Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Tale of Two Yaos

Haven't been able to watch any games since the previous post until this last back-to-back but any game (especially any B2B) is a good indication of where Yao is at physically. Looking at the stats alone, it would seem to be a tale of two Yaos but beyond the numbers, it's the same slowly but steadily improving Yao we've seen all season, just two different teams and the first without a closer.

Against the 6-15 Memphis Grizzlies, the Rockets fell behind early but managed to creep back into the game on with Luis Scola putting in work. But when they needed someone to step up and impose their will to get Houston over the top, Yao was unable. Not unwilling but physically unable to step up. Against a superior 12-8 Hawks squad, Houston got out to the early start but let the Hawks back in it. Joe Johnson was unconscious in just shy of folk tale form in the 3rd quarter and it was contagious to the rest of the Hawks. Again, it looked like Yao wasn't going to be able to keep the Rockets above water. He was getting beat to the ball on rebounds and committed costly turnovers. The difference in the second game was Ron Artest. He came in and willed the Rockets to the lead on offense AND defense--Johnson didn't just go cold late in the 4th. He also gave Yao a chance to gather his bearings and put the Hawks away late.

What should be telling about these two games is that Yao still isn't there yet. He's improving but not at the level of dominance he had attained the past two seasons before he was injured. He's solid but not dominant. I can't remember ever seeing a quieter 19 rebounds. But he's out there, just playing at about the level he was in his first 3rd or 4th season. Sometimes tentative, not as quick to the ball and not playing powerfully. He's back to layups instead of dunks.

It's hard to know what it is exactly. Stamina, a subconscious unwillingness to stress the healing leg, longer stretches on the bench, longer stretches on the court. Or maybe he's on to something. Maybe Yao's consciously taking his time. So long as T-Mac and Artest can make it to a few games here and there, they should be able to get into the post-season in the West where it won't matter what seed they are. They'll just have to win. So maybe, just maybe if Yao can save it up until the playoffs, it might be more conducive to Yao making it a season injury-free. But he's too much of a competitor and team-first guy to be so calculating, isn't he? It is certainly a less dominant Yao we are seeing on the court right now. And its still too early to tell if he's incapable of resurrecting the other one but if 24 and 19 is still a quiet game, I think we'll take it.

Originally posted at Yao Central on 2008-12-10 12:43

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