The Rockets 22 game win streak ended last night when they lost to the Celtic 94-74 at home. The Celtics destroyed the Rockets in the second half and held T. Mac to 8 points for the game. After watching the Rockets at least six times during the streak I observed two big reason why the Rockets have been playing better without Yao.
1. The team started playing harder, especially and most importantly T-Mac. The bottom line: when T-Mac plays hard and his jumper is falling he's one of the top three offensive players in the league. All of the other players on the team picked up on T-Mac's effort and started throwing themselves after rebounds, loose balls, etc. During the middle of the NBA season most teams tend to coast and put forth a minimum effort. The Rockets caught a lot of teams by surprise and the other teams simply didn't match the effort the Rockets we putting forth.
2. The other players on the team got their games going without Yao clogging the middle of the floor. The Rockets have surrounded Yao with the wrong type of players. Outside of T-Mac and Battier the rest of the Rockets are made up of undersized inside players who can't shoot and slashing guards who are streaky shooters who get going after getting a couple of easy shots near the rim (Not spot-up shooters). Yao is always in the middle of the floor and even though he can step out and hit 18 footers he rarely does and therefore he tends to clog the lane. This means the slashers have a harder time getting to the rim and therefore have a tougher time getting their shot going and the undersized inside players are constantly subjected to quick defensive help by Yao's man. The would be fine if Yao was a little more mobile or more importantly if any of the slashers or undersized inside players could pass.
I would never argue that the Rockets are better without Yao he's a 25-12-4-2-1 guy and he can score over anyone. Unfortunately the Rockets can't seem to get the right kind of players around him.
I expect the Rockets to fade over the rest of the season, but still make the playoffs. They've already expended so much energy and as the playoffs get closer other teams will start locking down on defense and playing harder. I predict T-Mac will again fail to win a first round playoff series.