I watched the Houston Rockets build a 16-2 lead on the Toronto Raptors last Sunday at the Air Canada Centre.
Then I watched it all come apart. McGrady started missing and, when it was all over, he had hit only one-third of his shots (7-of-21). None of his teammates could get in a rhythm.
After the game, the usually even-tempered Yao went off on his team's lack of toughness, taking care not to except himself. (He is always a stand-up guy.) "I hate this game," he told the
The next night, after a 100-88 loss in Philadelphia, Yao was steaming again. "When you are soft yourself, everything will feel tough," Yao said. "It's not because they are so tough. It's because of how soft we are. It's weird that we changed that quick. I never had that feeling. I feel like they traded me to another team, a new team I've never been on before."
No, Yao, it's the same old team. And the more I look at a McGrady-dominated team, the more I see one that cannot be a championship contender. I'm not basing this on one early-December road trip, of course. On Wednesday night, the Rockets beat the Detroit Pistons 80-77 despite an unimaginably horrible night from the free throw line -- McGrady missed all five of his attempts and the team as a whole was 6-of-22. The win put the Rockets at 12-11, and I fully expect that they will be battling for one of the mid-level playoff spots in the tough Western Conference.
But a championship team? I don't see it. I'll try to get beyond the fact that McGrady always --
The main issue I have with T-Mac is the almost total control he has over the Houston offense. Everything is fine when he has a big night and hits, say, 60 percent of his shots, as he is capable of doing. He can get to the basket, he can hit the mid-range jumper and he can make threes, so he can beat teams by himself. But in the long run, one player doesn't beat teams by himself, certainly not other playoff teams.
The most obvious comparison for T-Mac is to the Cleveland Cavaliers'
Obviously, much of the Rockets' future success depends on how well McGrady and Yao can mesh. The jury is still out on that. This is the fourth season that T-Mac and Yao have been together, but McGrady missed 35 games in 2005-06 and Yao was sidelined 34 games last season. In '04-05, the one full season they played together, McGrady took 26 percent of the Rockets' shots and Yao attempted 15 percent. So far this season, Yao is at 19 percent and McGrady has taken 23 percent.
But Yao, in my opinion, is hurt less by McGrady's domination of the ball than others. Yao gets his touches largely on predictable set plays when it's clear that the Rockets are going to him; it's the other guys who can't seem to find a rhythm on a McGrady team.
In his two (mostly) healthy seasons in Houston, McGrady has taken 26 percent ('04-05) and 23 percent ('06-07) of the Rockets' field goal attempts. In his six championship seasons with the Chicago Bulls,
That is not to suggest that McGrady should be Jordan. (Nobody else is.) But James shot 47.6 percent last season while taking 24 percent of the field goal attempts for that inferior Cavs team he dragged to the NBA Finals.
The point is, all of the above great scorers play within a system. Do they take over at times and shoo the lesser lights to the wallflower section of the court? Absolutely. But they do so with greater effectiveness and efficiency than McGrady does.
McGrady's dominance of the Houston offense isn't exactly a new subject. He addressed it himself after the Rockets' loss in Philadelphia (although he brought Yao into the conversation).
"It seems like a lot of teams have figured us out now," McGrady told the
Well, maybe. For the most part, McGrady is either on the ball or calling for the ball, and far too often his teammates don't know what move he's going to make. That leads, ultimately, to inconsistency and, in this opinion, continued early playoff elimination.
But he's good enough that I'm willing to be proved wrong.