Links: Houston at Atlanta Game Notes

by March 13, 2008

by Lang Whitaker

Been a tough week in the SLAM Dome, as we put the finishing touches on SLAM issue 118. And I’ve had to ignore The Links the last two days, because one million other things all needed to be done all at once. But you knew I had to watch tonight’s game in Atlanta, where the Rockets were gunning for their 20th consecutive win, which would tie them with a couple of other teams for the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. I’ve got a good feeling about my Hawks tonight. Let’s get it on!

• I’m glad to see Mt. Mutombo back in The A…and Josh Smith is also glad, as he out-jumps him for the opening tip.

• FSN Houston announcers Bill Worrell and Matt Bullard tell us that Mutombo hosted a party last night at his Atlanta home for all his teammates. Hopefully he took ’em out to Magic City afterwards, too.

• Apparently the Rocket bench players keep standing until they score their first basket. What is this, a high school team?

• Luis Scola picks up 2 fouls fast, probably in less time than it takes to dry his hair.

• Joe Johnson drains a three to make it 5-0, early. The Houston bench is still standing. Luckily there’s nobody in the seats behind the bench.

• After missing three consecutive jumpers, the Rockets decide to drive the ball…and Rafer blows a layup. Then Marvin Williams nails a long jumper to put the Hawks up 7-0.

• Meanwhile, Luis Scola came out of the game and was replaced by Wild Ass Chuck Hayes. Scola walked over to the bench and was handed his warmup top, but because the Rockets haven’t scored he couldn’t take a seat on the bench. So Scola stands there all sweaty, perhaps cheering harder than anyone else on the Rockets for them to break into the scoring column.

• And Wild Ass Chuck Hayes scores! Scola makes a beeline for the bench.

• Why the Wild Ass with Chuck Hayes? About a year ago I was interviewing Shaq, and, well, just read on…

ME: Is this the hardest season following a championship season that you’ve ever been through?

SHAQ: No, no. It’s been a weird season, because once again there was another freak injury for me. I’ve never had an injury where I just go up and pull a muscle or hamstring — it’s always landing funny or something freaky. So this time, wild-ass Chuck Hayes was coming through the middle. Our knees bumped, his knee was messed up for about 6 weeks and I had to get surgery.

The funny thing about it was the way he said it, completely even-voiced, as if Chuck Hayes’ first name was actually “Wild Ass” Chuck Hayes. And since then, every time I hear his name I can’t help but to preface it with “Wild Ass.”

• Mike Bibby is better help defender than ball defender. That’s probably not a good thing.

• T-Mac sticks a three and makes it 9 to 4 with 8 minutes to go.

• Bibby responds my tossing up a jumper that hits the rim and then bounces up and over the backboard and out of bounds. My friend Mike used to always note than when someone shoots and ball that bounces up and over the backboard, it always feels like you it’s somehow worse than just shooting and bricking one off the rim. Even though it’s not. But somehow, it still kind of is.

• Joe Johnson rips a 3 and I check the clock on top of the screen…which is stuck on 8:12. I guess Mutombo took the FSN Houston clock out last night, too.

• Marv lobs a lovely alley-oop to J-Smoove to make it 14-4 with 6:50 left. Adelman, who’s apparently been napping this first quarter. finally wakes up and gets a TO.

• According to the announcers, this is the biggest deficit of the 19-game in streak for Houston, a pretty amazing stat. I just can’t believe an NBA team with Rafer Alston starting at the point has won 19 straight games. After Worrell reads that stat, Bullard says “that’s why they’re not panicking.” What? Obviously, they shouldn’t panic because the game just started and all, but shouldn’t facing your biggest deficit of the streak cause you to panic?

• Worrell also mentions that Deke lives near Janet Jackson. Maybe Rhythm Nation 1814 was inspired by the year Dikembe was born?

• A Battier three makes it 14-8. The Rockets definitely aren’t panicking.

• Another Battier three makes it 14-11, taking down the FSN Houston scoreboard again. The announcers claim the crowd is over-half full of Rockets fans. Come on now, guys. There aren’t that many Rockets fans in Houston.

• Joe Johnson hits another three and then the Hawks throw a ball away that Josh Chill sorta leans after as it rolls out.

• Bobby Jackson in for Houston. He just doesn’t look right without a headband.

• Novak checks in for the Rockets. Sounds like a good name for a wacky neighbor on a sitcom.

• T-Mac hits a two to make it 16-14. The quarter’s almost over, and both teams look like they’re nursing 19-game losing streaks.

• FSN Houston finally just gives up on the clock. Good move.

• Zaza Pachulia trots onto the floor and looks like he’s playing at half-speed. He immediately loses a rebound to Novak, hilariously flipping the ball into the air and directly to Novak about two feet away, like only Zaza Pachulia can do.

• Novak makes the easy lay-up to tie it at 18-all after one quarter.

• I keep waiting for Mike James to check in for Houston. instead, we are given the gift of Luther Head.

• Zaza Pachulia cannot jump off the floor. This has long been a defining trait of his game, and yet he has managed to work around this little flaw and forge an NBA career. Nobody has told Houston, however, because Zaza catches in the post and spins to the basket and then sort of dives to his right and collapses, drawing a foul on the Rockets even though Zaza never had any true intent to shoot that ball.

• The scoreboard is back. And so are the Hawks, as now they’re down 3.

• The absolute worst place to pass Zaza Pachulia the ball is when he’s completely unguarded standing directly underneath the rim.

• By the way, last night I was making the bed and my dog Starbury celebrated the Knicks season by throwing up all over the sheet. So that was fun.

• 8:24 to go in the second, and Luther Head somehow drives directly through Salim Stoudamire with touching him to make it 25-22. The bad news is that as bad as the Rockets were in the first quarter, they’re even worse without T-Mac out there creating opportunities for everyone else. The good news is that they’re playing the Hawks tonight.

• Following Starbury’s lead, the Hawks perform a tribute to the Braves bullpen and issue back-to-back walks. Houston is clinging to a 27-24 lead.

• Mike Harris checks in for Houston. No, me neither.

• Billy Worrell says Luis Scola told him that he’s lost almost all confidence in his three throw shooting. TMI, Luis! Probably better you don’t let word get out, so teams don’t play Hack-A-Luis. And maybe If you’re having a problem with some part of your game, you shouldn’t tell it TO YOUR TEAM’S ANNOUNCER!

• And almost simultaneously, Scola picks up his third foul on beautiful open field tackle. Back to the bench for Scola. This time he’s allowed to take a seat.

• I can say this about Al Horford: He’s by far the best-dribbling power forward the Hawks have had in the last few decades. He’s always grabbing rebounds and trying to start fast breaks. I really like him, especially how hard he works, but the one thing that bothers me is how stiff he always seems. Can’t we send him to ballet classes or something in the offseason?

• I would try to describe the flow of this game to you, but how do you describe nothing?

• Mike Woodson goes small, and Joe Johnson immediately hits a three to make it 32-28. Don’t tell me JJ’s not an All-Star. He’s carrying the Hawks lately.

• And Wild Ass Chuck Hayes gets his 3rd foul, too, trying to keep up with the faster Hawks. How about it, Woodson? Nice job working the lineups.

• Tonight’s Southwest Airlines destination of the game is Phoenix, whatever that means.

• FSN Houston redeems screwing up the clock by showing the tape of guys doing their Mutombo imitations that was all over the internets yesterday. If you didn’t see it, it’s really brilliant.

As for me, I have plenty of favorite Mutombo moments, because I used to cover him in Atlanta his last years with the Hawks. But my favorite moment of all had to be at the 2001 All-Star Game in Washington D.C.

It was Saturday morning, and Russ and I met up in the hotel lobby to go out for the morning. We walked past the little café in the lobby and saw Hawks v.p. of Communications Arthur Triche sitting alone, having breakfast. The team PR guys all come to All-Star and sort of escort the players from their teams around, and this was about a week before Dikembe would be traded from Atlanta to Philly.

AT is one of our main men, so we went in and sat down with him for a minute to catch up. He’d been up all night trying to get into D.C., dealing with some sort of travel issues, and he was telling us how he hadn’t even seen Mutombo yet.

Just then, Dikembe came striding into the hotel, all arms and legs and impossible angles. Autograph hounds immediately swarmed him, and he brayed, in his amazingly low voice, “Ahhhh! Not right now! I just get here! I need to relax first!” And he made a beeline for our table. He came strutting up to our table and loudly barked, “Hey Triche, you still work for Hawk?”

Russ and I still regularly use that phrase. And it still makes me laugh.

(And if anyone can find the clip of Mutombo on Conan O’Brien about ten years ago, where he inhaled helium from a balloon and tried to talk, I’ll give you a free SLAM subscription.)

• With Carl Landry out injured and the Rockets lacking any power forwards who don’t have three fouls, Mutombo comes into the game with a few minutes left in the second. T-Mac shoots a three and Mutombo promptly knees the ball out of bounds…and Adelman decides to go small and yanks Mutombo. Hey Mutombo, you still work for Rocket?

• With Novak at the 4, Horford swallows a shot from Steve Harris, and Mike Woodson goes to a big line-up and the Hawks can’t stop scoring. Mike Woodson is dictating line-ups right now. I’m not sure what NBA I’m watching.

• Hawks lead 33-32 with 9.2 to go. In the second. Woodson inserts Mario West, our defensive specialist who probably wouldn’t break the top 15 in San Antonio. And he immediately wipes a jumper from T-Mac. Shows me.

• OK, halftime and it’s 33-32, Atlanta, thanks to that 9-0 run from the Hawks to end the half. I can smell the end of the 19-game win streak…and it smells like Hawk!

• Houston is shooting 28 percent in the first half, and the Hawks are at 32 percent. Ugh. Joe Johnson has 16 points and T-Mac and Battier each have 7. I have no idea of any other stats, because I’m watching on my via with about an hour delay and I don’t want to go online and get the stats spoiled.

• Actually, that’s got to be the next advancement in the internet: A way to DVR the entire Internet, so you can rewind or fast-forward a few hours in situations just like the one I’m in. I’m sure it would have other applications, too. Just none that I can think of.

• The announcers also tell us that Scola has played 5 minutes and totaled 3 fouls. Hopefully they don’t blame this on the Hawks’ scorekeepers like Pat Riley would.

• Rafer pops a three to make it 35-33, Houston. Battier gets elbowed atop his head and immediately starts vigorously rubbing his scalp. Looks like he’s trying to smooth the wrinkles.

• If Mutombo’s 41 years old, I’m 19.

• T-Mac hits back-to-back jumpers, making him the first Rocket in double figures.

• Meanwhile, despite not having any power forwards and a center with a broken foot, the Rockets are out-rebounding the Hawks on the offensive glass, 12-5.

• Horford is just killing Scola, scoring on him and harassing him on defense. What if Horford/Durant ends up being the big rivalry from the 2007 Draft? Greg who?

• J-Smoove gets loose and tomahawks the ball hard on a break to give the Hawks a lead, which T-Mac promptly erases. I watched a Rockets game last week and came away impressed with their cohesiveness and willingness to share the ball. Tonight everyone’s standing around and letting T-Mac do all the work, like the Magic used to do. The Rockets look terrible tonight, yet they’re right in this game.

• Josh Smith will never be mistaken for a point forward. He’s been really quiet tonight, pounding the boards and scoring mostly on tip-ins and put-backs. No idea of his stats, but he’s got to be near a double-double halfway through the third.

The thing is, to me at least, this is the way Josh should play every night. Too many games he drifts out to the perimeter and ends up firing up jumpers. That miss. But when he’s staying inside (and staying out of foul trouble) he can be dominant in there.

• Woody inserts Mario West, in the third quarter, which never happens. Someone’s thinking they can’t make a bad substitute. Uh-oh.

• Tracy McGrady nails a jumper over Josh Smith for his 9th and 10th points of the 3rd quarter.

• The Hawks go to what I call the “Joe Johnson goes one-on-five” offense, and he misses a running hook but Josh Smith tips it in.

• Al Horford redefines the term “babyface.”

• The Hawks cut Houston’s lead to 1 with 2:36 left in the third.

• Rafer throws up a brick to go 2-for-15 on the night. And they’re still leading.

• Good gosh, Josh. With 1 minute to go in the third, J-Smoove has 16 points and 18 rebounds. Nice of the FSN Houston broadcasters to let us know.

• Josh Smith gets the ball up top and faces off with T-Mac, who T-Mac pokes the ball away and takes off for the other end. Desperate to stop him, Josh grabs his pants. Whoa. You won’t see things like that at Camp Chen-A-Wanda, kids.

• Sitting on the bench, a smirk on his face, his long fingers curled around his chin, Dikembe Mutombo looks a little like The Grinch.

• to end the quarter, down two, the Hawks go back to “Joe Johnson goes one-on-five.” JJ misses and the Rockets are ahead 59-57 after 3. Neither team seems to be playing their game — both are just trying to survive. Nobody on Houston except T-Mac can get it going, and the Hawks seem content to not double him and let him get going. The Hawks, meanwhile, aren’t getting anything from their bench players, particularly Zaza, Josh Childress and Acie Law.

• The Hawks open the 4th with the legendary Zaza/Acie Law pick and roll. They do not score on the possession.

• If Dikembe is 41, Zaza is 24. Oh right, Zaza really does claim to be 24 years old.

• Luther Head breaks a tie at 59 with a smooth jumper, and then Bobby Jackson gets a lay-up to put Houston up 4. With 10:15 left in the game, that just might make this lead insurmountable. Yeah, I know it’s a four point lead. But I also know these Hawks.

• The Rockets bench is back to standing. I’d be pissed if I was sitting behind them. I don’t think anyone paid a few hundred bucks per ticket to see a close-up of the back of Mike Harris’ head. And while I understand the Rockets wanting to be a team and all, the reason they all make ridiculous amounts of money is because those fans behind them pay so much money. So be nice, guys.

• Mike Bibby (remember him?) gets to the line and makes 1, pulling the Hawks within 1, 63-62.

• Zaza runs past Scola away from the ball and just lays into him, drawing a foul. Bet he’s jealous of Scola’s hair. To make things worse, Zaza picks up a technical foul. The way this game is going, a three- or four-point possession could end it.

• To be fair, Zaza’s been battling “concussion-like symptoms” all season. Then again, he’s been battling something similar his entire career.

• Horford gets a jumper to make it 66-64, but Rafer miraculously makes a three to puch the lead again.

• T-Mac gets an easy two off an inbounds play where Rafer basically just lobbed him the ball in front of the basket. Great defense, Atlanta.

• Wild Ass Chuck Hayes fouls jJJ on a drive. He hits both free throws to make it 71-70 with a few minutes left. The Hawks are hanging in there, but it doesn’t really feel like they have a chance.

• The Rockets try to kill some time, so they run down the shot clock and T-Mac forces a jumper at the buzzer over a double-team. Houston gets the rebound, though, brings the ball back out, runs the shot clock down again and misses another jumper. But they rebound that, too, and run more clock, and this time T-Mac avoids the double team and flips the ball to a wide-open Wild Ass Chuck Hayes for a layup. Houston takes a three-point lead. Might as well be 15.

• The Hawks come out of a timeout and what play do they have drawn up? I don’t know, but they end up running “Joe Johnson goes one-on-five.” Doesn’t work.

• The Hawks completely collapse down the stretch, missing jumpers, turning the ball over. Then the Hawks play a zone and T-Mac calmly storkes a long three over the top to put Houston up 81-70.

• That’s it. Houston ends up winning 83-75, and extending their winning streak to 20 games, tied for second-longest in NBA history. Immediately following the game, before the League Pass guitar music kicks in, Bullard interviews Shane Battier. Battier notes that it might have been the best win of the 20 games, because they were “down the whole night” but fought back to win. Weird, because the game I watched the Rockets led for most of three quarters. Anyway, the Rockets won. Friday night they have a chance to move into sole possession of second all-time with 21 straight wins, if only they can beat the BETcats.

Wonder what Jeff Van Gundy thinks of all this?