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McGrady’s Aches Return as Rockets Lose To Pistons 70-78

By Dennis L. Silva, II.

They boast a few similarities but the direction in which their respective teams are headed could not have been more different. The Detroit Pistons, a well-rounded ballclub who have been successful on both ends of the floor this season, entered Friday night’s contest against the Rockets undefeated at 7-0. The Rockets, an inconsistent bunch who have really only shown stability on the defensive end, came in a disgruntled and wounded animal with a season record of 3-5. Both teams are veteran-laded and both play hard defensively, but that’s where the similarities end. Detroit proved as much in their 78-70 victory before 18,189 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Apparently Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy felt there were changes that needed to be made. Therefore, he placed Ryan Bowen in the starting lineup, and moved Derek Anderson to the bench. Also, starting point guard Rafer Alston was not in uniform due to injury (which was not disclosed), and Van Gundy chose David Wesley to take Alston’s spot as the primary ballhandler.

The game began sluggish and of little interest as Detroit began the game shooting 4-12 to start off while taking an early 14-13 lead. The Rockets offense showed spotty signs of life, as Wesley did an admirable job of pushing the ball early and often, allowing Houston to get some easy points in transition (they would finish the half with 7). Yao (who finished the first half with 12 points and 5 rebounds) was aggressive in the paint, bullying the Piston’s Ben Wallace (who is widely recognized as one of the better, if not the best, interior defenders in the league) to score 8 points on a variety of dunks and moves inside. Due to some late 3-point shots by Maurice Evans and Richard Hamilton, Detroit managed to take a 26-22 lead into the second quarter.

Both teams played hard and scrappy on defense, rotating to open shooters and contesting any open shots that came their way. However, neither team’s offense was able to maintain much consistency. Both teams combined for 15 turnovers. Detroit held a 37-32 lead with 2:51 remaining before the Rockets’ offense received a boost from Luther Head (who coach Van Gundy noted has played the best out of all his guards) and Stromile Swift. Head hit a long jumper, and Swift drove from the top of the circle for an easy lay-up off a play following a timeout. The Pistons took a 39-36 lead into halftime.

It’s unthinkable to imagine the first half of a Rockets game recap without mentioning Tracy McGrady, but also be of the abnormal when McGrady would have no demonstrative impact in the game. McGrady, whose back problems started reoccurring prior to yesterday’s contest against San Antonio, was obviously hindered by a stiff and tight back. During the first half he was walking gingerly and trying desperately to ease the tightened muscles of his back. He finished the first half with only 4 points on 2-9 shooting, yet did grab 10 rebounds.

The third quarter was an exhibition of laziness at its finest as neither team was able to grab tight reins of the game. Detroit held a 52-45 lead with 2:24 remaining but David Wesley hit a couple of late 3-pointers to give the Rockets some signs of hope. Unfortunately, that would not be the case as the Pistons countered Houston’s run with a few buckets of their own, taking a 57-48 advantage into the game’s final 12 minutes.

The Rockets started off the fourth period in fine fashion, scoring five consecutive points on a Yao lay-up and a three-point play by Stromile Swift. Later in the quarter, both teams exchanged scoring sprees of five points each as Detroit barely claimed a 67-66 lead with 5:06 remaining. The Rockets finally were receiving significant contributions from Swift (who would finish the game with 12 points and 9 rebounds) and Wesley, who was hitting open jumpers whenever Detroit tried to pull away. But the experience of Detroit and the absence of McGrady, who did not play the entire fourth quarter, was too much for Houston to handle as Rasheed Wallace scored on three clutch baskets late to defuse any attempt of a Rockets rally. And when Wesley drove to the basket and had his layup blocked instead of shooting an open 3 when the Rockets were down 6, that proved to be the nail in the coffin and the last chance of any hope that the Rockets might have ended the Piston’s undefeated run.

Despite a disappointing loss that could have easily been a victory, there were more positive signs from the Rockets than in past games. The Rockets played aggressively and showed a lot of emotion and intensity on both ends of the floor, which was evident in the fact that they outrebounded a blue-collar Pistons teams 52-38. The Rockets also did a much better job establishing position in the low box, outscoring Detroit 34-22 in the paint. Wesley did a nice job running the point guard, and easily had his best all-around game of the campaign, scoring 14 points, dishing 6 assists, and grabbing 9 rebounds, while also hitting 5-8 from the field. He did a great job of pushing the ball and allowing the Rockets to score some easy points in transition. Houston finished the game with 14 points scored from fast break opportunities.

Since the game showed so many positives for the Rockets, I won’t harp on the negatives. But the Rockets still need to do a better job of boxing out defensively (Detroit was accountable for 12 offensive rebounds), which allowed Detroit fifteen more shot attempts than Houston. The Rockets must realize that to compete with the big boys such as Detroit, San Antonio, and Indiana, they cannot allow second and third scoring opportunities on the same possession.

The Rockets’ death row of opponents continues as they travel to Indiana to face a struggling Pacers squad on Sunday afternoon. One can only hope that McGrady’s back feels more relaxed and able after a day’s rest or else it’s very possible that Rockets fans see him sidelined for another short string of games.


· Detroit’s talented backcourt of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamiltion scored a combined 32 points on 11-27 shooting.
· Pistons guard Maurice Evans scored five consecutive points late in the fourth quarter to stave off a 5-0 run of the Rockets.
· Yao Ming fouled out of the game (most of the calls were questionable) yet finished the contest with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 37 minutes played.
· Derek Anderson was 0-7 from the floor and scored only 4 points in his 26 minutes played.
· The Pistons forced 19 Rockets turnovers, and claimed ten steals and ten blocks as team overall.
· McGrady finished the game with 6 points and 13 rebounds on 3-16 shooting in his 32 minutes.
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