Boozer's Big Game Carries Jazz to Rare Game Seven Road WinCarlos Boozer had 35 points, 14 rebounds and five assists as the Utah Jazz defeated the Houston Rockets in game seven of their first round series. While most of the media's attention has been focused on Golden State's stunning upset or the meek submission of defending champion Miami, Utah and Houston engaged in a very hard fought first round series. The home team won each game until the Jazz broke through in Houston on Saturday night. Mehmet Okur (16 points, 11 rebounds) made two big three pointers down the stretch and Deron Williams played a great all around game (20 points, 14 assists). The story for Houston was plenty Tracy McGrady (29 points, 13 assists, five rebounds, three blocked shots), a lot of Yao Ming (29 points, six rebounds) and not enough from everybody else; Shane Battier was solid (16 points on 4-7 three point shooting) but Rafer Alston shot just 3-11 for his 11 points and the rest of the Rockets were largely invisible for most of the game.
The Rockets got off to a slow start, as they did in each game of the series; they trailed at halftime in all seven games. McGrady made just one of his first five shots from the field, though his passing was outstanding throughout the game. He found his shooting touch in the second quarter, finishing the first half with 13 points (5-11 shooting) and nine assists, but Boozer's 17 points and seven rebounds helped Utah build a 53-43 halftime lead. Utah actually was up by as much as 16 in the second quarter.
As they did throughout the series, the Rockets made a run in the third quarter, getting as close as 61-58 before Utah extended the margin back to 71-60. Houston trailed 75-67 going into the fourth quarter. As the Rockets tried to claw back into the game, TNT's Steve Kerr noted two things: (1) Houston is not good at coming back because the Rockets struggle to score points, so most of the time the Rockets lose when they are behind after three quarters; (2) the Rockets rely more on Tracy McGrady to either score or create scoring opportunities for others than any other team in the league relies on one player. The first issue is of course related to the second; any one player, no matter how great he is, can be slowed down by good team defense. In this regard, McGrady's predicament is actually very similar to Kobe Bryant's. Both players are amazing scorers who can score on the block, on the drive and from three point range. As Hubie Brown says, distance is not a factor. Bryant and McGrady are also willing and able passers; they draw double-teams and are very effective at passing out of them. That means not only giving up the ball when you are trapped but making the right read and delivering a good enough pass that the recipient can either shoot immediately or else easily deliver a skip pass to the weak side. Of course, the problem for both Bryant and McGrady is that if their teammates don't make shots then their passes are in vain. That is why I disagree slightly with Kerr; the Lakers are more dependent on Bryant than the Rockets are on McGrady because McGrady has another All-Star (Yao) and some decent three point shooters (Battier, Alston, Luther Head). While that cast of players was not enough to get past Utah it is clearly superior to the motley crew that plays alongside Bryant. In any case, there is a difference between Bryant and McGrady's playoff exits on one hand and Dirk Nowitzki's on the other hand. Bryant and McGrady made the correct plays and put their teams in the best possible position to win, while Nowitzki seemed to get away from doing the things that he does best (part of that blame also goes to coaching and part of the credit goes to Golden State, particularly Coach Don Nelson, for forcing Nowitzki out of his comfort zone).
McGrady had eight points and two assists in the fourth quarter as the Rockets outscored the Jazz 32-28. That is a very productive quarter for Houston, which is typically a slow down kind of team, but it was not enough to overcome the eight point third quarter deficit. Houston tied the score at 80 with 8:38 left and even led by as many as five (88-83) after a McGrady runner, but the Rockets could not contain Boozer (10 fourth quarter points) or Okur down the stretch. The last eight and a half minutes of the game after Houston tied the score were some of the best back and forth, nip and tuck basketball that we have seen in this year's playoffs, filled with three point plays, three point shots and acrobatic drives. The dagger was Okur's three pointer with 1:16 remaining that put the Jazz up 99-95. After that, Utah closed out the game with good free throw shooting, though Houston could have extended the contest by committing a foul more quickly on the last possession instead of inexplicably letting several seconds run off of the clock.
The series began with Andrei Kirilenko literally crying about his lack of production and diminishing role for Utah but it ended with two Kirilenko free throws and some tears from McGrady, who stayed composed long enough to talk with TNT's Craig Sager but was unable to finish his postgame podium interview. As Charles Barkley said, it is not necessarily fair or right but McGrady will get a lot of blame for this loss even though he played very well and did all that he could do.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:43 AM