Houston and Oklahoma City have mediocre records and came with losing tendencies. The Hornets came in having lost 7 of their last 10 but were at least healthy. To this point the Rockets have been scathed by injuries. But even without an injured Yao Ming, this game came down to the Final seconds.
The Rockets on paper shouldn’t have even had a chance to win. Yao, Anderson, Barry, Alston, and Sura were all out with one malady or another and gave Houston just 10 healthy players to work with. To stay in it, the Rockets got two massive performances that kept them in the game. Tracy McGrady had a season-high 38 points and made up for Yao’s absence. Stromile Swift had a career game off the bench with 26 points and 13 rebounds. Houston was carried between the two and lifted the Rockets to a 6-pt 3rd quarter lead.
The Hornets led for most of the game. They had 6 different players in double figures with leading scorer J. R. Smith not even playing in the 4th. Several players stepped up at different portions of the game. Desmond Mason got the bulk of his 13 points in the 1st, Claxton got most of his 13 in the 2nd and J. R. Smith scored the majority of his 16 in the 3rd.
In the 4th, the Hornets finally adjusted to McGrady, double-teaming him and forcing him to pass it. It was with that strategy that Oklahoma City took control of the quarter. Hornets SF Rasual Butler made three 3’s in a row scoring 15 in the quarter after being nonexistent in the previous parts of the game.
The resilient Rockets fought back and tied the game at 92-92. In the closing seconds, David West was left wide open at the top of the key and drilled a 20-footer to give Oklahoma City a tight win. Both the Hornets and the Rockets had numerous chances to clinch the game before the David West jumper: Oklahoma City missed 12 free throws and Juwan Howard clanked two bank shots at point-blank range with about a minute left in the 4th.
Houston would rather not play Lonny Baxter and Moochie Norris yet had to with the bench as thin as it is. The Rockets will need McGrady to score 30+ for every game Yao is out (which is until mid-January) and will no doubt have a new season-high in points when Ming does return.
The Hornets strength is definitely in numbers. Of the 6 players in double figures against Houston, P. J Brown and Chris Anderson were not among them because of foul trouble and double-figure scorer Bostjan Nochbar was injured. They too are consistent contributors giving the Hornets a fairly deep bench when available.
Chris Paul chimed in with 12 points and 8 assists. Dikembe Mutumbo had only 1 point but grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds.
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