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