I have to admit the Rockets’ decimation of the New Orleans Hornets Monday surprised me. I thought with all that was at stake for the Hornets in regards to playoff positioning, there would be much more of a fight.
But something happened along the way. The Rockets played one of their finest games of the season, out-hustling the Hornets on the boards 46-37, dishing 21 assists on their way to 34 field goals, holding an opponent to a season low in points, and they now find themselves only 1 game away from winning the Southwest Division over the Spurs since the 1993-94 season.
Yao Ming dominated the Hornets’ front line with 22 points in
31 minutes. Click here for more photos from the game.
Full of confidence they can handle their division rivals to the east, they turned CP3 more into CP3O (or the much shorter r2d2?), holding Chris Paul to 9 points and 7 assists in about 30 minutes of action. Paul normally shoots 51% from the field against the rest of the league, but in the 2 games against Houston since the Rafer Alston trade, Aaron Brooks and Kirk Lowry have held him to 41% shooting.
Case in point: I loved the block that Lowry had on CP3 midway through the second quarter on a fast break, tracking him down, jumping high and blocking it at the peak of Paul’s leap. Lowry would block him again from behind later in the second quarter, but the refs blew the call by blowing a whistle on Lowry for a foul, which was bogus.
It doesn’t really matter much that Brooks and Lowry would score 5 and 4 points respectively. They held Paul to the sum of their collective points to neutralize him. You can’t ask for much more than that when playing an All-Star like Paul.
The game was pretty much in hand for the Rockets when they went on an 18-0 run WITH THEIR RESERVES to take a 43-31 lead in the second quarter. The Rockets would extend it to 20+ points in the third quarter, the Hornets would miss 17 of 18 shots during a big stretch, and the Rockets rolled the rest of the way.
Yao Ming started off hot hitting baseline jumpers and jump hooks guarded one-on-one by a Tyson Chandler-less defense. Without their 7-footer around to contest Yao on the block or in the paint, Yao would have his way with Melvin Ely, scoring 22 points on 8-of-13 shots, grabbing 7 boards, and blocking 2 shots (including an awesome rejection of Sean Marks who challenged Yao at the rim on a dunk attempt) before being pulled halfway through the fourth quarter after logging a little over 31 minutes for the game.
Losing Chandler to an injury has really hurt the Hornets down the stretch, who have now lost now 5 of their last 7 games. But give the Rockets’ defense credit for holding the Hornets to 13 points in the second quarter and 11 points in the third on their way to locking them down to 35% shooting overall.
The Rockets’ probably would have had a bigger halftime lead than 47-35 if Ron Artest hadn’t had such a bad first half, hitting only 1-of-9 shots and 2-of-13 overall for 9 points. Except for an amazing play in the 3rd quarter where he came around a curl and caught a Shane Battier bounce pass to throw it down one-handed, there were several possessions where he tried to take over, did too much dribbling, and put up bad shots that missed.
But the Rockets are so balanced offensively, they can actually withstand a little bit of Artest’s ballhoggish-ness. Not McGrady-like ballhoggish-ness, but Artest’s? You bet.
For example, Von Wafer is showing the Rockets don’t miss McGrady’s scoring punch, coming in with instant offense once again to score 9 points, starting with the final shot of the first quarter, and extending his hot streak with 7 more points in the second. He was the main guy who ignited the offense during their 18-0 run.
Von can get to the hole at any time with that slashing ability of his, like he did twice during that big scoring run. He’s one of the quickest guys his size I’ve seen get to the rack. When he turns on the jets, it’s almost impossible to stop him. You can’t teach athleticism like that. Wafer would finish 13 points on 6-of-11 shots. All I know is the Rockets better back up the Brinks truck for Von if they want to keep him after this season.
Then you’ve got Shane Battier picking up more of the scoring slack lately by racking up 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including two 3-pointers, and a nice tip-in off a Yao miss where Shane hustled along the baseline and extended his arm in mid-air from underneath the rim. He also had two very impressive blocks, one rejection coming against David West near the rim, and the other chasing down Rasual Butler on a fast break to block it from behind. I thought I was watching Tayshaun Prince tracking down Reggie Miller for a second!
Throw in Carl Landry’s 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, Luis Scola’s 8 points, and the Rockets can still handle a bad shooting night from one of their top players.
At least Artest would make all 5 of his free throw attempts and would dish a team-high 5 assists.
The Rockets confidence is so high right now, it will be fun to watch them at Dallas Wednesday night for what should be the most anticipated game of the season for Rocket fans. It will be the closest thing to a playoff game this team will face so far this season.
Win that game and they win the division for the first time in 15 years and ensure home court in the first round of the playoffs. But winning at home against a wounded Hornets team is one thing. Beating a team in their own gym that’s trying to avoid a first round match-up against the Lakers is another.