What a Wednesday night! The Rockets did so many things right that they’ve done wrong this season, like making plays in crunch time. And doing it against the world champion LA Lakers. Although the Lakers have lost 4 in a row, the first time that’s happened since April 2007, it still counts as Houston’s finest win of the season. And it comes only two days after getting torn up in Dallas, putting them in one of their deepest valleys in this tumultuous season. The question now is if they can keep it up, especially after disappointing their fans several times this season after encouraging victories.
If they don’t, at least we can enjoy the memory of a full crowd at Toyota Center sticking around — and standing and cheering — until the very end of a game. It reminded me of the playoff game atmosphere from a couple of seasons ago when they won 3 games at home in front of electrified home crowds to take the Lakers to 7 games. Fans were high-fiving each other and jumping up-and-down. That’s what we live for, and we haven’t had much of it this season.
Houston fans also received good news before the game that Yao, who participated in a shootaround with the team before Wednesday’s game, may be able to get back to action next Tuesday night against Detroit. And Aaron Brooks got in some court action, too, and may return 3 days after Yao against Milwaukee. Just the THOUGHT of having those guys on the practice court with target return dates had to give their beleaguered team a lift before facing the Lakers.
But the man of the hour was Shane Battier, who went on a tear to score 11 points in a row in the final 3 minutes of the game to overcome a 97-94 lead the Lakers had built. You know a performance like that from Shane won’t happen again anytime soon, but the Rockets will take a player who steps up in crunch time any way they can get it.
Shane Battier defends against Kobe Bryant, but in the end, it was Shane’s offense in the last 3 minutes that gave Kobe and the Lakers trouble. Click here for more photos from the game.
And Shane did most of his damage after halftime, not making a bucket the entire first half. The 3-pointers he hit were huge, of course, bringing down the house and befuddling the Lakers. But the most amazing shot for Shane during his run came after Kobe fell down trying to defend him, and in Kobe-like style, Battier took advantage of his mistake, dribbled once, and put up a tough shot with his body still moving somewhat, and drained it! He basically created his own shot without having any time to think about it — that’s not how Battier does it! You know when that shot went in, the Rockets were destined to win, and they did so by going on a 22-6 run to end the game.
My rule-of-thumb from a few seasons ago continues to prove me right: if Battier scores, the Rockets win. There’s probably no other stat from any player on the roster that’s correlated more to the Rockets winning games than that one.
From a team perspective, it’s no surprise that when the Rockets hit more 3-pointers than their opponent, they win. That was the case again Wednesday night, hitting 10-of-22 (46%) compared to 5-of-16 for LA.
I’ve been thinking this season that people have overreacted and overestimated how good the Lakers are. Sure, they’re good, but people forget that Boston almost took them last year in the Finals with no Kendrick Perkins in Game 7, Kobe had a terrible game in that game, they were saved by Ron Artest (who had 4 points against Houston Wednesday night) having the game of his life in that Game 7, and the refs started making calls completely different in the 4th quarter from what they had called in the previous three. If Perkins had played, Artest hadn’t shown up, or the refs had stayed consistent, people might be thinking the Lakers are good, but not that good. All of a sudden with that win, they have become larger than life, and everyone now thinks they are better than what they really are. But hey, at least it makes for good theater, and if a victory over the “back-to-back” champions helps create more confidence for Houston, I’m all for it.
One key point of the game that gave Houston hope was when they went on a 13-2 run at the end of the first half to cut the lead to one point before Kobe hit a jumper at the buzzer to give LA a 56-53 halftime lead. Without that, I think the Rockets would have gone into halftime with much less confidence. FoxSports Houston reported at halftime they could hear a lot of energy and yelling (the good kind) coming out of Rockets’ locker room, emboldened by what they had done to close out the half. Perhaps that finish to close-out the first half propelled them to excel in the second half.
Jordan Hill did a much better job in the second half on Pau Gasol, who only scored 8 points in the game on 2-of-8 shooting. Hill outscored him with 10 points. By cultivating Hill through the first 17 games of the season, perhaps the Rockets have found their athletic big who can go up against the best of them. No better way to make Houston fans forget about not signing Erick Dampier. I love how Hill, a throw-in to the Tracy McGrady/Kevin Martin deal, is surprising people with his progress. Just a few weeks ago people were thinking the kid was a bust. You have to give Rick Adelman credit for giving him playing time, and Daryl Morey and his staff credit for acquiring him as an afterthought to the McGrady deal last year.
And you have to give credit to the much maligned Houston bench, who outscored LA’s bench 40-30.
– So Wednesday night a 5-12 Texas team (Houston) beats a 13-5 LA team. Strangely on the same night, a 4-14 LA team (Clippers) beat a very good 15-2 Texas team (San Antonio). It was a night for the underdogs. Anything can happen any given night in the NBA.
– When I saw Kobe warming up with the red-and-white shooting shirt for Wednesday’s World AIDS day, it made me think what he would have looked like as a Rocket. It also made me think back to a few years ago when the Rockets had a chance to trade McGrady for Kobe when he was disenchanted with LA and was thinking of leaving. Just image how much of Houston and LA’s fate might have changed over the past few years if that trade had occurred!