The thing about this loss is that if it wasn’t for Dwight Howard stinking it up against OKC, or the Rockets doing whatever the hell they did against Chicago this last week, I would have shrugged my shoulders and went “Oh, well” at this defeat. It would have been a 4-2 result against this last stretch of death, and with only 6 of Houston’s last 16 games against playoff teams, the Rockets could have fought for the third seed. But instead, after losing to the Thunder and the Bulls, the Rockets led 102-98 with 4:26 left in today’s game against the Heat, and then in a scene which has played itself out in far too many games this season, the Rockets gave their opponent a nice, big 15-0 run which they would have to recover from…only this time there was no time left on the clock.
- Losing to Lebron James is one thing. Same with losing to Dwyane Wade, or Bosh. All three of them are All-Stars and have been franchise players who know how to take over the game down the stretch. But losing to 38 year old Ray Allen, who put up a season high 25 points and had 11 points in the last 6 minutes of the game? Some of that may have been due to some questionable calls from the refs, but despite playing huge amounts of smallball over the season, the Rockets perimeter players in Harden, Lin, and Beverley seemed completely confused about who was guarding who in the final possessions of the game. The worst was Miami’s first play after they called a timeout after falling down 102-98; LeBron took the ball in, dribbled five feet, and then fired a crosscourt pass to a completely wide open Ray Allen standing in the corner. The champion Miami Heat executed plays like that down the stretch, while Houston seemed content to fire iso threes. That was what ultimately decided things.
- In general, I don’t like questioning the rotation decisions of coaches: far too often, I believe that such complaints are simple Monday-morning quarterbacking. But I was somewhat surprised to see Kevin McHale run a smallball lineup against the Miami Heat in the final stretch, especially since Miami is the best smallball team in the league and Terrence Jones had played very well today. In the third quarter, Parsons and Jones did an excellent job switching on Miami’s 3-4 rolls, and each did as well as one could expect at handling LeBron. It’s impossible to know whether Houston’s normal lineup could have outbigged Miami down the stretch – but as noted above, today’s smallball lineup utterly failed to contain Miami’s perimeter shooting at the end anyways.
- Tonight’s loss has one crucial result for those who are looking at the standings. The Rockets are two and a half games behind the third seed red-hot Clippers without the tiebreaker advantage, and are four games ahead of the sixth seed Warriors with tiebreaker advantage. Barring a miracle or collapse, the Houston Rockets will be in the 4-5 bracket, and will almost certainly face up against the Portland Trail Blazers. There are worse fates; the Blazers have been a .500 team since January, and Houston would currently avoid facing the Thunder or Clippers in the second round. Still, Houston will definitely want to secure homecourt advantage against the Blazers and their legendary Rose Garden – Portland may be relatively slumping, but if any team can get hot over 7 games, it’s them.
So, the good news? It may have had a disappointing finish, but the hardest part of the season is over. Time for the Rockets to kick back, relax, and – what’s that? They play tomorrow night? In Houston?Well, so it goes. Sure, it may be just against the lowly Utah Jazz – but while losing three in a row for the first time this season has been annoying, losing four would be an embarrassment. Let’s hope for a strong game tomorrow.