The two things that the Rockets lacked to beat the Utah Jazz in last year's playoff series were on full display for Houston Thursday night.
An aggressive Tracy McGrady and a deep bench.
T-Mac sledgehammered home some payback in Salt Lake, scoring 47 points, while Mike James provided a huge spark off the pine as the Rockets knocked off the Jazz 106-95, improving to 2-0.
McGrady was relentless in this one, and it was very refreshing to see. He took it hard to the glass, he drew contact, he hit from mid-range and he knocked down bombs -- all in all, the damage was 17 of 27 from the field. Utah was helpless.
Through two games, T-Mac is launching almost 24 shots a game and hitting over 57% from the field for 38.5 points per. Not too shabby.
But for the second straight game, the Rockets starting lineup simply got run over by the opponent out of the gate.
Rafer Alston was "lazy" with the ball, as broadcaster Bill Worrell coined it, and Yao Ming looked like the Jolly Green Giant severely intoxicated and we were all witnessing his peas being stolen by Carlos Boozer (30 points, 16 boards). Boozer ripped off 9 quick points, Ronnie Brewer Houston Rockets'>Ronnie Brewer was strong on both ends and Utah led 20-8 not even halfway through the period.
Enter Mike James and Luis Scola.
As if it was a carbon copy of the Lakers game, Adelman put James in and by the beginning of the second period the Rockets were knotted up at 29. James finished with 15 points, 7 assists, 2 steals and not a single turnover in just 25 minutes of play.
I don't know if anyone could have watched that game and not come away with the firm belief that James would have made all the difference in the world last season.
And let's not forget Scola.
The Rockets rookie came in and made a big impact, helping guard both Boozer and Mehmet Okur. He finished with 7 points, 9 boards and one passionate fist-pump on a three-point play in 29 minutes.
Chuck Hayes also had a strong game, grabbing 13 boards.
Yao was just ... well, not good. He was just 5-14 from the floor, but he did block 5 shots and hit a couple of big shots with a few minutes left.
I will say this much for Yao though -- he was robbed blind on his third foul call early in the second quarter, which sent him to the bench. Yao just stood there right off baseline, got run into by a Jazz player chasing another Rocket and the whistle blew in one of your vintage Salt Lake Donaghy moments. I half-expected Axl Rose to come sprinting out in a referee's uniform screaming, "You know where you are?! You're in Utah, baby! You're gonna diiiie!"
You have to be pleased overall though coming home with a 2-0 record. The Rockets are learning a new system under a new coach and there are several new rotation players... given that, losing this game wouldn't have been a shock early in November.