Caught the Houston New Orleans game last night and inspite of the fact Houston lost 87 – 82 I gotta admit I am amazed at Yao Ming. There was a time I had my doubts about The Great Wall but needless to say, his 30 point 16 rebound performance is impressive to behold. There’s just something special about seeing a mountain of a man do the right things on the basketball court. Everyone who’s ever watched a game knows how frustrating it is to watch a tall guy – supposedly the superior of everyone else purely due to the fact he’s tall – fumble, lose or effectively become a non – factor because they’re usually not athletic, not coordinated, or occasionally not motivated enough.
But not this guy. At least in this game, Yao knew what to do, which was basically execute pick and rolls which result in him getting 5 feet or less from the basket against single coverage (either Tyson Chandler, David West or whoever is unlucky enough to be the help defense), and all sorts of good things happen from thereon. Either he makes a shot, gets fouled, or both. It’s just good big man basketball all around and whenever that happens games are suddenly interesting, making you wait in anticipation as Houston tries to execute to make it and New Orleans execute against it. It’s almost like how it used to feel when Kareem would get position against single coverage at either wing. You know a hookshot is coming soon and no one can do anything about it.
And now a word about the guy who won the game:
Chris Paul – CP is the man. He won this game as well with a perfectly executed pick and roll which left my hero Yao bewildered – and although it wasn’t a dunk he was pretty much posterized (I’m sure the fotogs didn’t miss the chance to shoot him with his hands outstretched trying vainly to stop a perfectly executed layup). There aren’t a lot of guys who can do the things CP does. He’s like a Baron Davis but with more passing and less shooting, and unlike what some would say, very unlike Steve Nash imo. To me CP is a smooth, rhythm power player while Steve Nash is more of a helter skelter unpredictable type.
At any rate, I think the announcers got it perfect when they referred to him as the ‘reluctant shooter’, only doing so when he’s got a good line or when it really is all up to him. And that’s the thing about New Orleans, which is that it doesn’t yet have the right tools to make best use of talent like his. Peja Stojakovic was an ineffective 2 points in 26 minutes and there were only two others in double figures, namely Bobby Jackson who is also a guard, and the surprising David West whom with 26 points is kind of reminding me of a blossoming Glenn Robinson or, dare I say it – Karl Malone. Ok ok that maybe a stretch. But he’s good, and he’s got an unguardable pull up J where he powers down defenders and suddenly hoists it up. Coach Byron Scott must be thanking his lucky stars for this guy, as the rest of his team doesn’t look like they can keep up with CP.
But finally, back to Yao. Credit the fact I don’t get to see him play much, but I think he’s now way beyond the ‘if only he could do this or do that’ stage. Yao is an effective defender, scorer and even a decent free throw shooter.
At this stage of course, you have to start looking around at the people around him, and of course Tracy comes into the picture. T-Mac wasn’t available due to a sore left knee again, but even with him there, you gotta ask what Houston has to do to best make use of Yao.
And I think, strangely enough, that the key is to keep Yao playing first without Tracy. Call it a hunch or whatever, but I want to see Yao win games all by his lonesome for a while. I know that can’t possibly be good basketball, but I caught myself thinking let’s see some make – or – break plays where everyone else actually just stands around watching him, something the Lakers occasionally catch themselves doing when Shaq was dominating (and yes I know that seems so long ago now).
Shaq – and any other dominating center – at their peak were so dominating that given single or even double coverage they would annihilate anyone who’d get in their way. I wanna see Yao do that. I wanna get that tingly anticipation when you know you’re about to see something special.
Last night there were two important plays when he was obviously fouled, resulting in important converted possession for New Orleans, and I couldn’t help thinking if it was Shaq, or Kareem or Wilt or Bill Russell or whoever, they’d have still found a way. They’d scratch and scramble and dive and kick and elbow and possession would still be theirs, and the ball would find its way to someone open or maybe even get back to Yao and he’d score.
I’ve even seen Bill Walton do that in Vintage NBA. When the time comes when Yao can do that, then we’ve got something special here. Otherwise, he can keep making 30 point 16 rebound performances but I’m not so sure that’d necessarily win games.