Houston - Every season has its signature moments; those turning points, both good and bad, which come to represent something altogether larger when viewed with the benefit of hindsight.
Sometimes they manifest themselves during a night in which everything falls apart. Others arrive in the form of "Eureka!" moments when a team finally taps into its true potential and rides that revelation to heretofore unreachable heights.
It's obviously far too soon to say whether or not the Rockets' resounding 108-96 victory over the previously red-hot Nuggets falls into the latter category. But one thing's for sure: For one evening at least, Houston's tremendously talented trio featuring Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming and Ron Artest was not just a hoped-for fairy tale. It was reality, bursting forth in all its playmaking, explosive and dominating glory.
This was the sort of performance for which fans had been hoping ever since Houston acquired Artest in mid-August. The numbers bear witness to the Denver devastation left in Houston's wake: T-Mac leading the way with his fourth career triple-double (20 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists.). Yao Ming, owning the paint as if he were Sherwin-Williams, pouring in 32 points on 13-of-19 shooting. And the closer, Ron Artest, who came off the bench to score 20 points, 10 of which came during the decisive fourth quarter. Add it all up and you not only have a performance worthy of all the preseason hype, but one which has to stand among Houston's very best through the opening 25 games of the season.
“It was a good game," said McGrady. "I did see that Ron is a [beast] coming off the bench and that’s what we really need is that spark. He just came out and played ball, knocked down some big shots for us and looked like he was a lot more comfortable coming off the bench. And if he can contribute like that coming off the bench every night, then we’ll be okay. We can be a dangerous team."
And while Houston's terrific threesome will understandably steal all the headlines from this game, the Rockets' success would not have been cemented without a major assist from second-year point guard Aaron Brooks. Filling in for the injured Rafer Alston, the diminutive Brooks was dynamite scoring 18 points and dishing 6 assists, while doing Yeoman's work defensively against his much larger, far more experienced counterpart Chauncey Billups.
"I think he’s got a lot more confidence now," said Coach Rick Adelman when asked about his point guard's play. "I didn’t know what the game was going to bring, but I felt he had been in enough of those situations where he was going to go out and play a pretty good game. We were just concerned with what they were going to do with Billups against him, but I felt Aaron had an advantage at the other end because he’s got the quickness to break a defense down."
As it turned out, Brooks' quickness proved key at both ends of the court. While the Oregon-product directed Houston to its best shooting performance of the season (55.3%), he also managed to limit Billups - who had torched the Rockets for 28 points and 10 assists in their previous meeting - to a mere 8 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field. Adelman said the key was Brooks' ability to shadow Billups all over the floor, regardless of the obstacles placed before him.
"[Billups] is bigger than Aaron so you’re not going to block any shots, you just have to get your hand up and see if you can bother him, and I thought Aaron did a good job of maintaining contact with him for the most part and getting through the screens. Because that’s really where he’s struggled in the past: getting hung up on screens, going under when he shouldn’t go under, and I thought today he had a really good understanding of how he had to play him."
So armed with yet another big bounce-back victory beneath their belts (lest we forget, Houston entered Tuesday night's contest still smarting from a loss to the lowly Clippers), the Rockets now hope to build upon this win in a way which has eluded them up to this point.
"We’re 20-something games into the season and we’ve had multiple guys in and out, so we’ve had to play with a different line-up and different bench," said Yao. "Hopefully we can play more consistent the rest of the season and play with the same groups, so we can build good chemistry. Today was a very good experience for us but it still was just one game of our season.”
Yao clearly gets it: In a vacuum, the victory itself holds little meaning, it's what comes next which ultimately determines its real value - and decides whether we one day look back upon December 16th as a signature moment, or just another unfulfilling hint of what might have been.
Information source: www.rockets.com