The Rockets deserve all the credit for this one, Utah's fifth loss in 42 games on its home floor this year. Rafer Alston set an aggressive tone early (more on that below), the Rockets kept the Jazz out of the paint (limiting Utah to six points in the first half) and Luis Scola and Carl Landry cleaned up the glass late (combining to grab 21 rebounds). Almost as important as staving off a crushing 0-3 deficit, the Rockets got back to their defensive roots, holding Utah to less than 50 percent shooting for the first time all series and clogging up the interior. Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko found little space to operate, and with Mehmet Okur misfiring from outside, the Jazz were chasing the Rockets all night.
For all of the heat Tracy McGrady (right) has taken for his disappearing acts, most pundits haven't been able to explain just why T-Mac fades. Here's one theory: He needs to free his mind. Alston illustrated this almost as soon as he took the floor for the first time in the series, connecting on a 25-foot three from the top of the key before calling his own number twice in the next four possessions. When Alston wasn't shooting, he was barking out orders to his teammates, directing traffic, maneuvering players into their optimal position -- all without care about how it looks to his teammates or the press. That isn't T-Mac, whose acceptance of blame for Houston's 0-2 start to the series and many other of the world's problems reveals as much sensitivity as it does sarcasm. Franchise players can't afford that sensitivity, that conscience. And with Houston down perhaps its best talent, the Rockets will only go as far as McGrady can lead them. And if that means handing out 12 assists, great. But if it means shooting 2-for 8 in the fourth quarter, then that's what should be done, feelings be damned. Let go of the media criticism, Tracy; let go of always trying to fit in. Play like you know you're the best talent on the court, not only because you are, but because your team needs you to.
For as little as Kirilenko and Okur offered in Game 3, combining to miss 15 of 20 shots, Boozer has yet to take over a game in this series. He's averaging almost five points less a game in Round 1 than he did in the regular season. That's a testament to an active Houston frontline, which has bothered Boozer with quick hands and feet more than the size it is missing with Yao Ming sidelined. After three games, Boozer shouldn't expect to see much more daylight moving forward.
The Utah loss overshadowed another sterling performance by Deron Williams, who, despite often appearing to be the only reliable option on offense, managed to find his teammates for 12 assists while turning the ball over only three times. Williams has clearly become the Jazz's best player, but he's not one that can lead the team on his own. That's not because he can't but because coach Jerry Sloan won't let him. With a frontcourt as versatile and deep as Utah's, that's a smart decision, but it limits what Utah can do. Of course, since Sloan's system has produced only 1,089 wins, we'll assume he knows what he's doing.
We have no way of knowing what the Jazz fan ejected with about four minutes left in the first half did to be escorted from the building, but given the sterling reputation former cop and current referee Bob Delaney has, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt that the fan deserved it. And it's about time. Too many fans feel the exorbitant price of a ticket allows them to flex their beer muscles, even if only verbally. It doesn't, not when there often are children in attendance and not when the players and coaches have to communicate over the often X-rated blatherings of a puffed up corporate swell. More referees should take Delaney's lead.
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