Houston Rockets fans have endured a plethora of heartbreaks over the course if its 53-year history. Some moments left fans in disarray, while others secretly wept behind closed doors in a state of agony. By popular belief, Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals is the most heart-wrenching moment over the past 20 years. Houston held a 3-2 series lead, but a hamstring injury and a horrific shooting night kept the Rockets from dethroning the Golden State Warriors and advancing to the NBA Finals.
Two years later, the loss during the Conference Finals is still a painful wound that has yet to heal.
Over a period of time, the battle scar will never completely heal, but just enough to leave a blemish that will always portray the damage of the past. By popular belief, losing to the Warriors has left the most sizable scar on the bodies of Rockets fans, and one that has overtaken the hurt of succumbing to the Utah Jazz during the 2007 postseason.
Prior to the opening tip, the chants of “Let’s go Rockets!” filled the atmosphere of the Toyota Center ahead of a win or go home Game 7 meeting between the Rockets and the Jazz. Up until this point, the first-round series had been a seesaw battle for the Rockets against their Western Conference foe. Houston opened the seven-game series by winning the first two games on their home court, but dropped three of the next four as the Jazz evened up the series.
Should Houston come away victorious by the end of the night, the Rockets would advance to the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 1997 as the We Believe Warriors waited in expectation. Other than ending a 10-year drought, a win for the Rockets would enhance the legacies of Tracy McGrady (0-5) and Yao Ming (0-2) — who to that point had failed to advance beyond the first round in each of their respective careers.
As the game got underway, Yao won the opening tip to give the Rockets their first possession of the night. With Derrick Fisher guarding McGrady down on the low block, the seven-time All-Star failed to connect on a turn-around jump to open the game. A three-second violation by Utah’s Carlos Boozer resulted in a made field goal by Yao to give Houston their first lead of the night.
Deron Williams responded to Yao’s basket with a floater over the top of the 7-foot-6 big man to even the game. The next possession, Fisher scored on a mid-range jumper assisted by Boozer to give the Jazz a lead they would not squander until late in the fourth quarter. In fact, the Jazz held a commanding 16-point lead as the Rockets struggled to find their footing.
In a series that witnessed Boozer average 24.6 points while shooting 50% from the floor, Houston still could not contain Utah’s All-Star forward. He recorded 17 first-half points and pulled down seven broads en route to a 53-43 halftime lead for the Jazz.
The Rockets won the third quarter battle by a two-point margin (24-22) and trailed 75-67 as they entered the final 12 minutes of the game. Houston opened the fourth quarter on a 15-5 run and regained the lead after Yao connected on a pair of foul shots. Later, McGrady scored an And-1 basket on Matt Harpring to put the Rockets ahead 88-83 with 6:09 left in the quarter.
Unable to capitalize on the opportunity, the Jazz outscored the Rockets 20-11 in the closing moments of regulation to regain control of the game. In the final three minutes, Houston gave up four offensive rebounds Utah converted into eight second-chance points late in the quarter. By the end of the final buzzer, the Rockets were on the wrong side of a 103-99 final score against the Jazz.
Toyota Center quiet. The fans who once chanted “Let’s go Rockets!” at the start of the game left in misery as their home team departed to the locker room.
McGrady, who placed the burden of the team’s playoff success solely on his shoulders, could not have done more ending the night with 29 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 41 minutes. Yao matched McGrady’s point total as he connected on 11 of his 13 attempts from the charity stripe.
Knowing how close the Rockets were to a golden opportunity, a great cast of sorrow reigned over the city from its players to the fans.
As the night drew near a closed, a 14-year-old boy on the Southwest side of town quietly walked to his room where he closed the door to have a moment to himself. Catching a glimpse of the McGrady poster before placing his head on a pillow, all the young boy could do was secretly weep with the images of Game 7 constantly replaying in his head.
That 14-year-old boy who once cried following the Rockets loss to the Jazz was me. And 13 years later, I still have not gotten over the defeat.