by Russ Bengtson
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure why I wrote this at all, except for a nagging sense of obligation. After all, Lang already wrote about the game here, and our faithful cadre of insomniac Rockets fans more or less live-blogged the entire game here. But there were still a few things I’d like to address:
(Oh yeah, the Jazz won 90-84. No one was surprised, including the Rockets.)
For starters, you’ve gotta feel for Tracy McGrady. Here he is about to fail to get out of the first round for the sixth (or seventh, I can’t keep track and can’t bear to look it up again) time in his career—which means he’s going to have to endure the same questions for ANOTHER year—and he scores exactly one point in the fourth quarter of the first two games. Combined. You know what, though? This isn’t really his fault.
For starters, the guy goes for 23 points, 13 boards, nine assists, three steals and two blocks. Not too bad. (He’s averaged 21.5 ppg in the first two games, right around what he put up this season.) And with Yao Ming and Rafer Alston out, he’s been forced to be the Rockets primary scorer AND playmaker. Which, of course, other guys have to do too (starts with LeBron, ends with James), but they’re not missing two of five starters and facing a team who just beat them in the playoffs last year. Sure, Tracy’s shooting a larryhughesian 37 percent from the floor, but he’s having all sorts of defenders thrown at him (including an actual kitchen sink for six minutes in Game Two), and having to work hard at both ends of the floor without much of a break. Those numbers up top? He led the Rockets in ALL FIVE categories. This is his fault?
The funny thing is you can’t really blame his teammates, either. They’re a scrappy bunch of overachievers who just aren’t overachieving right now. And if it weren’t for Tracy’s ongoing Firstroundgate, no one would be too amazed/horrified by their going down in the first round this year. That 22-game win streak was both a blessing and a curse, as it got them a higher seed (or even into the playoffs in the first place), but it also set them against the one team they probably wanted to face least. Without two of their five starters. Dikembe Mutombo and Bobby Jackson are great players to have come off the bench. As starters? Not so much. Especially for a team that probably isn’t as good as its record.
As for the Jazz, won by six on the road despite a crap game from Andrei Kirilenko (three points on 1-8 from the floor) and a decidedly meh one from Carlos Boozer (13 and seven). I don’t see much need to discuss specifics because you’ll be seeing them for another round. Deron Williams’s butt hurts, but he still hit his first three threes in the first quarter. Mehmet Okur had 16 points and 16 boards.
So now the series moves back to Salt Lake, where the Jazz went 37-4 this year, having only lost one game since the start of 2008. They’re more unbeatable at home than Macauley Culkin. This does not bode well for the Rockets. Or their fans. Sorry, guys.
P.S. Speaking of things that don’t look good, enough of Craig Sager already. Can’t someone at TNT make him dress like a human being? We know you desperately crave attention, Craig, but you’re supposed to be GETTING the story, not trying to become part of it. If I hear one more player or coach make a sardonic remark about your outfit while you laugh chummily about it, I’m finding a way to loose an entire colony of moths into your closet. You’ve been warned. (From now on, instead of a sideline reporter you shall be referred to as “the sideshow reporter.” Congratulations.)