This Rocket team continues to surprise me. Walking into the TD Garden last night and reading Jonathan Feigen tweet that Kevin Martin was out for the game against the Celtics, I thought there is no chance this team can end their five game losing streak on the road against the defending Eastern Conference Champions. But once again I was wrong.
Coming off a disheartening loss to the rival Jazz in OT. No K-Mart, no Yao, no Brad Miller, no Chuck Hayes, no problem. Against a KG-less Celtics and a fired up home crowd (a lot more packed than I thought with the National Championship going on), the Rockets were able to shake off the cobwebs and come out firing. They didn’t play an especially great brand of first half basketball, but enough to hold a 1-point lead going into the half. Chase Budinger was spectacular keeping the Rockets in the game in the first half going 3-3 from behind the arc. Courtney Lee, the only player whose name works in both the NBA and WNBA, also came up big down in the first half getting Ray Allen in foul trouble and hitting some key jumpers for the Rockets.
When Houston played sound basketball for the first three quarters, I was waiting for the inevitable drought…yet it never came. Beer less (don’t serve out of state ID’s under 25…really???) and nervous I anxiously awaited the start of the 4th with the Rockets in an eerily familiar position…with the lead. Reading the play-by-play there were only six possessions the Rockets didn’t score on in the 4th quarter. The guy sitting in front of me summed it up best, “Do these guys ever miss.” And it wasn’t just one guy…yes Aaron Brooks gets the game ball with his spectacular play, but Jared Jeffries and Shane Battier had HUGE tip in off misses, Patrick Patterson hit key jumpers to extend the Rockets lead, Jordan Hill hit a jumper OUTSIDE OF THE PAINT in the 4th quarter. When it rains it pours and Houston’s 52.7% from the field and 50% from behind the arc was exactly what this team needed to survive this game against the Celtics.
Aaron Brooks returned from an ankle injury to score 24 points for Houston, hitting a pair of free throws with 18 seconds left after Boston cut a 12-point deficit to four. Brooks has been known to choke in these instances in the past so it was nice to see him be close out the game at the free throw line, be more assertive, taking shots and hitting them. He hit two three’s in the 4th that were daggers…completely took out the air in the building.
The defensive effort was there for the Rockets outrebounding the C’s 38-31, but they could not stop Marquise Daniels. He shot 7-8 from the field, recorded 19 points, including 10 4th quarter points. Chase had no answer in defending him, but what I liked was after every Daniels make either Lowry or Brooks would push the ball back up the floor often creating open shots the Rockets would hit. Again, the Rockets truly miss an interior presence on the defensive end. It seemed like every Celtics bucket in the first half came inside the paint, and the Rockets had NO answer for Shaq. Even hack-a-shaq didn’t work as the Big Leprechaun went 4-4 from the line with the crowd erupting after every made free throw. Rockets get a much needed “steal” as I talked about in my last post. They now face OKC, ATL, and MIL in their next three games, but if they played like they did tonight, which is for 4 quarters of basketball, this team can hang with anyone. My friend Sidd summed it up best, “The Rockets are great because they beat the teams they should and hang around with the teams they shouldn’t even be in the game with.”
-For a Monday night game against a sub-.500 team, the Garden was packed. It was a great atmosphere of basketball to witness. Even though the Rockets took the crowd out of much of the game, the Von Wafer dunk got them up and cheering, and even after they pulled back to within tying the game, the Celtics fans created a great feel to a regular season game.
-The win showed how good of a team the Rockets have. Seven players scored in double-digits (Lee was at eight) and even Jeffries came in to get a big tip-in in the 4th quarter. The ball movement was great, tallying 25 assists (out-assisting Rondo’s Celtics 25-23).
-Jordan Hill continues to impress me. He had the daunting task of guarding Shaq but luckily Doc Rivers only played him for 21 minutes, and hardly in the 2nd half. Shaq was 3-3 on the offensive end, but Hill put up 12 points and 8 rebounds. He still needs to work on his outside jumper; I cringe and yell every time he shoots one outside the paint, but he is seeing some quality playing time with all these injuries right now. Sitting with a Knicks fan, he was even impressed with the way Hill played…which is tough to gain praise from those fans.