In Clutch City, 82-0 is still possible.
The Rockets remained unbeaten through three games Saturday night after they knocked off the Portland Trail Blazers 89-80 in the home opener at the Toyota Center.
Yao Ming led the Rockets in both scoring (21) and rebounding (12) while Tracy McGrady made it through an ice cold stretch in the second half to still finish with 20.
I was at the game, and unfortunately the story of the contest wasn't any single performance by an individual but rather the Houston fans continued love affair with Steve Francis. In the fourth quarter, the chants started:
"WE WANT STEVE!"
"STEVE! STEVE! STEVE!"
Sure, it would have been nice to see Steve in there, but I looked around and asked myself if these fans were even watching the game. Very few seemed to realize that Portland was charging pretty hard. Near-Rocket-but-instead-we-got-a-win-in-Denver Brandon Roy (23 points, 5 assists) was draining mid-range jumpers and the Blazers had whittled a once huge Rockets lead down to single-digits.
So while the Rockets new slogan may be "It's Time", Adelman sent a pretty firm "It's Not Time" to fans wanting some Francis PT.
I also got a kick out of watching Mike James nail a triple in the middle of the chants at one point. James did not have his best shooting night (5-14 from the floor), but hit 3-7 from long range and finished with 17 points. He's now averaging 15 a pop.
Rafer Alston played better in this one. He hit 4-9 shots and handed out 6 assists -- all in the first half. For the first time in the three games, the Rockets starting lineup came out strong and Rafer's play was part of that.
I didn't believe it would be the case, but it's becoming more and more clear that this team is still hanging it's hat on it's defensive capabilities. The Rockets held Portland to 31 by halftime and 46 through three quarters.
As for being in attendance, a few notes. I really enjoyed the festive atmosphere at the Toyota Center for the opener... tons of fans were outside the arena before tipoff. It's feeling less like traditional Houston and more like a Boston Red Sox type enironment. Free shirt night (by the way, you know it's time to drop a few pounds when a Toyota Center staffer stops you out of the blue to make sure that you got the "XL" shirt).
Halftime shows usually are lame, but the Second Story Guys performed Saturday. They were like the Wiggles, only 12-feet tall and on acid. Good stuff.
I also loved the introductions, which had some changes from last year. They did play a modified version of "THE TRADITION CONTINUES" video, which really gets you pumped up. Here's last year's if you're not sure what I'm talking about:
Major props to anyone who can get a high quality version of that one.