With the playoffs fast approaching, every team headed to the Big Dance is praying that their go-to guy is on form and firing when their team really needs them. And down the stretch there will be moments when these players either come through strong or fall short. Sometimes there will be a mix of both with one game’s hero switching to villain just a few days later.
Some teams are more reliant on these players than others. For example, Dallas will be going no where but fishing unless Dirk replicates the performances he made when the Mavs made the Finals. Similarly, without Dwight Howard, the Magic may as well not turn up to the post season. D-Wade is probably the best example of team over-reliance.
Other teams are built more around a team effort. Ubuntu. Their go-to guy is not necessarily their greatest scorer, but they act as a catalyst for their team to go to a higher level. Kevin Garnett in Boston, for example, will not be taking the last shot, game 7 of the Finals, but without him, the Celtics are only the shadow of the team they can be.
Of the 16 teams headed to the first round, one is in a fairly unique situation: their go-to guy is injured. Despite an injury to the Houston Rockets’ premier scorer the franchise find themselves 3rd in the West, home court in sight. Injury to Tracy McGrady has forced the Rockets to adapt their collective personality with his major responsibilities filtering down throughout the team.
The saving grace for Houston is Yao Ming. No other team in the League bar the Celtics have more than one truly franchise status player. The Rockets have two. McGrady’s injuries have been a constant in Texas so to be officially without him for the run in has enabled the Rockets to take responsibility for their own destiny rather than having to wonder every night if Tracy will play and do it for them.
Yao Ming has had to become the solitary leader for a changing franchise who have also lost their starting point guard, trading Rafer Alston to the Magic in a money saving move. With the expectations spread firmly upon Yao’s broad shoulders the Rockets have flourished and are well positioned for a deep post season run.
The key? Defence. Yao’s length will always make him a problem for opposing teams on both ends of the floor, but height is nothing without skill and basketball IQ to match. Yao is laden with both, acting as the anchor for the League’s 4th best defence. The center is perfectly complimented by Ron Artest and Shane Battier, two of the games best perimeter defenders. Combined with the gritty determination of Luis Scola, the Rockets are as hard a team to score on as any.
If Yao can maintain his current production, almost 20/10, for the playoffs, the Rockets will certainly have a chance of a deep run. He is the heart of the Rocket’s and is certainly the go-to guy in the absence of McGrady, but crucially he is not alone. Artest is averaging 17 a game and Scola adds 13 as well as 9 rebounds. The Houston bench can also be counted on for consistent production with the likes of Von Wafer, Carl Landry, Brent Barry and Battier all firing.
The only problem for the Rockets is who is their clutch player? The person you give the ball to in a deciding game, final quarter. Every other title contender team has a closer. And without McGrady Houston may lack the decisive blow that teams need to be successful in close games down the stretch.
Kobe, Chauncey, Tony Parker, CP3, Dirk, Brandon Roy, Deron Williams, LeBron, Paul Pierce, Hedo, Joe Johnson, Wade.
As good a player as Yao is, he does not belong on that list.
So, how does Houston achieve success without a Mr Big Shot? Blow every team out before the 4th. That’s the only way.