Here's part two of the Top Ten Houston Rockets Games of All-Time. Check back each week as we count it down Casey Kasem style.
Sunday, March 16th, 2008
The 2007-2008 season unfortunately ended like most seasons since 1997, with a first round playoff loss. This season was also Rick Adelman's first year as head coach, and with another Yao Ming injury, his team suffered the same fate that Van Gundy's did the year before; a 1st round loss to the Jazz. Along with a new coach, that seasons team featured several new players like rookies Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks, and Carl Landry. During the season though, one of the most exciting stretches of Rockets basketball took place when they won 22 games in a row; the 2nd longest streak in NBA History.
The T-Mac/Yao era in Rockets history will for the most part be remembered for injuries; the 2007-2008 season was no different. McGrady missed a bulk of games in December and January, and a month after his return, Yao went down for the rest of the year. That's apart of what makes this streak so improbable and so impressive. This was not a loaded team even with T-Mac and Yao, much less without Yao who missed the final 10 games of the streak. In the final game of the streak against the Lakers, Rafer Alston, Dikembe Mutombo, Chuck Hayes, Bobby Jackson, Mike Harris, Luther Head, and rookie Luis Scola all played 10+ minutes. Despite having an all-star in the starting lineup, it really felt like an underdog team. As a fan, and at the time an employee of the Rockets, it was a very exciting time, and even made you believe for a moment that this rag-tag squad could win a playoff series.
This Rockets team didn't just win 22 games in a row though, they dominated winning 14 of those games by double digits with an average score differential of 12 points per game during the streak. Some analysts try to discredit the streak as lucky or a lesser streak because they played mostly bad teams. Even if that was true, 22 games in a row is still 22 games in a row. Every other team in NBA history has had the same opportunity, and only 1 other team (Lakers) did better. However, the lesser schedule wasn't true. The Warriors, Cavaliers (twice), Blazers, Hornets (twice), Nuggets, Mavericks, and Lakers were all included in the streak and all had winning records at the time. That's basically half the streak, I can't imagine other teams during the same time played significantly harder schedules.
The Rockets started the streak just 4 games above .500 and searching for an identity under their new coach, 22 games later, they found that mojo. Unfortunately it didn't carry over to the playoffs, but it should still be cherished as an incredibly unique, and impressive feat.
In the game itself, the Rockets led after each quarter and dominated the eventual Western Conference Champion. This was a game won by the role players; Yao and Gasol missed the game completely while T-Mac and Kobe both shot horribly and didn't impact that game. Offensively for the Rockets it was all about the little point guards. Rafer Alston and Bobby Jackson shot a combined 17-31 (including 10-15 3pt) for 50 points. Defensively, as mentioned before Shane Battier shut down Kobe Bryant and held him to a pitiful 11-33 shooting performance.
The two teams would go in opposite directions as the Boston Celtics would crush the Rockets two nights later by 20 points and the Lakers would win the Western Conference. But, for a brief moment in time, the underdog, never say die Rockets stood among the elites and won.