To those of you who chose to remain at Toyota Center for the final fifteen seconds of Wednesday night's game when the Rockets were only down by three, because, pending a legitimate excuse (for instance, child labor), I don't feel like writing to the low-lifes who inexplicably fled the premises early*:
Put the "big picture" thinking on hold for a second. Forget the gauntlet of a schedule that lies ahead of the Rockets, forget their disastrous start to the month of January, forget how this affects who gets traded and whatnot -- just forget all of that for a second.
Let's talk about Wednesday night's stunner, because it was a fantastic way to lose a basketball game.
Really, I couldn't have drawn it up any better myself. And it didn't just come down to the final few plays, when the Rockets didn't get the whistles that had actually brought them back into the game minutes earlier. No, this was a process. It was a feeling. You could sense it, with six minutes left, right after Portland took advantage of back-to-back miscues by the Rockets defense, nearly to the point where you said it out loud: this game is far from over.
Surely this could turn into a "Kevin Martin isn't a closer and yada yada yada" argument -- which would be a fair discussion, given Martin's late-game points came courtesy of whistles -- but we're not going there. Not when KevMart dropped 45 points on the Portland Trail Blazers. Not when he did it on a mere eighteen shots, proof that his teammates were the ones that dropped the ball. This wasn't a Kobe-fest, in which Martin would have hogged the rock and forced up enough bombs to eventually reach a high scoring output. In fact, this was the polar opposite. I don't think it's possible to be any less selfish and score 45 points, actually.
He did it on eighteen shots. That's mind-boggling. Doesn't Michael Beasley -- the future scoring champ, according to Doc Rivers -- average 21 points per game on eighteen shots? Kevin Martin more than doubled that output without taking any more attempts from the field. Jee-zus.
Let's talk about who screwed up. There were many screw-ups, but let's address some of the worst.
Rick Adelman screwed up. If a team without a closer fails in the final minutes of a game, it's too easy to pin the loss on the coach, but I really think Adelman deserves it this time. Normally a mastermind in designing out-of-bounds plays, Adelman dropped the ball on the game's last possession. The Rockets declined to use two screeners on Kevin Martin's man, which allowed the Portland defender to deny Martin the ball on an inbounds play clearly designed for him. This forced Shane Battier to lob a cross-court pass to Courtney Lee and say a prayer. The play was too easily dismantled, and to be blunt, it was a case of Houston screwing with themselves far more than Portland playing impenetrable defense.
Adelman also chose not to double LaMarcus Aldridge for much of the game, which proved to be a costly decision as LaMarvelous dropped 27 points on 11-18 shooting against the helpless Jordan Hill. Not only did this give Aldridge an easy bucket nearly every time down the floor, but it also handicapped an already lousy defensive rebounder in Hill (who has apparently never been taught the art of the box-out). If a shot was missed, Aldridge was able to keep the play alive many a time. He pulled down five offensive rebounds in total.
Courtney Lee screwed up. If you didn't watch the game, the Rockets performance from beyond the arc -- 11 for 20 -- seems impressive. But it should have been two better, as Lee missed two WIDE-OPEN three-pointers that could have easily slowed Portland's 8-0 run and lessened the Rockets' deficit entering halftime. Instead, the Blazers racked up points in bunches while the Rockets missed the gimme's. Yes, I'm being this picky.
Brad Miller screwed up. Miller tried to play point guard again late in the fourth, drove hard towards the basket, threw up an awkward shot that missed and didn't get the foul call that he wanted. This prompted him to angrily toss the ball away from the referees after a timeout was called, which, under the new rules, warranted a technical foul. If there was any specific momentum shift aside from the Blazers' back-to-back threes, this was it.
Luis Scola screwed up. The twelve rebounds are nice, but you can't miss an easy bucket two feet away from the basket after you decline to pass to an open three-pointer. His brick with about six seconds left didn't end the game, but if it weren't for a ridiculous three-pointer for Kyle Lowry, it would have.
Whoever was guarding Patrick Mills screwed up. It baffles me how a team can allow a streaky-shooting backup point guard -- clearly on his game at the time -- to get wide-open for three of four made deep balls. There's just no excuse for it. Mills was the spark that the Blazers jumped on to spur a comeback.
The funny thing is that these late out-of-bounds plays never needed to happen. Despite all of the crap that Houston pulled to allow Portland back into the contest, the game was seemingly stuck at 97-96 for too long. The Rockets got the stops they needed, but they couldn't ice the game. Jordan Hill missed two clutch free throws and Kyle Lowry was forced to take a contested three-pointer on the next possession that clanked. Later, Martin missed on a heat-check and Hill, attempting to go for a tip-in, missed again. While he was probably fouled, the Rockets had already been granted too many foul calls for the officials to throw another in their direction. This repeated itself on the next possession, when Hill was almost certainly fouled on a turnover, but didn't get the call. Whosever fault it was, the Rockets didn't get it done when they had to. One Rudy Fernandez jumper later, they found themselves down and out for good.
Also, wasn't the Terrence Williams/Lee/Patterson/Budinger/Miller lineup the oddest you'd ever seen?
Fire away with your displeasure in the comments, but don't just lay into the referees. They missed a few obvious calls, but they gave Houston a lot of whistles that normally wouldn't get blown, either. This was as bad a loss as the Rockets have suffered all season long. They had a win within grasp -- literally perched on the palm -- but the Rockets failed to clench what could prove to be only the third of many losses this month. Get ready, Houston: it might only get worse from here.
*Obviously, if you weren't in attendance at all, you can disregard this statement.