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Rockets Meltdown?
The consensus seems to be that it's not T-mac's fault. The only person blaming T-mac is T-mac. If you can blame T-Mac for anything, it's that he didn't assert himself earlier in the series. He still settled for too many jumpers in the first six games, but that's not why the rockets lost and it would be unfair to put McGrady's performance under a microscope like that. When you look at the overall series, he averaged over 25 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. He did his job despite shooting only 39% over the series.

BUT, if its not T-mac's fault, the next target is Yao. He was exposed on defense and could not keep Boozer under control. But, you have to ask yourself, should Yao have even been guarding Boozer? TNT has the best studio show, but they failed to ask this question the entire series. Boozer is a power forward, and a slightly undersized one at that. Yao is the biggest center in the league and notoriously slow. While Okur would have dragged Yao out and stripped Houston of a shot blocking presence, it would have left him fresher and perhaps Chuck Hayes, a quicker player, would have been more succesful defensively.

While Yao also averaged over 25 points and 10 rebounds on 44% shooting, he had less than a block/game and had over 4 turnovers per game. McGrady's problem was settling for jumpers and Yao's was over-dribbling and turning into double teams. When he played catch and shoot or one move and shoot, he did very well. Ironically, T-Mac and Yao are mentally very similar players. They over-think and do not initiate offense instinctively enough allowing the defense to dictate what they will do offensively. T-Mac will settle and Yao will wait for the double team. Both need to go get their shots at times instead of always taking what the defense gives them. In the second half of game seven, we saw Yao really push for position more aggressively than he ever has and T-Mac slashed with authority. Utah couldn't stop them and they went up by 5.

Right now, both of these players will have good games and get 25. That's not enough. One needs to dominate and get 30 with the other in the mid-20s. They can't both be expecting the other to dominate. Whoever has the match-up needs to be selfish, demand the ball, and make the defense adjust. These two both use each other as an excuse not to demand the ball play after play and it needs to stop. Both players need to get selfish if they have favorable match-ups.

Yet, the question still remains. Is this Yao's fault? Personally, I don't think he had any business guarding Boozer, but he should have done a better job on the boards in games 6 and 7. Then again, he hyperextended his knee in game 7 and still came back to provide valuable offense down the stretch. On the three offensive rebounds, he should have got the first one over Boozer, but the other two were Shane Battier's. Considering his consistent offense throughout and good board-work through 5 games, I wouldn't say this series is on him either.

The bench would be the easy target, but I think we need to take a look at Van Gundy. He's a great coach, held the team together, and T-Mac/Yao really respect him, so, there's no thought he won't be back. Yet, we should break-down his gameplan. From the start, he had Yao guarding Boozer and that failed. Instead of switching it up, he stayed with it hoping that the rest of the Jazz wouldn't provide enough help to win. It was a gamble that didn't pay off. He hates zone, never plays it, and relies strictly on man to man help defense much like Larry Brown, but he should have given it a shot here. The Jazz's weakness all season has been 3-point shooting and a slashing 2-guard who can collapse the defense. The Rockets didn't have anyone to play Boozer man to man and Rafer couldn't stay with D-Williams on the high screen. These are both problems that the zone solves. If you aren't going to go zone, at least force the ball out of Boozer's hands. The Jazz constantly doubled T-Mac and Yao, but the Rockets stubbornly played Boozer straight up.

While Van Gundy is a great defensive coach, he's using the old Sprewell-Houston isolation offense with Yao and Tracy. It doesn't work. He should be maximizing their skills by designing plays that incorporate both players instead of having them take turns isolating on opposite sides of the court. In all of game 7, only one player ran the Princeton Offense hand-off play in the post with Yao and that was Luther Head. That play is the best way to keep teams from double-teaming Yao or getting slashers easy buckets. T-Mac also excels at back-door cuts, but the play is never called for him. He runs it on an improvisational basis with Rafer in the secondary break. Everyone talks about needing a play-maker and Rafer's not the best, but he's definitely above average. The Rockets NEVER run T-Mac back door on Yao screens with Rafer feeding. If you run that play either Tracy gets a dunk, Yao gets a 10-footer or Shane Battier's open in the opposite corner with a skip pass. These are just a couple elementary plays a nobody like myself knows will work. Van Gundy HAS TO OPEN UP THE PLAYBOOK because he's holding the team back. You wonder if he is like Larry Brown where he gets the most out of average players, but stifles great players.

Posted by Eddie Huang at 5/6/2007 1:23:00 AM

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