Friday, December 21, 2007

The Yao Line 12.20.07: Just Short of Picture Perfect

51:36 min | 26 pts | 9-22 FGs | 8-9 FTs | 19 rebs | 6 asts | 2 blks | 2 TOs | 3 PFs | recap

The stage was set. When Denver's Eduardo Najera hit two big 3FGs that seemed to bury the Rockets for good, they clawed back in it, tied the game at 94 and after a big stop on the defensive end, found themselves with :17 seconds left and a shot to win. Yao Ming's turnaround jumper was just short. Short at the rim and short of being the picture perfect ending to what was thought at least by everyone at TNT to be a highly unlikely effort by our struggling Rockets.

After facing Dwight Howard and the Magic for 42 minutes the night before, Yao put on his season's best performance against the reigning Defensive MVP, Marcus Camby (who was limited to only two, albeit very big, points). Yao gutted it out for a career high 51:36 minutes and led this Rockets team to a gutsy performance that fell just short in double OT. He didn't make every shot down the stretch and didn't make every defensive play, but he led. That's what was different about this team in this game. He directed the Rockets and they followed. They hit big shots and finally started covering Yao's back. And in a fix, they looked like an actual team for once.

Which brings up the TNT halftime show and Magic Johnson, who made what some might call a rare concise and less than obvious observation. The Rockets must trade either Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady. The combination has failed, there must be a change. And when asked which one he would trade, Magic said T-Mac. I have to admit, I've never really thought of trading one of them. But watching Yao lead his team in the second half and the Rockets move the ball better than they have all season, it started to make some sense.

With T-Mac out, Houston wouldn't be expected to be much more than a .500 team and a low playoff seed--which would still be better than where they are now. The Rockets with T-Mac are supposed to be an elite team. A trade wouldn't work any miracles, but it might give the Rockets a fresh start and a definitive identity; and maybe they can get a young athletic power forward with the deal. The point is, it wasn't a perfect game, Rockets guards (namely Rafer Alston) made some costly turnovers and struggled to control the tempo at times, but there were moments of tremendous team cohesion and Bonzi Wells looked just as good a sidekick to Yao as anyone else. Luther Head came up big as we started to expect from him last season and Aaron Brooks gave a little taste of just what he's capable of. In other words, the prospect of life without T-Mac suddenly didn't look so terrible. A win would have solidified that idea. I've been a fan of Mac over the span of his career and still am, but is it time to let him go?

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