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Mistakes in Game 4 mean big changes could be 1 loss away

Sunday, April 27th, 2008
by John
Yao has continued to stay with his teammates in Utah leading up to Game 4 on Saturday night.  With the Rockets 86-82 loss to go down 3-1 in the series, it's not over yet, but Rocket fans can't wait until next year when they will hopefully play against Utah in the 2009 playoffs where they will have to contend against one of the best players in the league.Yao has continued to stay with his teammates in Utah leading up to Game 4 on Saturday night. With the Rockets 86-82 loss to go down 3-1 in the series, it’s not over yet, but Rocket fans can’t wait until next year when they will hopefully play against Utah in the 2009 playoffs where they will have to contend against one of the best players in the league. Click here for more photos from the game.

The Rockets lost Game 4 Saturday night because of stupid mistakes and terrible execution down the stretch. Bad officiating (as always) didn’t help them either.

Through Houston’s 86-82 loss on Saturday night and on the brink of elimination in yet another first round playoff series, I think many things became clear about what the Rockets need to do in the off-season with their personnel. I’ll save that for the end of this post.

But back to their performance in Game 4. They were stinking up the place in 3 different stretches of the game, but timely 3-pointers got them back into the game very quickly each time. However, every time they got close, they went brain dead and as a result, they didn’t deserve to win.

I’m sure you all saw it, but for those of you who didn’t…the final chance they had was when the Rockets were down by 82-80 and fouled Deron Williams intentionally with 7.3 seconds remaining to put him at the line. Unbelievably, Williams missed both free throws to give the Rockets a chance to win the game, BUT 3 ROCKETS FAILED TO REBOUND THE SECOND MISSED FREE THROW, LETTING MEHMET OKUR GET THE BOARD, FOULING HIM, AND SENDING HIM TO THE LINE!

Of course, Okur made sure the Jazz didn’t blow a golden opportunity like the Rockets had just done. He stepped to the line and both free throws, and now the Rockets are only 1 game away from their season ending once again in the first round of the playoffs.

What an embarrassing way to lose this game. That play is going to be played on Sportscenter over and over. It’s Jeff Van Gundy‘s most hated play in basketball – failing to get the rebound after a missed free throw. If there was ever one play that showed the Rockets miss Yao Ming, this was it! But my question – as well as everyone else’s question — is this: why wasn’t Dikembe Mutombo in the game to try to grab a potential missed free throw? That’s one of several questionable personnel decisions by Rick Adelman in this game.

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Rockets shock Jazz in Game 3

Friday, April 25th, 2008
by John

Yao and his teammates react to an important play late in Game 3 of the Rockets-Jazz playoff series, a game the Rockets won 94-92, in part because of late game heroics by rookie Carl Landry. Click here for more photos from the game, which include some of Yao.

Carl Landry has returned! The man who proved to be so valuable during the Rockets’ 22-game winning streak, and who we thought could be the X-factor in the playoffs, finally made the impact we thought he could in the Houston-Utah playoff series.

Landry came up big with a block of a Deron Williams‘s drive into the lane and field goal attempt that could have won the game for the Jazz. Instead, it was the Rockets who won a game on a court where only 3 other teams had beaten the Jazz all season long.

Landry’s block coupled with him saving the ball as it headed out of bounds with less than a second remaining in the game helped the Rockets escape the night with the 94-92 victory. If Landry hadn’t blocked Williams’ shot, then chances are that Carlos Boozer would have tipped the ball in for the win. That would have absolutely sucked since the Rockets had blown a 7-point lead in about 40 seconds leading up to that possession where Landry blocked Williams’ shot.

Landry had been so effective earlier in the game hustling for rebounds and loose balls (he finished with 11 rebounds total, 7 offensive, 7 points on 3-of-4 shooting, and 2 blocks), the Rockets were loving the impact he was making on the game that had been missing during the first two games of the series.

But when Carlos Boozer threw a cheap shot at him during a blockout for a rebound a few minutes before halftime, Landry was rushed to the locker room holding his face and it looked like the energizer was going to be out for the rest of the game. Just the Rockets’ luck as they were making a series of it, right?

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Yao makes trip to Utah

Thursday, April 24th, 2008
by John

I’m surprised to see that Yao made the trip to Salt Lake City for Game 3. Of course, he won’t play, but I guess he decided to go to provide his moral support in this do-or-die game since the Rockets are down 2-0 in the series.

Click here to see more photos from Yao’s shootaround on Thursday morning. Thanks always to Raymond for posting the pics.

As always, I’ll be providing a report after the game.

Refs rob Rockets in Game 2

Monday, April 21st, 2008
by John

I’m too frustrated to write much about Game 2 between the Rockets and Jazz Monday night. Bad ref calls were pervasive throughout the entire game, the worst being Kirilinko flopping 45 seconds remaining and the ref buying it right before Bobby Jackson hits a 3-pointer to tie the game, which didn’t end up counting. I’m reeeaaallly getting tired of the terrible officiating in this league.

After the game, I’m glad Adelman ripped into the refs for making that call in that part of the game. I have alot of respect for him calling the idiot refs out. Click here for the video from Adelman’s press conference. McGrady had similar thoughts at the end of his press conference, too (click for video).

Add in 10 more missed free throws and missed buckets around the rim (Chuck Hayes blew 2 more layups). Despite 3 great quarters, McGrady settling for jumpers in the fourth quarter…again. Luther Head doing nothing….again. The Rockets defense getting picked apart and not being able to stop the Jazz…just like last year. And hardly any playing time for Carl Landry (0 minutes in the second half) or Steve Novak (0 minutes overall).

So that’s it. I’m done for tonight. Just try to think how the man below who sat on the bench Monday night will help them this time next year (Click here and here for more photos from Monday night).

In the meantime, try to have a good laugh (if that’s possible) from the videos I posted below from last Thursday’s roast of Yao.

Homecourt advantage evaporates after Game 1 loss to Jazz

Sunday, April 20th, 2008
by John

Yao Ming watches pre-game festivities of Game 1 of the Jazz-Rockets series on the Toyota Center big screen Saturday night in Houston. To see another photo of Yao in street clothes at the game, click here (updated with more photos 11:45am Central time).

With two starters out of their lineup (Yao and Rafer Alston), the Rockets were going to need an almost perfect game and at least 1 or 2 guys off the bench to step up and win Game 1 vs. the Jazz in Houston.

None of that happened as Utah bolted away late in the third and early in the fourth quarter to easily beat Houston 93-82.

There were several reasons why the Rockets lost this game, and no one can blame Tracy McGrady for all of it:

• The Rockets were killed on the offensive boards in the first half which put them in a big double-digit deficit. The Jazz had 7 offensive boards in the first quarter and 11 by halftime. It was like all that rebounding help the Rockets got after last season (Luis Scola, Carl Landry) didn’t make a bit of difference.

• Many missed shots around the rim against a scrapping Jazz defense down deep in the paint. Rick Adelman lamented after the game, “We didn’t finish all night long.”

• Too many missed free throws. 18-of-29 for 62% is NOT going to get it done.

• Alston’s replacement, Bobby Jackson, struggled mightily from the floor (3-of-15 shooting, including easy ones missed around the basket).

• Just not enough offense. They had only 67 points midway through the fourth quarter. That and their 36.7% shooting is not going to cut it. Neither will 6-of-22 shooting from 3-point territory.

• As Adelman and McGrady said after the game, after McGrady would pass out of a double-team, the guys who got the ball didn’t attack the Jazz defense like their game plan had dictated.

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Jazz get another statement win over Rockets…again

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
by John

Determined to win a big game that could decide homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Rockets started Shane Battier in Utah Monday night, something they should have done the night before in Denver where they lost.

The Rockets also played Bobby Jackson, probably because Rafer Alston‘s hamstring injury was worse than Jackson’s knee problem. Perhaps Jackson should have played in Denver, too.

Even with these two key players back in the lineup, it was still going to be tough since Utah was at home where they had been 36-4, they had everything to gain (like homecourt against Houston in the first round of the playoffs) and maybe a chance to move up to 2nd in the conference.

With all the improvements the Rockets have made this season since last season’s playoff series loss against Utah — role players like Luis Scola, Carl Landry, Jackson, Aaron Brooks, Mike Harris, and an improved Steve Novak — it still wasn’t enough as the Rockets went down again to their nemesis, 105-96.

So just like that, within the span of 27 hours the Rockets went from playing for a chance to win the Western Conference, to facing the likelihood they will be the fifth seed without homecourt advantage. What a disappointing way to close out the regular season.

The Rockets now have to hope that the Spurs beat the Jazz Wednesday night in Houston while the Rockets take care of the Clippers. If that doesn’t happen, the Rockets will not have home court advantage and will have to face the possibility of playing a potential Game 7 in Utah, an almost impossible game to win.

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Without Yao, Rockets lose big game to Jazz

Sunday, January 27th, 2008
by John
Yao Ming is shown here in the Rockets' locker room ill from an upper respiratory infection that kept him from playing against the Utah Jazz Sunday night.  Without Yao, the Rockets struggled against the Jazz and lost 97-89.Yao Ming is shown here in the Rockets’ locker room ill from an upper respiratory infection that kept him from playing against the Utah Jazz Sunday night. Without Yao, the Rockets struggled against the Jazz and lost 97-89.

There may have been a lot of debate a couple of weeks ago if the Rockets were better off without Tracy McGrady when the Rockets won more games than they lost when he was out with an injury. However, there is absolutely no way that discussion has any merit when it comes to Yao Ming being out, as Rocket fans saw Sunday night against the Utah Jazz.

Yao had to be scratched from the game because of his battle with an upper respiratory infection, and as optimistic you wanted to be that the Rockets could still win without him, it was clear they missed his 23 points and defensive presence in the lane.

Yao is as tough as they come, having played with a similar kind of ailment earlier this season, so you know he had to be really feeling like crap not to play in such a big game since the Rockets are right behind the Jazz trying to get into the playoffs.

This game came down to the Rockets’ main bugaboo this season – the fourth quarter. I knew early on in the fourth when the Rockets couldn’t stop the Jazz that the trend would continue. It reminded me too much of last year’s playoff series between the Rockets and Jazz when the same thing happened. Unfortunately, I turned out to be right as the Jazz scored 37 points in the fourth and scored on their last 13 possessions to beat Houston 97-89 at Toyota Center Sunday night.

It has become too familiar of a theme lately against Utah. The Jazz are to the Rockets at Toyota Center as Tiger Woods is to other golfers at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines.

It was up to the other Rockets to pick up the slack, and in the first half, that didn’t happen. Houston shot a putrid 34% in the first half, with Tracy McGrady only making 1-of-8 shots in the first half. Rafer Alston was pathetic shooting (again), hitting only 2-of-8.

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Yao has a bad night, but McGrady and bench come up big in Utah

Friday, November 2nd, 2007
by John
Yao Ming shoots over Utah's Andrei Kirilenko in a game where Yao struggled offensively with 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but he had a great defensive game to help get payback against Utah in a 106-95 win.Yao Ming shoots over Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko in a game where Yao struggled offensively with 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but he had a great defensive game to help get payback against Utah in a 106-95 win. Click here to see more photos from the game.

Even though Tracy McGrady came out and said before Thursday’s game in Utah that it was just another game, it didn’t appear that way from my perspective. He seemed to be very active on offense from the get-go, and actually started out playing like he was on a vengeance (kind of rare, if you ask me), hitting his first two shots of the game.

With the extra energy he had, it was like he wanted to show that last year’s Game 7 collapse against Utah — and his disappearing act late in that game — was a different McGrady on a very different team.

McGrady started off hot and kept it going, finishing with 47 points on 17-of-27 shooting in one of his best performances in awhile, keeping the Jazz at bay in a 106-95 win. It’s clear he’s playing with a lot more confidence compared to last season when he started off so cold shooting from the field. At this rate, he’s a cinch to win NBA Player of the Week if he plays halfway decent on Saturday night when Houston plays their home opener against Portland.

As great as McGrady was on this night, Yao Ming was the opposite. He hardly hit any of his shot attempts (5-of-14 for 11 points), but at least he was able to turn it on with some big shots in the fourth quarter. He actually played better on defense than on offense, getting 5 blocks and two steals. Yao might have been a step slow defensively in that series against the Jazz last season due to his leg injury, but you couldn’t tell he was laboring defensively in this game with defensive stats like those.

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A few more quotes from Yao after Game 7

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007
by John
Yao answers questions from reporters Monday at Toyota Center to close out the 2007 season.Yao answers questions from reporters Monday at Toyota Center to close out the 2007 season. Click here for more photos from the game. Click here for photos of other players being interviewed.

After Saturday’s Game 7 loss against the Jazz, I had recorded a few quotes from Yao that I haven’t read reported anywhere yet, so I thought I would post them now:

“Is this the worst feeling you’ve had after a basketball game?”

After a few seconds of thinking, Yao responded, “Yeah…..Yes.”

Regarding his knee injury in the 3rd quarter…

“That’s not a big problem because this knee I hurt in the middle of the season. So I just want to make sure it’s fine. (It got hurt) on the same spot. Almost like the same thing hitting it. I feel very sore when I stand up. I feel very sore. I came down wrong. I want to make sure it’s fine. And then (trainer) Keith (Jones) checked it, the doctor checked it. I feel it’s fine. I come back.”

For a report on what Yao, McGrady and Van Gundy had to say in the news conference on Monday, click here.

Game 7 dissected

Monday, May 7th, 2007
by John

After the devastating loss in Game 7 Saturday night, I felt compelled to watch the game on my DVR and dissect every possession to really find out why the Rockets lost other than the obvious reasons.

There are some overall themes that we already know about that are backed up by an analysis of all the possessions. Bad defense, great play by Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, and Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko surprising with some big, 4th quarter threes.

But there are some other themes I noticed by looking at each possession closely that you may not have realized:

* Chuck Hayes played terrible defense on about 7 possessions, which killed them. Hayes gets a lot of credit for hustle, but I didn’t see it in this game. Also, his lack of offensive production obviously means the Rockets are going to have to find a stud power forward. Can Rashard Lewis come back to Houston now? Hayes would make a worthy backup.

* Tracy McGrady disappearing in the game’s final minutes.

* Lucky bounces in the game’s final minute coming off of missed long jump shots by Utah. Defensive rebounding could have been better on those possessions, but doesn’t guarantee they would have grabbed those boards.

You may find other themes by looking at all the plays below. Feel free to comment on them at the end of the post.

One thing I should note before you read them. The first digits (like ‘11:45’) are the time remaining on the clock when the play occurred or sequence of plays took place. The second digits (‘2-0’) represent the score after the play or sequence was finished, with the Utah score being the first one before the dash (since they led most of the game).

Finally, I have marked most of the plays with either “GOOD” or “BAD” or other keywords so you can skim and pick out the good plays or bad ones much easier. I have also provided some comments for some of the entries to explain further what happened.

1st quarter

11:45 – BAD: McGrady started with a baseline jumper that missed. Great way to start…NOT.

11:05 – 2-0 – GOOD: Yao scores on a fadeaway near the elbow after reposting. McGrady dished it back to him.

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