Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Almost Heroes

For 3 quarters, Tracy McGrady was a basketball god. He carried the Rockets on both sides of the ball in a way nobody has seen since his Orlando Magic days--maybe not even then. He displayed the kind of MVP-caliber play that was always within the reach of his talent. And yet, as he fell short of the finish line, so did Houston. But he was so good 1 through 3 that Doug Collins, Magic and really the entire TNT staff felt sorry for McGrady and his 4th quarter performance (0-4 FGs, 1 pt). They were so apologetic, you would have thought McGrady was out there with the Dulles Vikings.

Houston gave it likely the highest amount of effort that they're capable; they played with intensity and the will to win. The Jazz are just that good. Barkley thinks the Jazz and Lakers are the best teams in the West. I'm not sure he's wrong.

We can pore over the minutiae in every possession that led to the 90-84 loss. And maybe we should. Inconsistent officiating, a silly, unnecessary foul (that certainly didn't need to be called but did) from Scola that negated the tying 3FG by Bobby Jackson, an awkward bounce leading to an offensive rebound by Kirilenko who found Ashton Kutcher for the shot that sealed the deal. We can review every miscue but the recurring theme is that when the Rockets faltered, the Jazz took advantage. There's no doubt the Rockets played hard, now they have to execute better in the 4th.

Free throws would be a nice place to start. Then better close-outs on rebounds and loose balls. But the key is getting McGrady into the 4th quarter with fresher legs. It pretty clear now from watching games 1 & 2 that McGrady just isn't conditioned well enough to carry a team for 4 quarters of playoff-caliber basketball. In that sense, he is not Lebron James or Kobe Bryant, both players who've had plenty of practice going solo. T-Mac has just had Yao too long. He's given Mac the chance to take too many plays off which has adversely affected his stamina; and the rest of the Rockets have relied too much on Yao to curve their FT shooting. I'm kidding but not entirely. If anything is indicative of how much the Rockets miss their co-star, it lies therein.

Getting Rafer Alston back in the lineup (scheduled for Game 3 in Utah) should help. The Rockets will have back another play-maker who can create his own shot, hit the 3FG and shoulder more of the ball-handling. If he isn't too rusty, Alston will give McGrady more rest. A Bobby Jackson and Rafer Alston back-court seems far more reliable in McGrady's absence than Jackson/Head or Brooks/Head. Alston will also make Jackson more effective and explosive offensively off the bench. Coming in his traditional role as instant offense he will be able to focus more on making shots than setting up the offense. It's not too late. Utah's 37-4 home record, so what? The Rockets have been close, now they must close out. It doesn't matter where.

Originally posted at Yao Central on April 22, 2008 09:13 PM

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