A speech from Chuck Hayes (44) helped spur the Rockets.
Rock bottom becomes launching point
Team meeting, 9-1 run follow day of infamy: a date with Philadelphia
By FRAN BLINEBURY –Link
You can look at video and analyze stats. You can search for trends and try to read body language. You can point to this critical basket or that crucial stop.
There are probably a zillion ways to explain how an NBA season has gone from over-the-cliff to over-the-top, how the same team could turn from sinking rocks to soaring Rockets.
Yao Ming has one word: “Philadelphia.”
It was Jan. 15, the night the Rockets hit rock bottom. It was the night when the winless-in-2008 Sixers used a 37-point fourth quarter to sprint out of a 16-point second-half hole.
What should have been a comfortable win for the home team turned into an embarrassing 111-107 loss, leaving the Rockets just one game over the .500 mark. And a whack with a sledgehammer couldn’t have done more to get everyone’s attention.
“It was the bottom,” Yao said. “A sweep by Philadelphia? It’s unbelievable for me. The only thing I can remember being worse is the first year of the (Charlotte) Bobcats in the league and we were swept by them. It’s the same thing.”
But the Rockets have responded with a 9-1 record since then and might have saved their season.
“It was no more excuses after that game,” Yao said. “On a road trip (Dec. 10), we lost in Philadelphia. From my standpoint, we should never go and find an excuse for ourselves for losing. But obviously, you’re a human being. You’re going to say, ‘OK, it’s a road trip. When
they come to our house, we can beat them. We can give them payback.’
“Then they beat us again. It was a horrible feeling. It was really, really hitting us. I don’t need to say too much more. But the next 10 games, I think, already told people how we care.”
Following the sting of the home loss to the Sixers, the Rockets eschewed most of a regular practice to watch video of the flop and had a team meeting.
“Players, coach, everyone,” Yao said. “We were all thinking that the season is getting away if we do not start right now. It was Chuck (Hayes) who said (in the meeting), it’s about how we care about our careers. How we care about being professionals.
“Everybody started thinking about that. Chuck is the guy who spoke out. I don’t know I should tell you that. But it’s a good thing. It was from Chuck, a guy who does not do much talking. It meant something to hear those words from him.”
Hayes didn’t go into the meeting intending to have a “win one for the Gipper” moment. It just poured out of him.”I can’t remember exactly what I said,” Hayes said. “I don’t know if I was especially emotional. But there were a lot of emotions in that room.
“I just told everybody what was on my mind. I told them that we have to play like every game means something to us. Look, right now we’re nine games above .500, and we’re still barely in the last playoff spot. The Western Conference is hard. Nobody was going to give anything to us. We have to take it.”
During the winning streak, the Rockets have solidified their defense. They’re helping each other out more. They’ve been piling up 23.6 assists per game, pulling down 45.5 rebounds per game. Most important, they’ve been keeping their focus throughout games.
“That Philly game was the one when we really were in control and the way we lost it,” coach Rick Adelman said. “We had nine or 10 turnovers and I think five of them were post-entry passes. That’s just the relaxation and casualness about finishing the game off.
“It’s a game we should not have lost. People talk about New Orleans. But I don’t know if you can talk about that game, because they’ve beaten a lot of teams down the stretch and they’ve got the personnel. But we basically let Philadelphia back into the game, and we succumbed to it. I think it was a rude awakening to our guys when we lost that game. I think the team just has a tendency to relax and that game really showed it.”
A Philly flash point
What the last 10 games have shown is growth.”What the terminology is that’s working, I guess I would agree with it,” Adelman said. “But I don’t know why it would take so long. Everybody knew what the West was going to be like. This conference is tough. You might win 46 games and not be in the playoffs. We better realize that. No one is coming back to us. We have to go and catch them.”
Before they could do that, the Rockets had to catch themselves in free fall and pull the cord on the emergency chute. Now they’re learning to chin themselves over the bar.
“What I like about the team in the last couple of games is that we are playing strong during some minutes and not coming apart,” Yao said. “(Thursday) night in the first half, we got a lead and then they came back to one. Then in the third quarter, we came right back out strong and got a 10- or 12-point lead.
“We talked to each other, during timeouts, at any time in the game, when the play stopped. We talked to each other about defense, about making passes, about rebounding. We said we needed to pay attention. The game is not over yet. They will try to fight back. The game will not be easy. Over the last 10 games, they have not been easy, but we have won most.”
It’s a turnabout that can be traced to one game, one night, one word.
“Philadelphia,” Yao said.
The rallying cry for a season.