57-36 lead heading into halftime. A.B. would lead all scorers at that time with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-5 from three-point land.
Is having a point guard who can score such a bad thing?
Brooks wasn’t all alone, though. Yao had an excellent half himself with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, hit all 5 of his free throws, and grabbed 12 boards. He would only need to take 3 more shots the rest of the way, finishing with 21 on 7-of-11 shots, 7-of-8 from the line, 15 boards, and no turnovers!
It was obvious the Rockets had worked in their recent practices on getting Yao the ball in different positions. They seemed more organized and methodical in their half-court sets.
“We’re trying to move the ball, change sides of the court, get the ball to Yao, kind of on the move, rather than just stationary,” coach Rick Adelman said after the game. “But if Yao’s not there, we have to attack someplace else and I thought we did that.”
I like that phrase, “get the ball to Yao, kind of on the move.” I just wish it hadn’t taken this long. That’s been obvious to me for quite some time.
Except for some ill-advised 3-pointers from Ron Artest (1-for-4 from 3-point land in the first half), who seems at times NOT to get the idea of shooting high-percentage shots a la McGrady, Houston executed well against an undermanned and less experienced Clipper team.
But unlike McGrady, just when you think Artest is going to completely implode the entire night, he’ll actually start hitting those threes! Artest would hit 2-of-2 the rest of the way to finish 3-of-6 from behind the arc, and close out the game with 13 points on 5-of-16 from the field.
Although Artest has struggled from the field the past 2 games, Shane Battier has picked up the slack, going Saturday night a perfect 4-for-4 from the field with 2 treys, along with a couple of nice moves in the low post. 15 points, 4 boards, and 4 assists for Batter makes you think the Rockets’ chances in the playoffs will lift significantly if this holds up.
I don’t really mind Artest scoring only 13 points in this game if he doesn’t go hog-wild with too many shot attempts (like the 22 he attempted in Utah), because it does lend to more balanced scoring. Six different Rockets scored in double figures: all the starters, including Luis Scola (13 points on 6-of-9 shots), plus Von Wafer, who bounced back nice from the Utah game with 11 points on 5-of-8 shots.
All of this led to Houston opening up a 30-point lead in the third. You just hoped no one would get hurt as the Rockets closed it out and looked to Phoenix on Wednesday night.
I couldn’t help but resist and shift my attention to the Phoenix-Utah game being played. Not only to see how Phoenix is playing before the Rockets play them on Wednesday, but to see if Utah could lose to drop in the standings and hopefully distance themselves from a 1st round matchup with the Rockets in the playoffs.
Sneaking a look at Suns-Jazz
Phoenix looked like they were no match as they fell behind by 21 points in the third, and trailed 11 points entering the fourth quarter. Being behind late IN UTAH for any team…well, you might as well as shut it down. But to my amazement, Phoenix came back and even took a seemingly insurmountable 7-point lead with about 2 minutes remaining in the game.
But some stupid mistakes, like Grant Hill fumbling a pass out of bounds with less than 30 seconds remaining, gave Utah new life and a chance to tie it up, WHICH DERON WILLIAMS DID to send it into overtime! Then in OT, Hill would foul Kirilenko on a 3-pointer, turning it into a 4-point play and giving the Jazz the momentum they needed to pull out a miracle win.
Jeez, it seems like no one can put Utah away in their own gym! So if you’re a frustrated Houston fan who hates the Jazz, don’t worry. You’re not alone.
It’s still way too early to determine if this victory gets the Rockets one step closer to playing the Jazz in the first round. That’s because the teams are so bunched up, each game the standings change. The chart below explains it better than I can. Keep in mind #4 and #5 play each other, as do #3 and #6, and #2 and 7.