Even after calming down and taking several hours to digest this game, the observation is still the same.
The Rockets choked, again, and the Mavs seized the opportunity, again.
While you could argue the Rockets should have won Game 3, it was flat obvious that Game 4 was theirs and with a few wiser decisions late, the Rockets don't lose 97-93 and they don't face a series tie (2-2) going back to Dallas.
Leading 88-82 with about 3 and a half minutes left, the Rockets caved, allowing the Mavs to finish the game on a 15-5 run to seal it.
In fact, in a span of 96 seconds from that point, the Mavs had the lead and never let the Rockets take a shot inside of 17 feet.
Jason Terry may have been very lucky late, but it sure wasn't all luck, hitting 6-8 from long range for 32 points and while he alone didn't burn the Rockets, he certainly lit the match.
Both Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were terrific in this affair, but both were top culprits in the late demise.
With 1:55 left and the Rockets up 88-87, McGrady came off a pick, drew the double team and left Yao heading towards the basket about 12-14 feet out with nothing but air between him and the hoop. Tracy fired a bullet at the big man and it went right through his hands.
McGrady however may have to absorb more of the blame. Trailing 94-93 in the final seconds, the Rockets fouled Jerry Stackhouse to put him at the line. He made the first, but missed the second. McGrady grabbed the board with 11 seconds left, seemingly setting up the Rockets for the final shot with a chance to tie or win, but he didn't see Josh Howard coming from the weakside. Howard poked it from McGrady's hands, and it went off T-Mac out of bounds.
That sealed it as the Rockets were forced to foul again, and Dirk Nowitzki made both.
It's a shame that those plays will be more remembered rather than T-Mac's 36 points on 13-26 shooting or Yao's 20 points and 5 blocks in 25 minutes of play, but they will.
It was the exact opposite of what we saw in the first two games in Dallas.
I thought Mike James had a terrible game and really was awful in both of the home games, going a combined 4-16 in Games 3 and 4. He missed some late shots that really could have been huge.
With all that said, I have to give props to the Mavs and their players. Avery Johnson got worked in Games 1 and 2, but he did not wilt, and got the better of his counterpart in 3 and 4, making adjustments to exploit the Rockets lineups. Michael Finley has arrived in a big way -- after going for 15 points combined in the first two, he was 14-23 from the floor (including 6-12 from long range) for 38 points combined in the last two. I also think he has been Dallas' most effective defender on McGrady.
Yao Ming has to stay out of foul trouble and he has to get the damn ball
It's up to Yao and Yao himself to avoid the ticky-tack fouls that have plagued him in this series, and frankly, all year. But starting with Jeff Van Gundy on down, the Rockets have to make a concerted effort to get Yao the ball in the post. I can not stress this enough: Yao is shooting 72.5% in this series. Seventy-two plus percent! He has made Erick Dampier and his wild claims look absurd, and when Dallas runs "small ball", it's usually Nowitzki given the Yao assignment. This must be exploited.
However, the most important piece to this Yao puzzle is Yao himself: He has to be aggressive in those situations when he gets the ball. In today's NBA where zone defenses rule, it's very difficult to get Yao the ball when he's doubled, tripled and fronted before even sniffing the leather. But far too often the Rockets work effectively to that end only to see Yao pass it back out to start all over. It's demoralizing for all involved.
This is going to be up to Yao.
Regarding the officiating
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and Dallas owner Mark Cuban's bush league tactic of threatening to get fined for going off on the officials if they didn't start calling Yao for moving screens worked in Game 4. Les Alexander and the Rockets organization should respond in kind, fighting for Yao to be given anywhere close to the same kind of holy annoitment that Dirk has received since birth. Dallas has shot an average of 9 more free throws a game than the Rockets so one thing is sure, if the officiating is lopsided in any direction in this series, it sure isn't tilted towards the Rockets.
The Rockets blew not one but two golden opportunities, but yet still the series is tied 2-2 and the Rockets, like the Mavericks, are an extremely effective road team. It's a 3-game series with Dallas holding the home court (dis)advantage. Everyone has counted the Rockets out after this loss, so who knows what we will see for Game 5: They just may respond well.