Can't quite describe the heartbreak.
The Rockets haven't played this big of a game since... wait, these Rockets have never played this big of a game. They led by 16 in the third, they led by 7 with under 4 minutes to go, and when it was all over...
They trailed by 2.
Tom Gugliotta hit a 17-footer with 1.3 seconds left to break a tie and give the Phoenix Suns a 94-92 win over the Rockets in America West Arena.
The loss puts the Rockets 4 games back of Phoenix in the loss column in the playoff race.
It just can't get any worse than how they lost. You can point to so many things. 22 turnovers, stupid technicals, players losing their cool late, no one being able to put the ball in the hole in the last few minutes, Walt Williams losing a rebound out of bounds with 7.5 seconds to go, piss-poor officiating...
But no matter how you look at it, the Rockets failed in their first big playoff test.
In the final 3:45, the Rockets hit just one shot -- a Walt Williams three with 1:56 to go that put Houston up 92-88.
Steve Francis was amazing in the third quarter, scoring 9 straight points and finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds, but just 4 assists. While Francis' points string was impressive in the third, Cuttino Mobley looked like he was going to win the game in the fourth.
Cat scored 11 straight points in the middle of the fourth quarter, turning a tie game in to a 7-point Rocket advantage. But Mobley, who finished with 21 points and 7 boards, couldn't hit anything from that point on.
Maurice Taylor dominated in the first period, scoring 13 points, and finished with 20 points and 7 boards. Due to foul trouble he played just 27 minutes.
Walt was 4-10 for 12 points, including a huge three late, but his mistakes in the fourth quarter far outweighed the triple. I was ready to say Rudy proved me wrong for playing Walt so intensely in fourth quarters when he hit that three, but he made so many defensive blunders in the period. Even picked up a technical after a foul call.
In fact, in the fourth quarter the Rockets got abused by the refs -- just atrocious officiating. Several calls stuck out. At the same time, they lost their cool. There was Mobley arguing after a missed drive the whole way up the floor, and Phoenix scoring as a result. Rudy T having to be restrained by the asistants and picking up a tech.
It looked like a young team not used to playoff basketball.
Mo Taylor scored the first 5 Rocket points as Houston jumped out to a 5-1 lead. After Mo hit two more long jumpers, the Rockets led 16-10 and Mo had 9 points (on 4-4 shooting).
Mo was scorching hot -- he hit two more free throws then a baseline turnaround that put the Rockets up 20-11.
After Kenny Thomas burned Tom Gugliotta on a drive, they suffered a lapse in transition defense and Kidd got an easy layup and Cliff Robinson a fast break layup and foul and it was 23-18 Rockets.
Tony Delk swished a jumper at the first quarter buzzer that capped a 7-0 run for the Suns and gave us the score after one, 23-20 Rockets. Mo Taylor scored 13 points to lead the Rockets.
Delk kept burning the Rockets in the second... he nailed two jumpers and after Elliot Perry scored a 3-point play on a fast break layup, the Suns had the lead 27-25.
Moochie and Walt got the Rockets back on top. Walt nailed a jumper, a tech for an illegal defense, then a three... and when Mobley scored on Tony Delk, the Rockets were up 37-31.
Delk was killing the Rockets though -- his three cut the Rockets lead to 3, then a bizarre play happened. Moochie picked Delk, but Delk clobbered Moochie as he ran the other way. NO call. Kidd picked it up and went the length of the court, running over Walt (underneath the hoop however), getting the bucket and foul.
Del Negro and Skiles however both picked up technicals for arguing something (Del Negro and Moochie apparently confronted) and though Kidd made his free throw, Mobley made both techs. After Mobley burned Mario Elie (oh yeah, you heard me) for a baseline reverse, the Rockets led 45-41.
Francis drained a sweet, high-arching 7-foot bank shot, then Mo Taylor found Walt Williams for a triple and Phoenix had to call timeout, down 50-43.
Why Francis is a star...
With about 25 seconds left in the half, Francis faced up outside the three on Jason Kidd, stopped and launched a three. It was off and Kidd was all alone for the rebound... like a bullet Francis whipped around Kidd, got the board while falling out of bounds, found a streaking Mo Taylor who got the workhorse 7-foot shot while being clobbered by Kidd.
Taylor's free throw put the Rockets up 10 and Francis' hustle made it happen.
At the half it was 53-45 Rockets. Mo Taylor had 16 at half to lead the Rocks.
Mo and Steve came out hot to start the third. Mo scored 4 more points and then Francis took over from there. When he nailed a 16-footer it was 65-50 Rockets and shortly added another three and it was 68-54 Rockets. That capped 9 straight points by Francis.
The Rockets then went ice cold however, and committed way too many turnovers. Fortunately, the Suns couldn't score either until Shawn Marion got a layup under the hoop to cut it to 70-58. Timeout Rockets with 3:12 left in the third.
The timeout only ignited the Suns. Gugliotta nailed two long jumpers and when Rodney Rogers got an easy fast break bucket after two missed three attempts by Houston, the Rockets had to call timeout again, up just 70-64.
Francis made a tough shot at the third quarter buzzer, giving the Rockets a 74-66 lead heading in to the fourth. He had 13 points and 5 boards in the third alone.
Kenny Thomas scored 2 points early in the fourth, making 1-2 at the line, then 1-2 at the line again and it was 76-66 Rockets.
Ticky-tack fouls were going the Suns way. After Googs and Delk each made a pair of free throws, the Suns were within 6 at 76-70. Walt was getting torched constantly, and after walt missed an open baseline three, Cliff Robinson took the Wizard baseline, scored and got fouled and the America West Arena was going berzerk.
Meanwhile not a single fan in the chat had any idea why Walt Williams was in the game.
Uncle Cliffy's free throw made it 76-73 with 8:55 left in the ballgame.
AWFUL OFFICIATING... Francis broke free on a fast break, got a layup and a foul but they called a charge -- Francis went nuts. Horrendous call. Just awful. Googs on the other end nailed a shot to cut it to one.
Mobley scored on a nice drive to end the drought, but after a defensive stop, Moochie was subsequently clobbered, no call and Rudy lost his cool. The refs stopped the action to 'T' up Rudy and he had to be restrained by several assistants. Kidd's free throw cut it to a deuce.
Uncle Cliffy hit a jumper to tie it up at 78 with 6:20 to go.
Mobley responded with a huge triple from the left side. Robinson scored, then Mobley did. Then Robinson again, then Mobley again with a huge fading jumper.
Rockets forced a missed three by Phoenix, then Mobley again with a gorgeous drive. 87-82 with 4 minutes left.
Googs missed a pair of free throws. Mobley then nailed a pair of free throws to make it 89-82. With the Rockets falling apart completely, Mobley scored 11 straight points to put the Rockets up 7.
But they got too comfortable too early. Kidd scored underneath, then Shawn Marion got an easy layup and the Rockets called timeout up 89-86 with 2:43 to go. Timeout Rockets.
Mobley missed a jumper, then Marion made a pair of free throws and the crowd was nutso once again with Phoenix down just one.
Then came the most incredible moment -- Calvin Murphy is saying the Rockets must get Walt Williams the ball because they're sagging off him. They got Walt the ball, he launched a trifecta and drained it. 1:56 to go, timeout Phoenix. Houston 92, Phoenix 88.
Walt was having an awful quarter, and it was a tremendous shot.
Marion scored quickly, and Francis an Mo each missed shots.... but Kidd lost control of the ball with Francis all over him and a backcourt violation occurred.
The Rockets missed a big opportunity when Mobley missed a shot, and Marion scored again on an amazing shot. He went up, lost control of the ball (because Mobley knocked it on the way up) and just threw it up with both hands.
It banked in. It's all knotted up at 92 with 45.8 seconds left. Timeout Rockets.
They isolated Mobley, he waited outside the three then penetrated. His runner was up, it looked good.... but it clanged off the back iron. Phoenix rebound with just over 30 seconds left. They called timeout with just over 22 ticks on the clock.
After working it around, Phoenix got it to Marion, who scored their last 8 points. His shot went in and out, but unfortunately Walt Williams had the rebound and lost it out of bounds. It looked like he got fouled but no call. 7.5 seconds left, Phoenix ball.
The Suns worked it around and found Gugliotta from about 16-feet out. He threw it up and hit nothing but net with 1.1 seconds left.
Phoenix 94, Houston 92.
Mobley's three at the buzzer wasn't off in time. Huge opportunity wasted.