Stan McNeal at the Sporting News has made the analogy that the Rockets were "banding together like a college team on a March Madness roll," which is exactly what the Rockets have done. They've gotten hot at the right time. But this loss to the Celtics was very telling in one thing. The Rockets without Yao are suddenly very undersized.
You saw signs of this in the Lakers game, when it seemed like Lamar Odom got a hand on every single Rockets rebound. If Pau Gasol were there, one could assume things would've been a bit more interesting. The Celtics came into Houston last night virtually at full strength--Ray Allen is still their odd-man out chemistry-wise so they don't miss him that much. Garnett, Perkins and reserve Leon Powe just dominated the Rockets front-court on the boards. It's not that Houston let up, or didn't fight, they just got flat out beat. If they hadn't already known, teams in the Western Conference just got a reminder that its the Celtics have the best record in the league.
I'd picked Boston to come out of the East early on, but I wasn't sure they could win it. Now, I'm absolutely certain they can. That defense is a monster. But this brings back how important Yao was for this team. The Rockets were on an unbelievable run and ostensibly playing better in Yao's absence. But this kind of game is where you miss him. In January, when the Rockets were down 20 vs. the Celtics early on, they went to Yao. And they took it down to the wire because he singularly dominated Boston... because he made them undersized. Last night, the tables were turned.
But you know what the most encouraging part of last night's game was... even down 20+ late in the 4th, the fans were still there, urging the Rockets on, believing that somehow, with this team, a miracle could happen.
The Rockets now have to re-focus and put the 22-game streak behind them. As historical as it was, the Rockets can't get caught up in history. They have the Hornets again, Golden State, Phoenix twice, San Antonio, Denver and Utah in these remaining 15 games. No settling at this point, Houston must keep playing their game and push to enter the post-season with confidence and a home-court advantage. So at least all of us fans can get an extra game to urge our team on once again.
Originally posted at Yao Central on March 19, 2008 08:54 AM