The Rockets’ locker room after the game was dead silent after their 108-94 loss to L.A. to lose home court advantage in their playoff series. Yao was sitting there with his feet in a bucket of ice, looking straight ahead at the floor dejected. We all knew there was a problem with his foot or ankle as everyone saw in the fourth quarter as he hobbled around, but I felt a little better when I saw Shane Battier with his feet in a bucket of ice, too. This is a routine for some of the players, so maybe it’s not too big of a deal…at least I’m hoping it’s not.
Yao said after the game he doesn’t remember exactly when he hurt his foot or ankle, but it was sometime in the second quarter, and it kept getting worse as the game wore on. I doubt it was one of the reasons why he missed a few point-blank layups and dunks, though. We thought those kinds of games were long gone from Yao. Even with those missed opportunities, he was just one shot shy of shooting 50%, hitting 6-of-14 for 19 points.
Yao Ming’s left ankle or foot was hurting at the end of Game 3.
Click here for more photos of Yao nursing his foot.
So we all wait with baited breath to hear what the prognosis is for Yao’s ankle (or foot) on Saturday. He said he is going to do a “running test” in the morning. Hopefully this simple routine test along with maybe some customary X-rays or whatever doesn’t turn into something major like last year when he was going to get a simple MRI on his foot because of some minor pain, only to have it turn out to be a stress fracture that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
That’s the last thing we need to hear after he had such a relatively healthy season, thinking he was out of the woods for awhile when it comes to foot and lower leg injuries.
Assuming Yao is going to be okay to play on Sunday in Game 4, let’s talk a little bit about what the team’s problems are that need to be fixed. I still see too many offensive sets that confound me: like Yao setting up on the weak side while either Ron Artest or Luis Scola are posting up (which is fine), but then Yao parking himself on the weakside or along the weakside baseline with 1 or 2 defenders between him and the ball, taking himself completely out of the play as an offensive option. WTF?
Even Rick Adelman told ESPN after the 3rd quarter that Yao had to move and be more active and not take himself out of the play like that. So maybe it’s not the sets. Maybe it’s Yao not doing enough, which is difficult to fathom. And we really can’t blame the injured foot/ankle because we’ve seen Yao struggling to get open, especially when he’s being fronted. So this is really the first time I’ve heard so explicitly Adelman saying that Yao’s got to do more. Wow.
The way these plays develop remind me so much of the offensively-challenged Kelvin Cato doing the same thing back in the Steve Francis era, waiting for either Francis or Cuttino Mobley to take it into the paint and dish off at the last second for a dunk to him, or waiting for an alley-oop pass.
C’mon. Yao’s better than that. Those kinds of plays are designed for big men who can’t shoot and have only one option to score: dunk. Plus, I just don’t understand when I go to the pre-game shootaround like I did a couple of hours before the game, Yao drills jumper after jumper from about 20 feet, THEN NEVER USES IT except maybe once per game, which he didn’t even do Friday night.
All things considered, at halftime things weren’t too bad with the Rockets trailing 50-48. Sure, they had 11 turnovers that led to 14 Laker points, but it could have been worse. The Rockets were shooting 49% after a nice first quarter where they hit 58%. The only problem is that they let the Lakers shoot 61% in the first quarter, and didn’t build a big lead when they had to chance to capitalize on LA’s 7-of-23 shooting in the 2nd quarter.
Here’s something you don’t see very often. Yao contesting a Kobe Bryant jumper out at the 3-point line. Bryant would miss the shot. Click here for more game photos.
Not building a lead came back to haunt them in the 3rd quarter when they hit only 6-of-25 shots for only 14 points, and couldn’t really put the clamps down on LA in the 4th to gain ground. They did whittle the lead down to 6 points with 4:15 remaining, but then Jordan Farmar hit a jumper, Ron Artest missed 2 jumpers, Yao missed a turnaround, and then Kobe Bryant hit a three to make it 95-84 with 2:21 remaining.
Artest would cut it to 102-94 when he hit a 3-pointer with 47.2 seconds remaining, still too big of a deficit to overcome, and right after that is when Artest got the “flagrant-2” foul called against him for fouling Gasol on a breakaway dunk attempt. But at that point, I think making up 8 points in that little of time was really improbable, so I wasn’t that upset Artest got ejected from the game. Alot of people seemed to be talking about it after the game, though. And I’m not concerned about Artest getting suspended for Game 4. It wasn’t that bad of a foul. Nowhere near Bryan’s elbowing Artest in the neck in Game 2, and he got off easy on that. There ain’t no way the NBA is going to suspend Artest for Game 4, or Stu Jackson will be public enemy #1 in Houston.
L.A. only turning the ball over 6 times compared to Houston’s 17 TO’s leading to 20 points was huge, with Aaron Brooks turning it over 3 times and Ron Artest 4 times. That’s actually par for the course for the Rockets this season against the Lakers — they’ve averaged 18.6 in their 7 games against the Lakers this season.
Houston’s 56-43 rebounding advantage wasn’t enough, the first 50-rebound game they’ve had in the post-season, and the first time they’ve out-rebounded an opponent in the playoffs and did NOT win. They also had a 50-32 scoring advantage in the paint, the most they’ve scored in the paint in the playoffs.
Another problem is they let the Lakers hit 11-of-20 three-pointers, the second-highest total against the Rockets at home this season.
Yao describes in the 1-minute press conference video below what happened in his mind. He also talks about his foot injury:
Here’s a photo I took in the media room during the same press conference:
After the game, I asked Carl Landry (4-of-7 for 10 points) how often a bad game like this would happen during the regular season, and he said maybe once every 20 games or so. I can believe that, especially after the All-Star break when I can only remember 1 or 2 games where they couldn’t get it going. What a time for this kind of performance to have happened.
This was such a surprise with all the energy and motivation the Rockets had coming into this game from their fans, ready to get payback on Bryant for elbowing Artest, and Fisher plowing down Scola. They didn’t harness or channel this energy to take them to a higher level. No one in Houston saw this coming. They thought for sure that a win in Game 3 was almost a lock.
Has doubt now crept into their mind if they can win this series? I’m sure there’s some of that. But one thing about this Rockets team we know for sure: they are resilient and will have a much better showing Sunday afternoon. If it’s not good enough to win, then this series is just about over.
Von Wafer really worked up a sweat during the pre-game shootaround. His t-shirt was soaked as he went 1-on-1 with James White for quite a long time. I thought it was a little strange for a player to be working so hard just a couple of hours before the game. Maybe it’s that same kind of work ethic that has finally landed him where he is. Or maybe that’s one reason why he went 2-for-10 in the game and scored 9 points.
Trevor Ariza‘s 3-pointers (3-of-4), 13 points, and 4 steals were killers. The Rockets got away with Portland’s Travis Outlaw having a poor series, but they’re going to have to play much better to overcome double-digit scoring from Ariza and all their starters: Odom 16, Gasol 13, Farmar 12, and you-know-who 33. What’s unfortunate is that they still won with Bryant making only 11-of-28 shots, and was only 3-for-9 in the fourth quarter.