No one really knew what to expect Thursday night before Game 6 between the Rockets and Blazers. Would the Rockets step up and finally show their fans and the world that they are for real? Or would the pressure of potentially blowing another two-game lead in a series be their downfall, and undoubtedly change how this team is constituted during the off-season?
Yao Ming posterizes Joel Przybilla near the end of the second quarter on the way to one of the most inspiring games of Yao’s NBA career.
After all, twelve years for the Rockets to win a playoff series is a long, long time, and the natives were getting restless. Just think, a Houston kid who entered the first grade in 1997 could have gone through all of elementary school, junior high, and graduate as a senior in high school and never have seen the Rockets win a playoff series. That would leave any fan skeptical they could close the deal Thursday.
Well, the Rockets smashed all doubts (at least for a few nights) that they can play their best in a huge playoff game to ultimately win a series. Thursday night they got off to a good start, led by 15 points at halftime, and never relinquished the lead as their defense clamped down, holding the Blazers to 42% shooting and no more than 20 points each quarter. It was a milestone victory that could change how this team is perceived for years, putting a little skip in the step of their fans, and themselves, for the next few days before Game 1 against the Lakers Monday night.
With this win, I was GLADLY proven wrong about my prediction that the Rockets would lose the series. But even the most ardent fans who predicted the Rockets would win it have got to admit that after they lost Game 5 in Portland through yet another late-game collapse, everyone had doubts about the Rockets’ ability to win Thursday’s Game 6. Portland had the momentum, and you had to guess which Houston team was going to show up when they absolutely needed a win to avoid an almost certain loss in a Game 7 in Portland.
Also with this win is the fact that the future of some Rocket players who I thought were “on the bubble” of not returning if they had lost the series most likely WILL be back, assuming they are competitive against the Lakers. Those players who I thought were most at risk were Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks, and Shane Battier. They don’t have to win the Lakers series to solidify their standing, but just have a respectable performance so that the Rockets will really want to bring them back to see how far they can take them next season, that is, if they don’t win the championship this season. 😉
Yao goes up for a dunk after a great pass from Aaron Brooks, one of the best executed plays between Brooks and Yao during the entire series.
I’m still bitter that the Rockets lost that game against Dallas in the regular season that put them in the Lakers’ playoff bracket. That could have easily been avoided with a win against the Mavericks. HOWEVER, if you look at how well Denver is playing and how athletic they are, I don’t think Denver would have been that much easier of a matchup. So maybe the difficulty of having to play the Lakers is not THAT much different after all….at least that’s what I’m saying to myself to rationalize that somehow maybe that loss to Dallas wasn’t so bad.
I do think that now that the Rockets are only 1 of 8 teams in the playoffs, the spotlight will get more intense as more people start watching their games, and you know the majority of basketball fans will be rooting for them as the loveable underdog they hope can knock off the Goliaths in LA. That will mean a new generation of Rocket fans could be created by those casual fans getting to know more about Yao during this series, beyond what they’ve seen from him in funny American commercials.
Unless you were in Houston at Thursday night’s game or watching on a local TV station, it’s too bad that most of America couldn’t see the first half of the game because of the Bulls-Celtics game that went long because of 3 overtimes. Hey, I have no problem if TNT keeps a good game on, but for God’s sake, NBA TV should have picked up the first half of that game until the Chicago-Boston game was over on TNT.
I flipped over to NBA TV during that first half I was missing, and do you know what they were showing? A friggin’ press conference from the Orlando-Philadelphia game! C’mon NBA, you should have the right to decide on-the-fly to air games on your own channel for a sport that YOU control and own, even if another network has the supposed ‘rights’ to that game. The big losers in this game were Rockets and Blazer fans, some like me who probably saw some of the most inconsequential games of the season being the loyal fans that we are, but when it comes to seeing one of the biggest games of the season, we’re locked out from seeing it! Go figure!
The same people at the NBA who didn’t switch over to the Rockets game on NBA TV must be the same people who fined Rick Adelman FOUR days after he supposedly made a critical remark of the referees, and only deciding to do it after Nate McMillian was critical of the refs and decided to fine both to make it ‘fair.’
I’m sorry, but I don’t need to be seeing Ahmad Rashad telling me that Philadelphia’s interim head coach is coming to the podium while Houston is mounting a surge to put themselves up 10+ points on the Blazers in a pivotal game!
Sorry to vent, but somebody at NBA Entertainment has to get a clue that there are probably hundreds of thousands of people who were just like me wanting to watch an important playoff game that meant the most to THEM. No wonder NBA TV is considered inferior to the NFL Network from a programming and production perspective.
By the time the game came on around the 9 minute mark in the 3rd quarter, the Rockets were up by 17 points and it was just a matter of seeing if they could hold on to the lead. But let me recap what gave them that first-half lead in the first place, just in case you missed it.
Ron Artest finally had the breakout game we’ve been looking for in quite some time in this series, scoring 12 points in the first quarter to help give the Rockets a 21-19 lead, and 19 points in the first half on 7-of-11 shots. Throw in Yao’s 7 points by halftime on 3-of-6 shooting, 14 Houston bench points (Carl Landry – 6, Kyle Lowry – 4; Von Wafer – 4), and a defense that held Portland to 39% shooting in the first half, and Houston held a comfortable 52-37 halftime lead. If it hadn’t been for Brandon Roy scoring 12 points in the last 6 1/2 minutes of the second quarter, the lead could have been much bigger.
In the second half, the Rockets would push the lead to 20 points and it looked like it was going to be party time for fans in the stands and at home. But then like clockwork, the Houston offense started getting stagnant by settling for jump shots. They wouldn’t score for a stretch of 4 1/2 minutes in the 4th quarter, missing 6 jumpers in a row. But then Wafer hit a big jumper, and Artest got back to doing what he does well (but abandons quite frequently): he attacked the basket, missed a shot, but that was perfectly fine since Yao got the offensive board and flipped it in for the score, making it 78-63 with 7:01 left.
Aaron Brooks would then steal a bad pass from Steve Blake, and 17 seconds later he would hit a big 3-pointer to make it 81-68 would with 6:21 remaining. Crisis averted, and everyone in the building knew there would be no late-game collapse this time around.
For this game, Brooks was the stronger of the point guards (5-of-11 for 13 points, 5 rebounds in about 32 minutes) while Kyle Lowry was only 1-for-6 with 5 points. It seems to flip-flop on which point guard has the better game. If for some reason both have a bad game at the same time, I think that would be just too much for the Rockets to overcome to win any game.
Yao confers with Aaron Brooks during a break in the action.
Artest was phenomenal, more aggressive on offense, not taking as many stupid jumpers, and finishing with a game high 27 points on 11-of-21 shots. Hopefully Ron-Ron has all those bad shooting games out of his system for the rest of the playoffs, and he’ll be back to his old self starting Monday.
Yao was a man possessed throughout the game, intent on doing whatever it took to win. He caught Steve Blake from behind in the first half to block one of his layup attempts. He poked the ball away from a hard-charging Rudy Fernandez in the 3rd quarter, and then had that awesome posterization dunk on Joel Przybilla near the end of the 1st half. He even dove to the floor for a loose ball when the game seemed to be well in hand. It was one of the best games you could ever watch Yao play in which he ‘only’ scored 17 points on 8-of-16 shots, grabbed 10 boards, and had 2 blocks.
About that time he dove to the floor, Yao would say post-game:
“At that time, the way I feel, we were so close to the win. We believe that body language right there — sacrificing ourselves, get on the ground — that would just send a message to the rest of our teammates that we were close, really, really close.”
This was a “statement game” that Yao admitted was the biggest win of his NBA career, like I had thought earlier in the day he would admit. It was a game that had him so wired, he couldn’t get a full nap in earlier in the day, having it cut short by 1 1/2 hours because he was thinking of “game plans and technical problems.”
In a way, a triumph in this series is something I thought would be poetic justice if the Rockets could advance for the first time without McGrady around. Ever since McGrady reported to training camp out of shape, was forced to take 2 weeks off during the season to get himself in shape, then pulled the stunt where he decided to get knee surgery and didn’t even tell his employer who pays him $20+ million a year about it first, you had to hope the Rockets could pull though with a dramatic series win in this year’s playoffs after having endured so much drama during the McGrady era.
Yao hit the floor hard after a foul by Greg Oden. Yao was okay, though, and would continue to play on.
Speaking of McGrady, his worst nightmare must be coming true. Not only did his team advance to the second round without him, but he is now in an even more awkward position since HE PICKED THE LAKERS LAST WEEK TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP, MEANING HE DOESN’T THINK HIS VERY OWN TEAM IS GOOD ENOUGH TO BEAT THEM. Forget that he said he originally qualified it by saying something like “IF the Lakers beat the Rockets, they’ll win the championship,” because of some lousy excuse that his cellphone signal crapped out during the very moment in time he claims he said that. Just another long list of stupid things McGrady has said over the years. Has he been hanging out with Joe Biden?
Before closing this one out and moving on to thinking more about the Lakers in the coming days, I’ve got to say that I have a ton of respect for just about all the Portland players, and I feel bad that any team had to lose this series. They were real sportsmen. If the Rockets had beaten Utah, I could have cared less since just about everyone who is a Houston fan hates those guys. On the other hand, Nate McMillan is an excellent coach and seems like a calm, nice person, Brandon Roy has a ton of class, and I feel bad for Greg Oden who is a good guy, but had a bad game Thursday night by missing a dunk, turning the ball over in the post, scoring only 3 points, and didn’t have a good series overall.
But just like Hakeem got the better of Shaq in the 1995 NBA Finals when Shaq was still new and raw in the league, later in his career Shaq would get payback against Hakeem by dominating him as Dream entered the twilight of his career, and that’s what could happen with Oden and Yao in about 5 years. Until that happens, though, I’m ready to see Yao do some dominating over the next couple of weeks against the Lakers.