Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rockets-Jazz: H&H

My buddy Brandon Rosenthal has a great phrase that he uses to incapsulate all of the little things and intangibles that go into winning. It consists of two words: "Heart and Hustle." It's been the name of his fantasy team, the explanation for pickup game victories, and basically a mantra for everyday life.

Tonight it applied to the Houston Rockets.

In a game that saw T-Mac shoot crooked throughout (9-for-29) and Yao struggle mightly to score in the post (9-for-24), the Rockets got a huge H&H effort from virtually every guy on the roster, including their aforementioned stars. They needed every effort play, tipped pass, and second chance basket too, because Carlos Boozer was a one-man wrecking crew with 41-12-6 on 17-for-30 shooting.

Here were the H&Hers responsible for Houston's win:

1. Rafer Alston. I know it seems crazy to put Skip first, and maybe I'm losing my mind a little, but I am convinced that the Rockets won this game because of Alston's defense on Deron Williams. It was unbelievable to watch. He harrassed the dribble, busted around screens, snared long rebounds, and somehow limited a hot-shooting Williams to just 15 points. Without a second scorer to support Boozer, the Jazz just couldn't match Houston's attack down the stretch. Credit Skip for that. (While we're here, I would like to point out that while Okur will probably be blamed for this loss, that is unfair. He did a fantastic job defensively on Yao - including 4 blocks - and to expect him to also throw up 20 is unreasonable. No, the Jazz needed more from Williams, Harpring, or Giricek ... or something from the postseason's biggest disaster, Andrei Kirilenko. This one isn't on Okur. But he did suck on offense.)

2. Shane Battier. Battier is a marvel. He challenges every shot, dives for loose balls, gets the big rebounds, and plays with the right kind of emotion. What I mean is that he's not out there yelling like a madman or skipping around waving towels (see: Ronny Turiaf), but rather that he is putting it all on the line and is completely invested in the game as it unfolds. His emotion is authentic and contagious. Houston looked like a college team trying to reach the Final Four tonight, and that is in large part due to Battier's leadership and infectious attitude.

3. Tracy McGrady. T-Mac probably shouldn't be this far down any list right now, especially when he found a way to fight through a tough shooting night (not to mention about 47 Gordon Giricek fouls) to go 31-10-5 and make the big plays down the stretch. Throw in his sense of ownership in this series and the emotion that he displayed and he was definitely a critical factor. However, it was Alston and Battier that made the big push early in the fourth quarter, so they get the top spots.

4. Chuck Hayes. One stat tells the whole story: 7 offensive rebounds. Nothing says H&H like getting on the offensive glass. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he posted a 12-12 without missing shot, or that he racked up another double digit total in the floor burns category.

Yao played hard as well and had some big boards, and even Juwan Howard, Mutombo, and Luther Head made some key plays, but it was the four guys mentioned above that got this W for Houston. In a league driven by star power, execution, and matchups, it was kind of wild to watch a team win by sheer will and effort. You might even call it refreshing.

(By the way, the refs were atrocious in this game. Both ways. Just horrible.)

1 comment:

Mike said...

Speaking of Battier, how did he get called for a foul on that play in which Williams slammed into him trying to intercept a pass? Battier was camped under that thing and Deron just blindly nailed him. And they called the foul on Battier! That was incredible. Good call on the hustle though, the Rockets were everywhere, and had to be, considering how terrible their shooting was.