Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers could be described as heart or back-breaking to Houston fans, the kind of loss that might finally bang the gavel on the Rockets’ postseason chances. Such observations are entirely valid, as is any palpable frustration with the Rockets’ apparent collapse in the fourth quarter of a must-win (on a night when the Rockets may or may not have known the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets, Houston’s rivals for playoff entry, had both won) even on the second night of a back-to-back. But for all of us versed enough in recent Rocket history, disappointments could only be so disappointing and collapses only so enervating because the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Rockets, again. And sometimes, for whichever reason, a team just has another’s number.
And holy Christ, do the Sixers ever have the Rockets’ number. Houston’s posted an anemic 3-7 record in its last five years against Philadephia, including this season’s sweep at the Sixers’ hands, even with breakout performances in each game by Philly native and Rockets starting point guard Kyle Lowry (in the two games, the little man knocked down his threes at an unworldly 11-17 clip). The even more frightening part about that record is the Rockets’ 06-07 season, one in which a Yao Ming-led Rockets handled Philadelphia easily twice; that means that over the last four years, Houston has actually gone 1-7 in matchups with the Sixers.
What could possibly account for this continued dominance at the hands of a team going through just as many roster and front-office changes, if not more, as the Rockets in that time period? Wait, did you guys expect an answer to that? Sorry, not here. Several years ago, Andre Miller gave Rafer Alston a great deal of trouble on the block, allowing the first-class athletes with whom Philadelphia has been seemingly stocked for eternity to get their freak on and abuse the Rockets’ slower defenders en route to the bucket. Otherwise, Andre Iguodala sped up the disintegration of Tracy McGrady’s knees and career with easy shots created off the dribble and flustering, active man-to-man defense. Giants have come and gone; point guard tandems have completely shifted. Hell, the Sixers have run through four different coaches during the anti-streak; no matter the roster, the people or the place, Philly prevails.
Wednesday’s game seemed to be headed in such a direction, given the Sixers’ 10-2 start that featured a few Spencer Hawes jumpers that had “that kind of night” written all over them, but in the face of the inevitable, Houston scoffed and closed out that very first quarter with a dominant 20-9 turn of its own. In fact, until the third quarter, as with many of these Philly defeats, the Rockets controlled the lead and seemed poised to continue their late-season run. Were it not for a rudderless, fall-flat type of fourth quarter, this column would have a very different angle, and for that, I can not blame the Houston Rockets. After three games in four nights, in the midst of an incredibly hasty run to the playoffs, on the second night of a back-to-back on the road? And to add a faceoff with what appears to be Houston’s sworn nemesis in the Sixers? All of the makings of a loss and another day that the Sixers got Houston’s goat.