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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Houston, We Have a Problem: Rockets Squander 19 Point Lead, Fall to Spurs, 92-84

The Houston Rockets looked like a championship team on Tuesday night--for 34 minutes. Unfortunately for Houston, NBA games last 48 minutes and in the final 14 minutes the Rockets completely fell apart, allowing the San Antonio Spurs to win, 92-84. Tim Duncan had 19 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Spurs. Manu Ginobili also scored 19 points, while reserves Francisco Elson (12 points, seven rebounds) and Beno Udrih (11 points) contributed enough to offset an uncharacteristically poor shooting night by Tony Parker (4-13 from the field, eight points). Tracy McGrady led Houston with 26 points and added eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. Yao Ming scored 20 points but shot 7-21 from the field and only had six rebounds.

Rockets' backup center Dikembe Mutombo calls McGrady and Yao Houston's "bus drivers" and they certainly had the Rockets attack in overdrive early in the game. McGrady scored 10 points in the first 6:15 of the game and seemed to be headed for a 50 point night. The Spurs began the game by having Bruce Bowen hedge away from McGrady in order to double team Yao in the post. Yao has been dominant early in the season while McGrady's shooting has been off, so this must have looked like a good plan on paper--but it looked foolish on the court, leaving a two-time scoring champion wide open. The Spurs soon abandoned the "let T-Mac beat us" approach but by that time McGrady was in a groove and he continued to score even when his shots were contested. Houston led 27-23 after the first quarter, with McGrady scoring 14 points.

The Spurs went on a 7-0 run to take a 32-31 lead early in the second quarter but the Rockets immediately countered with a 16-6 run of their own to go ahead 47-38. Houston continued to widen the margin as halftime drew near and then McGrady's three pointer with .01 seconds left made the score 56-43. McGrady had 21 points and six rebounds in the first half, while Yao and Duncan had 10 points each. Houston shot 51% from the field and committed only three turnovers, while San Antonio shot only 38% and turned the ball over seven times; by the end of the game, the shooting numbers would be almost completely reversed. San Antonio continued to turn the ball over, but the Rockets stopped converting those opportunities.

In the third quarter, the Rockets picked up right where they had left off. Houston took a 74-55 lead after Rafer Alston hit a three pointer with 4:57 remaining and the Rockets were still up 75-60 with 2:36 left in the period--but the first signs of trouble for Houston appeared when the Spurs closed the quarter with an 11-0 run, with backup point guard Udrih contributing eight of the points.

San Antonio tied the game at 75 early in the fourth quarter but Shane Battier's three pointer put Houston back on top and the Rockets still led with 7:41 remaining (79-77)--but San Antonio closed the game with a 15-5 run. Houston scored just nine points in the fourth quarter. Here is a stunning statistic: the Rockets shot just 2-27 from the field after Alston's three pointer gave them a 19 point lead!

In the second quarter, color commentator Clyde Drexler said that the game had "almost playoff-like intensity" but the Rockets' huge collapse brought to mind a playoff debacle from six years ago: Portland's blown lead in game seven of the Western Conference Finals, which enabled the L.A. Lakers to escape with an 89-84 win and go on to claim the first title of the Shaq-Kobe era. Portland had seemed to be in complete command of the game when the Trail Blazers simply stopped hitting the same shots that they had made in the first three quarters of the game. The same thing happened to Houston on Tuesday.

The good news for the Rockets, who led the NBA with an 8 ppg point differential coming into the game with the Spurs, is that they have shown that the Yao-McGrady duo can be deadly with wins over Miami and Dallas and a good showing for most of the game against a strong Spurs team. As long as their two superstars stay healthy, Houston will be a serious contender this season. Yao and McGrady seem to have better on-court chemistry than ever, Shane Battier is a good addition to the team because of his tough defense, hustle and three point shooting and the Rockets will have more depth when power forward Chuck Hayes returns from the knee injury that he suffered in a collision with Shaquille O'Neal during the Miami game.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:22 AM


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At Wednesday, November 15, 2006 1:34:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Bring bcak Calvin Murphy. Drexler and Bullard are terrible color commentators.

McGrady needs to be more consistent. 5 points in the second half is not good enough. He doesnt have that killer instinct that everyone talks about. If you cant beat the Spurs at home up 19, then how cant consider yourself a championship contender. I know its only game number seven but games are important. Plus McGrady is a fraud since he said he didnt try as hard as a Magic because he knew they werent any good.
Since Duncan has been on the Spurs, they have beat the Rockets 30 out of 36 times.

And Battier's defense is so overrated. Please...he cant and hasnt slowed down or stopped anybody.

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 4:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

One time, the Kareem-Oscar-Dandridge Bucks blew a similar lead and lost (the game is shown on ESPN Classic sometimes and the ending is on one of those NBA Fantastic Finishes DVDs). These things happen sometimes, even to good teams. The Barkley-Dr. J Sixers blew a big lead to the Bullets in a game in the '86 playoffs but won the series anyway. Those examples are just off of the top of my head and I'm sure that there are many others. Like I said in my post, I think that this was simply a case of a team missing shots that they normally make. T-Mac didn't stop playing his game, he simply was not able to make a shot.

I also think that he got a bad rap in Orlando. Whatever he may have said, if you watched him play and looked at his stats, he got the job done--unlike, say, Randy Moss, whose declining play matches his statements about not playing hard.

The Spurs are an elite team, so it is not surprising that they have done well against the Rockets. I wonder how many of those games T-Mac played in, also. Houston won a game versus the Spurs when T-Mac went off for 13 points in 35 seconds.

Battier is not a great athlete, but he takes charges and plays good fundamental defense. I think that he is a perfect addition for this team.

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 8:49:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

You must of just watched NBA Awesome Endings recently because those two endings are back to back on that tape.

Even though its early those are games you need to win for team confidence. Of course McGrady wasnt in a lot of those games because of the other teams he played on. When he said he doesnt try as hard thats a disgrace. I dont care if he got the job done.......you dont say that. You may think it but you dont say it. His cousin said the same thing.

Fundamental defense is good but he still get torched.

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 4:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I haven't watched Awesome Endings in a while (I actually have the original tape, not a DVD version!) but I remember not only watching the tape but seeing those games replayed on Classic over and over. I took the 76ers one personally, of course, being a big Dr. J fan. The immortal Dudley Bradley, the worst three point shooter in the league, hit the game winning shot. I think that the sheer improbability of that comeback, including the final shot, prevented it from really devastating the 76ers. The Sixers knew that they had the better team and they ultimately won the series.

I agree that the game is important--all of the games are important--but I still think that Houston should be more encouraged than discouraged after the first few games of the season. Yao is playing great, T Mac is coming along and the role players fit in well. Don't forget that neither Bonzi Wells not Chuck Hayes played.

I guess that we will simply have to agree to disagree about Battier. Is there a specific player you are thinking of who really gives him trouble?

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 11:11:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Battier has to guard the best at his position. You know eh cant stop those guys. But in the NBA who can?
That Awesome Endings tape is nice.
Yeah Dudley Bradley. I like when the Sixer play-by-play says Oh My Heavens. And when is the last time you saw a pass like the under hand pass Cheeks made to Barkley.

Chuck Hayes has played, pretty well actually, and I guess Bonzi is not in shape, or in Van Gundy's doghouse. As good as Yao is and since there are no centers, he should be 25-30 and 12-14 boards a night. He is playing great though. I miss the dominant NBA center. Its a joy to see him play dominant.

At Friday, November 17, 2006 5:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I didn't say that Battier is shutting anybody down, but he does play good fundamental defense. For one thing, he takes a lot of charges, which dissuades other teams from driving and can help keep Yao out of foul trouble.

What else can you say when Dudley Bradley makes a three pointer?

I like Hayes' game.

The Bonzi situation bears watching. He is talented but he's also a head case. The Rockets don't have a lot of money (in NBA terms) invested in him, so I would not be shocked if they get rid of him if he doesn't get with the program. If he's not on the court producing, then he can only be a distraction.


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