With a monster come-from-behind win last week against the Celtics, the Miami Heat passed the 2008 Houston Rockets on the all-time win streak least with their 23rd consecutive victory.
It's not shocking, as this Heat team is simply a much more talented basketball team than that 2008 squad, but no matter how many wins Miami gets, it doesn't take away from that remarkable run back in 2008 with that Rockets team which seemed held together with band-aids and Elmer's glue. It was a different kind of streak, remembered far more for its team's tenacity and resilience than for the dominance of its stars, such is the case with the Heat.
Call it whatever you want, a statistical outlier or a sports miracle, but it's a run that few Rockets fans will soon forget.
How it Happened
The streak may have started Jan. 29, 2008, but the pieces which made the streak possible began with changes in the previous off-season, when stat geek Daryl Morey was selected to replace Carroll Dawson as the next general manager of the franchise. Few in Houston knew much about the man other than he was a big nerd who seemed to know basketball, but Dork Elvis took little time to put his vision in place.
With two stars dominating most of the cap, Morey still put together the deepest roster the team had in maybe a decade. He used savvy moves to acquire some 27-year-old Argentinean by the name of Luis Scola from the Spurs and turned mediocre draft picks into Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry, who seemed to contribute from day one. However, perhaps Morey's biggest change was at the coaching helm, when he replaced defensive guru Jeff Van Gundy with the offensive minded Rick Adelman, fresh off nearly a decade of success with the Sacramento Kings.
Despite having an offensive minded coach and a deeper roster, the new-look Rockets struggled early on, going a mere 24-20 over the first half of the season and struggling to stay relevant in a deep Western Conference.
But that's when the magic happened.
Houston won its next 22 games by an average of 12.4 points (compared to Miami's 11.0 win differential) in a variety of ways, including 15 by double digits and 10 against playoff bound teams, which included big victories over Lebron's Cavs, Paul's Hornets, Dirk's Mavs and even the eventual Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers.
With Tracy McGrady on the sideline for the first win, Yao kicked off the streak with an insane 36-point, 19-rebound performance in a 111-107 victory over the Warriors. Yao would average 22.4 points, 11.5 boards and 1.2 blocks for the first 11 games of the streak, capping off the 11th win with a 28 and 14 night against Tyson Chandler in a 20-point drubbing of the Hornets, who led the conference at the time.
Overcoming the Impossible
Then adversity struck. After the 12th win, a 110-97 victory in which Yao struggled, it was announced Yao had a stress fracture in his left foot which would sideline him the rest of the season, a devastating blow which should have derailed the Rockets' streak, but somehow didn't. A 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo and 6'6" Chuck Hayes stepped into the paint to replace Yao's defense and others stepped up to replace his offensive production, helping the Rockets win 10 more games without their best player.
Perhaps no one was more crucial to the streak than Tracy McGrady, who was the game's leading scorer in 10 of the last 12 victories. T-Mac averaged 24.3 points, 5.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds after Yao went down, which included a 41-point, 9-assist, 6-rebound game in win No. 18 over New Orleans.
Alston, Battier and Scola were also key contributors. The rookie, Scola, chipped in 11.6 points and 6.9 rebounds during the streak, while Battier averaged a very Battier-like 10.4 points and 5.5 boards and Alston played some of the most inspired basketball of his career, averaging 15.7 points and 6.6 assists, while hitting 3-pointers at nearly a 40 percent clip.
Perhaps Alston's biggest performance came in the final victory, an unlikely 104-92 win over the Lakers to push the streak to 22. With McGrady shooting an abysmal 4 of 16 from the floor, Skip To My Lou posted 31 points, 5 assists, 2 boards and 2 steals, which included making 8 of his 11 three point attempts.
But the streak also saw a number of unlikely heroes emerge. Landry topped double digits in points nine times during the streak with a 22-point, 7-board game in win No. 2 over Indiana. Steve Novak hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Sacramento for win No. 8 and Bobby Jackson had 14 points and 7 assists in win No. 12 against Chicago in his first game with Houston after a mid-season trade acquired Jackson from Sacramento for Bonzi Wells.
And then there was the occasional Mutombo finger wag, a symbol which seemed to epitomize the season, as the aging Congo native engulfed the paint like a man 20 years younger.
The Inevitable Ending
The streak ended immediately after the win over the Lakers in a 20-point clinic by the soon-to-be-champion Celtics as the Rockets lost five of their next eight games following the freakish streak. They would go only 9-7 in their last 16 games, finishing a mere one game behind San Antonio and New Orleans for the Southwest Division title.
Home court advantage wasn't enough to help Houston overcome the evil Utah Jazz, who outlasted the Yao-less Rockets in six games. The fact that the series was as close as it was is a testament to the team's depth and chemistry that year, because they were clearly outmatched on paper.
So, while the Heat may have overtaken the 2008 Rockets spot at No. 2 on the win streak list, it certainly doesn't diminish what that team did in overcoming adversity and earning a spot in NBA history. No matter how far the Heat take their streak, the Rockets' 22-game streak will always be more impressive, not just because they won their games by a larger margin of victory, but because of the adversity they faced and the manner in which they did it.
It's easy to look back at the Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady era and wonder what might have been had the two superstars stayed healthy or had more help in the seasons prior to Morey's hiring, but the late 2000s Rockets will always have two things: taking the Lakers to seven games in 2009 and that miraculous 22-game win streak in 2008 when a mediocre, duct-taped roster somehow couldn't lose for nearly two months.
Those teams may not have any titles, but those are still moments worth remembering.