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Rockets collapse against Bulls, drop key game in depressing fashion

The Rockets could have secured playoff positioning. Instead, they drop a heartbreaker to an injured team.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This may be the most frustrating team I've ever experienced.

The Rockets were up 14 points in the third quarter against the Bulls, getting great contributions from James Harden, Michael Beasley, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley. They were beating up on a Bulls team missing Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose, who started the game but left with a left arm injury.

Then the Rockets turned into Mr. Hyde again, alternating between James Harden and Michael Beasley isolations on offense, giving up open three-pointers and layups on defense. The 14-point lead evaporated and eventually, the Bulls led 99-91. A furious run spawned by dumb decisions by the Bulls and a pair of big threes by Bev and Harden (and his should have been a four-point play) wasn't enough to close the gap. The Rockets lost 103-100.

The Rockets gave this one away, and dropped back down to the No. 9 seed. They had been at No. 7 before the game started. The Bulls had been on a long stretch of bad play. These are the games that serious teams win.

Michael Beasley played 30 minutes, and Dwight Howard played 28. Craig Sager — who it was a joy to see on the sideline for this game — reported that Dwight was not happy that he was benched down the stretch, and the Rockets could have used him: he had 13 points, 3 blocks and was 3-4 from the field. He also had a weird moment where he brought the ball upcourt, right next to James Harden, and then passed crosscourt to Trevor Ariza, who immediately passed it back across the court to Harden.

Clearly this team has bigger issues. When getting career highs in points from Beverley — 22 to go with 7 assists in a great game — the Rockets cannot squander games like this at home. But there they were in the fourth quarter, walking in cement.

I'm still not on Team Tank, I don't think I'll ever be. The Rockets don't draft Kawhi Leonard. Historically, they draft Marcus Morris one pick before Kawhi Leonard. But to the Rockets, to any organization, making the playoffs mean something. Especially with the expectations the Rockets put on themselves this year. I won't be happy about clinching a playoff spot, but I'll certainly be more pissed if games like tonight are what keeps them from it.