Rockets celebrate Mother's Day, 99-87

Yao limped all around the court in the 2nd half of Game 3 and it was initially reported to be a sprained ankle. No biggie. Then more detailed tests revealed that he had a hairline fracture in his left foot and would be sidelined 8-12 weeks. As in, Yao out for the season. As in, holy crap, this is really bad news for the Rockets.

But as I thought about it a little, strictly on the defensive side of the ball, the Rockets matched up better with the Lakers with a smaller lineup with 2 of the trio of Hayes, Landry, and Scola at PF and C. Pau Gasol is just too quick and crafty from 15 feet and in for Yao to handle. Obviously, the Rockets front line would be smaller, but they would make up for it with quickness and tenacity on the boards.

As we made our way back home from West Houston on Mother’s Day Sunday, I turned on SportsRadio 610 to listen to the game. From the moment I turned it on and throughout the hour-long drive back home, the Rockets jumped all over the Lakers with gritty defense and a 3 point barrage led by Shane Battier. The crowd fed the fire and the Rockets all tapped into that energy by pouring it on and building a very large halftime lead.

I got home midway through the 3rd quarter and got in front of the TV as the Rockets unleashed the smackdown. Actually, Aaron Brooks unleashed the smackdown almost singlehandedly. While I was hoping for a Rockets 3 to close the 3rd quarter, when I got was a freaking unbelievable alley-oop inbounds pass from Artest to AB who jumped like 15 feet into the air to make the catch, turn, and layup off the glass and in with 0.7 seconds on the clock. I had seen a couple of alley-oop dunks from Brent Barry to AB, but nothing quite like the length of the pass, the catch, and the shot all in one motion. For a non-dunk, this was one of the best plays I have ever seen. I believe the Rockets pushed the lead to 29 with that score.

Although the Rockets got outscored by 16 or so in the 4th, they were not to be denied as they cruised to the finish line.

Give the Rockets some f***ing credit. For real. The Rockets even the series at 2-2.

Great defensive intensity, Kobe had to work for his and wasn’t hitting at a high percentage, a bunch of Rockets 3s, and not too many turnovers keyed the victory. The Rockets depth and versatility exposed how weak the Lakers bench is and the high screen and roll killed the Lakers almost every time. AB had a career high 34 and he made it look easy. Artest had a horrible game shooting, but he was solid on defense, the boards, and sharing the ball.

I’m not sure whether a perimeter oriented offense will win in the long run for the Rockets, but it’s pretty much what they have to do with who they have available to play. Interesting how the small-ball Rockets look a lot like the old Sacramento Kings when Coach Adelman had them contending for several years in a row.

3 out of 4 seemed impossible, but now it’s 2 out of 3 and that is certainly within the realm of possibility. Go Rockets!

Rockets lose Game 3, 108-94

What a stinker of a game by the Rockets. I was so geared up for this game and there was little to cheer about. Too many turnovers, total lack of ball movement and rhythm on offense (especially the 2nd and 3rd quarters), and not too much going on defensively led to a Lakers victory.

Just like in Game 2, the Lakers came out of the locker room firing. Kobe led the way and somehow the Rockets kept up and were only down 2 after the 1st. The problem for the Rockets was that the fast pace favored the Lakers and some bad turnovers were already giving the Lakers easy opportunities. In the 2nd quarter, both benches came into play and it felt like the Rockets should have taken the lead and control of the game, but they played every bit as mediocre as the Lakers were in that quarter. The Lakers led 50-48 at the half. The Rockets failed to capitalize on a whole bunch of missed shots and Lakers turnovers.

The 3rd quarter was pitiful for the Rockets. Whichever Rocket had the ball on offense (Artest, often) would dribble right into the teeth of the Lakers defense and either turn the ball over or get a bad shot. It was particularly frustrating because I could sense the crowd wanted to get involved, but the Rockets were playing so badly on both ends throughout the 3rd quarter that there was nothing to cheer about. The Lakers took a commanding 12 point lead at the end of the 3rd.

Then the wheels fell off the wagon in the 4th. Yao started limping noticably on both ends of the court, yet he refused to come out of the game. More on that later. The Lakers had a large lead (8 points with less than 1 minute left) very late in the game and advanced the ball up the court. Gasol got the ball near the free throw line and instead of dribbling out of traffic and using clock, Pau decided he was going to go for a dunk. [insert manual buzzer] Wrong answer.

As Gasol went to the hoop, Artest met him in mid-air and knocked the ball out of his hands. Gasol landed awkwardly, but he was not hurt. Despite Gasol’s reputation, this was not a flop. He got hit by a good, hard foul by an opponent who won’t let you just run up the score on them in their house. The refs called it a flagrant foul 2 and ejected Artest from the game just like that. It looked like a hard foul, but a clean foul. Artest went for and got the ball, he did not make contact with Gasol above the shoulders, and Artest did not follow through and throw Gasol down or otherwise slam him to the ground.

The game was pretty much decided at that point so the refs are not to blame for the outcome of this game. My hope was that the obviously bad call would not affect Artest’s status for Game 4.

Updated May 9, some time in the evening

Well, we found out why Yao was limping around in Game 3:
Yao (broken foot) out for season

Horrible news. Without Yao, we might be able to win 1 or 2 games from the Lakers, but not 3 out of 4 which is the path to the championship.

Rockets lose Game 2, 111-98

Begin abridged version : As expected, the Lakers came out of the locker room firing and got out to a big early lead. Kobe led the way and the other Lakers followed suit. To make things worse, Yao got into early foul trouble and never really recovered. Lakers baskets were compounded by Rockets turnovers and lack of rebounding and the 1st quarter mercifully ended with the Lakers up 39-25.

Then both benches came into the game. The Lakers started jacking up ill-advised shots instead of controlling the tempo and managing their lead. Meanwhile, Carl Landry was a one man gang and tore up the Lakers lack of defense. As the Laker crowd fell silent, the Rockets actually took the lead late in the 2nd quarter. Unfortunately, Kobe closed the half with a 3 that tied the game. Past Rockets teams would have gotten into a fetal position and probably gone into halftime down 20 or 25 on the road, but this team has a toughness that hasn’t been around here since Barkley, Hakeem, and Drexler.

The Lakers came out of halftime, just like they did to open the game, with a blitz of baskets. Yao was not a factor, picked up his 4th foul, and the Rockets were reeling, but trying to hang in. For some reason, Landry did not reenter the game until very late in the 3rd. Without Landry’s scoring and presence around the basket, the Rockets lost control of the game and ended the 3rd quarter down 86-77.

A couple of Rockets turnovers early in the 4th doomed them as Kobe pushed the Laker lead to 14 and they never looked back. Lakers win 111-98. End abridged version

Did Derek Fisher do something notable in Game 2? His flagrant foul 2 on Scola was totally intentional and warrants a 1 game suspension. I understand a smaller guy needs to sends a message to a big guy setting a pick on him, but give him a shoulder in the chest or a forearm below the belt as you run through the pick. Also, that should happen earlier in the game, not in the 4th quarter. Fisher took 3 steps toward Scola before unloading a high forearm with all his weight behind it. Scola had not even set the pick yet and Lowry, who had the ball, was 10 feet away and had not yet dribbled toward the pick.

Memo to the Lakers: Scola is our version of Sasha Vujacic, except Scola can actually play. Maybe your big men should step up and beat Scola down if you don’t like the way he plays.

Ron-Ron…he got the quick boot when I thought he deserved just a technical foul, but he has to know that he’s on a short leash with the refs especially when it involves the MVP runner-up Kobe. His post-game interview at his locker to explain the play and his actions surprisingly made sense and came off as honest when I fully expected “spin”. Sure, the Rockets can’t win without him, but this game was lost at the time and I don’t have a problem with Ron letting the Lakers (and his Rockets) know that we won’t just lay down.

The Rockets can win this series, but they need to hold the Lakers under 100, not let them get out to 10+ point leads, and reduce their turnovers.

T-mac…although the Rockets have played better without T-mac on the floor, the reason is not because T-mac was a negative influence on the other players. The reason is because T-mac, Battier, and Artest – 3 guys – were competing for 2 positions. That problem was never solved until T-mac was out with season-ending surgery. Even if T-mac was 100% healthy, Battier and Artest give you the most defense and that seems to be what’s most needed to complement Yao. As good as Artest can be on offense, he’s nowhere near a healthy T-mac. I think Artest needs to start. Didn’t seem like Ron could just turn it on coming off the bench. Then, it seems like the obvious answer is to bench Battier, but that guy is so good on the defensive side that he’s like having a 6th defender.

I wish we could have seen an end-of-big-game lineup with all 3 guys out there. Artest is strong enough to guard most PFs in stints just like Robert Horry did back in the Rockets’ championship years. Battier would get in the other team’s best scorer’s jersey. T-mac would create easy shots for himself or teammates off the dribble. Probably Scola would be on the bench to close the game with that lineup.

But, alas, with T-mac’s microfracture surgery, I don’t think we’ll ever see him at 100% on the floor together with Battier and Artest. Sadly, I don’t see T-mac suiting up in the Rockets red beyond this final year of his max contract.