Luis Scola makes the first of his two key layups in crunch time as the Rockets evened the season series with San Antonio.
(Getty Images/D. Clarke Evans)
We always beg the Rockets to get Yao Ming the ball down the stretch. Today, the Rockets did just that - he was able to get two touches in the final minute. But instead of trying to get a shot off, Yao surprised all of us by making two of the prettiest passes that he has made in his life. Luis Scola happened to be the recipient of both looks. And there is no other player in the NBA that I trust more on close layups than Luis. He came through with five points in thirty seconds, and thus, the Rockets came through with an 87-85 win over Los Spurs in San Antonio. It was the perfect dose of payback for last week's home loss.
It was a surprise to see Yao even remotely open on those last two possessions. He had been fronted by Kurt Thomas for the entire second half and was a non-factor for most of the game. In the first quarter, he turned the ball over three times. For Yao to even score in double-digits today was a surprise given how poorly he started.
Fronting is something that Yao needs to be able to overcome. Our best offensive option can't be taken away so easily. Either the Rockets perimeter players need to find ways to move the ball around the three-point line in order to make a good entry pass, or Yao needs to work more to get position. We can run him through screens on the block, or we can rotate him to different positions in the paint, but he needs to be able to receive the ball on every possession. Fronting is something that post defenders do to take away an opposing post player for a few seconds in order to keep them from receiving a pass. It shouldn't be able to work for an entire half.
Our defense was spectacular. We made the Spurs take a lot of contest jump shots, we took away the paint in the second quarter and didn't allow them anything with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker on the bench, and we stopped Parker on the final play of the game. But as good as our defense can be, it won't make a difference as long as we continue to give up offensive rebounds. The Spurs grabbed 13 offensive boards - 5 by Kurt Thomas and 4 by Ime Udoka.
While Yao or Scola can be blamed for Thomas's rebounds, Von Wafer was the culprit on at least three of the occasions in which Udoka kept a play alive. On my DVR, I watched closely as Wafer would sit and stare at the ball as it bounced off the rim. While he watched, Udoka would slip by him and track the ball, time his jump right, and snag it out of the air. Wafer's inability to box out cost the Rockets three or four possessions, and in a game as close as this, three or four possessions could have easily changed the course of the game.
But whatever, we won. Thanks to this man:
I love that picture.
Lastly, we cannot forget Ron Artest, who found a new best friend today: driving. Rawn attacked the basket the entire game, and was able to either make a tough layup or draw a foul on many occasions. He also only took four three pointers, and he made two. It was nice to see some good shot selection from Ron-Ron in such an important game.
Viva La Recap:
Ron Artest -- Crazy Pills went 8-20 for 24 points. He also shut down Michael Finley, holding the perennial Rocket Killer (aside from Jet Terry) to one shot in 25 minutes of playing time. He also gave us that hilarious picture above. Just another example of how nice of a guy Ron can be, kids.
Luis Scola -- The Slayer had 19 points, 17 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals, and only one turnover. I haven't seen a better game from a power forward all-season. His hustle was there from the beginning, and he hit the majority of his jump shots, which the Spurs left open. But no shots were bigger than his two layups that he made in the last thirty seconds. And don't forget: on the Tony Parker miss in the final seconds, it was Scola that got the rebound to secure the win.
Chuck Hayes -- It's been too long since the Chuckwagon has been given his ups. But he deserved it today. His defense was phenomenal, and at times, he was even able to stop Tony Parker. He played 18 minutes with Carl Landry inactive, and he even made 2 shots, one of which being a nice reverse layup against Matt Bonner. And then, to top it all off, he did something completely out of his nature - he ran a fast break. And he threw a no look pass. And former Spur Brent Barry made a ridiculous reverse layup. And it was freakin' awesome. Don't be fooled: Chuck got game.
Aaron Brooks -- This wasn't Brooks' worst performance, but I expected more from him. He didn't guard Tony Parker very well, and he only shot 2-10 from the field. Granted, he did make an extremely clutch shot late in the game to give us a lead, but otherwise, his shot was lacking.
Von Wafer -- I already talked about his rebounding deficiencies above, but in general, Von wasn't a factor in this one. At least he didn't force up a bunch of shots, though.
Fab Oberto -- He got one second of playing time. Literally, one second.
Stats of the Night:
Take a look at this. It was incredibly even across the board:
Field Goal %: Rockets .466 - Spurs .415
3-Point %: Rockets .500 - Spurs .500
Free Throw %: Rockets .737 - Spurs .765
Rebounds: Rockets 41 - Spurs 41
Assists: Rockets 18 - Spurs 18
Turnovers: Rockets 15 - Spurs 13
Fouls: Rockets 18 - Spurs 18
Offensive Rebounds: Rockets 9 - Spurs 13
Tony Parker + Tim Duncan: 17/46, 7 turnovers. They scored, but not very efficiently.
Division Status Update:
Yup, we're in first place. We've also picked up the second seed in the West. While we aren't guaranteed to keep it by any means, it's nice to have for now. Here's what the West looks like after today (via ESPN):
Next Game: Tuesday @ Utah. Forget my 6-3 prediction. Let's go 7-2.
Take a trip to Pounding the Rock to get some of Stampler's fantastic analysis. And leave some flowers for Matthew Powell if you wish.
Note: Astounding stuff from Art Garcia. He wrote an entire article about the Rockets without mentioning Tracy McGrady's name once.