And another step back.
After a dominating performance at home against the Timberwolves, the Rockets went to Memphis and lost a close one, falling 88-83 to the Grizzlies Monday night.
The Rockets just can't seem to avoid it - the "downer" comes every time. However, while this loss sucks (no doubt), this game was flat out entertaining and really had an intense playoff-feel.
Picking it up in the third, the Grizzlies went on a 14-2 tear to take an 11-point edge midway through the period. The crowd was rocking, the Grizz were rolling and it looked like the Rockets were going to wilt.
But 5 straight threes over the next 5 minutes -- 2 each by Cuttino Mobley and Jim Jackson and another by Steve Francis -- gave control of the game to the Rockets. Houston was up 4 to start the fourth, and built their lead quickly up to 8.
That's when the wheels came off.
So many critical mistakes were made in the fourth quarter:
Throw in the fact that former Rocket James Posey (17 points, 10 boards) nailed three dagger three-pointers in the fourth and that the Rockets had virtually no answer all night for Gasol (24 points, 11 boards, made 10 of his first 11 shots) and the loss is no surprise.
- With the Rockets having seized the momentum up 8 early in the fourth, Van Gundy went to his bench, putting in Mike Wilks and Scott Padgett. It backfired miserably. Memphis scored 7 straight points in 60 seconds, forcing Van Gundy to call timeout to get the starters back in ... but it was too late.
- Jackson, an 80% free throw shooter, missed 2 critical free throws in the fourth.
- Francis, having a pretty damn good game up to this point, committed numerous blunders late. He drove blindly in to Pau Gasol for a near-impossible layup attempt, missed an open three, then with 14 seconds left and the Rockets down three, stole a pass and then fell to the ground losing the ball... and the game.
- No timeouts. Van Gundy used up all of his timeouts in the fourth, and had none to use in the final three minutes. A timeout with 14 seconds left could have saved the game, but Francis was forced to move up the floor and he lost the ball.
- Offensive rebounds. Trailing by three with under a minute to go, the Rockets had three attempts to snare rebounds and Memphis got the offensive board every time.
Mobley did not shoot the ball well tonight (5-14 shooting), and neither did Jackson (4-12). Yao (4-7) didn't get enough attempts and had a hard time holding on to the ball (4 turnovers).
So it was Steve Francis that kept them in the game. Steve hit 9-19 shots for 22 points, 7 boards and 6 assists, turning it over just twice. He had a gorgeous offensive tip-slam in the fourth. Without Francis, the Rockets wouldn't have been in the game... but in my opinion, without him in the final minute or two, the Rockets may have won it.
I just don't think Steve trusts his teammates in critical times. I may be wrong, but it seems to me still that in a tight game, Francis goes back to what he knows... break free and make something happen. At times that will win the Rockets some games, but it's certainly not helping this team grow and I don't think that approach worked to the Rockets advantage in this one.
Speaking of Posey, you can tell he wanted to take it out on his old mates, and perhaps send a message to Jeff Van Gundy, Carroll Dawson and Les Alexander that they made a mistake not matching his contract. Posey wanted to remain in Houston and he's not happy about losing out there. Personally I think for the money, Jim Jackson is the much better fit right now for the Rockets.
As for Gasol, my goodness... is there a bigger whiner in the NBA today than this guy? If there was a Most Whiny Bitch (MWB) award in the NBA, Gasol would take it unanimously every year. The NBA would probably just permanently weld the award hardware to the Memphis office trophy case. This dude does not shut up, period. He gets this "bitter-beer face" going on and unleashes whines that we haven't seen the likes of in years. At one point late he kicked the ball out of frustration, and no tech was called.
I'm telling you: This guy is the next Vlade Divac in whininess... he has taken it to the next level.