Well, 82-0 is now out of the question.
In a much-hyped duel, the Houston Rockets took on the defending champion Boston Celtics Tuesday night, and though Houston kept bouncing off the ropes from Boston's heavy blows, the Rockets could never quite get in their own knockout punch in a 103-99 defeat at the Toyota Center.
The loss drops the Rockets to 3-1 on the season.
Losses are no fun, but this may have been an exception. This was a great game to watch. It was mystifying that the Rockets were even in the game in the first place. Boston shot 52% from the field (to Houston's 39%) and outrebounded the Rocks 46-41 ... yet it was a game decided in the final minute.
Ray Allen just had his way in this one, hitting 11-15 shots for 29 points to lead all scorers. On one play, Allen just blew by Tracy McGrady baseline for a reverse layin like T-Mac wasn't even there.
However, T-Mac was about the best the Rockets could offer tonight. He hit 9-18 shots, finishing with 26 points, 6 assists and 3 steals.
Luis Scola also was impressive, feasting on drives to the basket, fast breaks and outside jumpers. He scored 21 on 9-15 shooting to go with 9 caroms.
I also have to give props to both Aaron Brooks (12 points) and Chuck Hayes for his solid defense off the bench. The Rockets fell behind by 16 points early in the second quarter and both players fueled a charge to get Houston back in it.
After that, we're talking steep dropoff.
I don't like the matchup with the Celtics at all because of the size and length comparison of the team's post players. Boston has it. Houston doesn't. However, Ron Artest should have given the Rockets a guy that would have been hard for the Celts to contain.
Instead, Artest was 3-16 from the field. Blech.
He might been outdone in the clunker department by Yao Ming. Yao shot 4-14 from the floor... but he started out 4-5. He missed his final 9 shots starting early in the third quarter. That was around the time the front rim badly blocked an all-alone dunk attempt by Yao.
Rockets broadcaster Bill Worrell started to ask, "When was the last time Yao missed a point blank dunk attempt?", but then he stopped himself, likely realizing the same exact thing happened the other day against the Mavericks.
Adding salt to the wound, Yao's counterpart, Kendrick Perkins, was 7-8 from the field for 15 points, 7 boards and 4 blocks.
Hardly panic time on Yao, who looked great in Dallas, but he was problematic in this one and hasn't shot at a high clip in the other three games.
Hmm, problematic to his own team's cause -- sounds like a good segue to Rafer Alston, who has earned a Lifetime Achievement Award in this category.
Rafer picked up a poorly-timed technical foul for trash talking with Kevin Garnett with 3:39 left and the Rockets down 6. He was 1-6 from the field, putting his tally through the first 4 games at 23 misses in 29 attempts. Yes, he's now at 20.7% shooting and 21% from three-point range.
I mean, what is the bare minimum -- like 5-7%? I'm talking accidental banks and alleyoop attempts that slipped. Rafer has got to be flirting with that right now. It actually takes a genuine talent to be a 30+ minute NBA guard shooting this poorly and not have to feel like your job is in jeopardy. I tip my hat to him for pulling this off. Seriously.
I know Rafer will come around and be back at that oh-so-stable 35% soon enough, and I believe firmly that he can't hurt this team with his shooting as much as he has in year's past because he won't be asked to do it as much. Still, it was always a problem, still is a problem and will continue to be a problem as long as he plays heavy minutes.
With all that said, I am still happy with the direction of the team. The offense will come around, and the defense will get a boost upon the return of Shane Battier.
This was just the first big game. There are plenty of challenges here to come as the Rockets start a brutal 5-game road swing in Portland on Thursday.