Just when you think the Rockets have taken a step forward, they take two steps back.
The Rockets put their fans through serious highs and lows Friday night. They had a lead late in the fourth quarter but lost their poise and ultimately the game 114-109 in overtime in Memphis.
Houston falls to 12-9 on the season while the Grizzlies, who started out the season 0-12, have won 4 straight and improved to 6-18.
While the Rockets defense, which has been so strong this season, had abandoned them, Houston's offense was smoking for about 42 minutes.
The Rockets hit 12 three-pointers, but when it came down to winning time, the Rockets switched back in to the same crap from last season: guard isolations and unorganized street ball. Throw in the fact they couldn't hit their free throws late and it spelled disaster.
Free throws were killers. In fact, Cuttino Mobley, who was the entire Rockets offense for the first 8 minutes of the fourth quarter, missed a pair, Steve Francis went 1-2 then with less than a minute to go missed a pair, but fortunately Yao Ming saved the team by getting the offensive board on the second brick and putting it back in with 29 seconds left, bringing the Rockets to within 103-102.
But Jason Williams (25 points, 12 assists0, as he had done most of the night, went right by Francis and got the runner to go, leaving about 7 seconds left for the Rockets to tie with a triple.
That's exactly what Francis did.
Coming around the win to top of the key, he got the handoff from Yao and fired the dead center triple, which bullseyed. Were were going to OT.
But the Rockets offense continued to sputter, putting up just 4 points in the extra period, and Williams and Wesley Person hit impossible shots to ice it for Memphis.
Francis led the Rockets with 29 points and 9 assists, and also added 7 boards and hit 5 trifectas, but he was the first to admit he was to blame for the offense breaking down. He seemed out of control late, particularly in overtime. On one play he drove wildly in to the lane and had no options, throwing up a wild prayer with a defender draped all over him. His defense on Williams also was suspect at best.
Cuttino Mobley finished with 25 points, 13 of which came in the fourth. A lot of those points came from the offense coming to him -- feeds for three-pointers and a nice fast-break layin over Drew Gooden. But when it slipped in to offensive breakdown mode, Mobley also was guilty.
Francis and Mobley took 44 shots combined at a 43% clip. Yao Ming on the other hand took just 13 shots, making 7 of them and finishing with 18 points and 15 boards (7 offensive). Good game, but not his best night -- he had 6 turnovers, most of which came off of passes on bad reads as the guards would cut.
Kenny Thomas finished with 9 points and 10 boards, and had his moments in this one. Clearly he's the best interior defender the Rockets have with regards to one-on-one, away-from-the-basket coverage. He did fine in that department against Pau Gasol, even though Gasol bitched nonstop to the refs about the calls for 4 full periods and an overtime session (yet managed to get to the line 16 times without problem). Eddie Griffin had 5 blocks, some of which came against Gasol, but couldn't guard the Grizzlies forward worth a lick straight up.
Personally, after the game, I had to just walk away from the computer and not think about the game. The frustration comes from the fact that the Rockets really clicked tonight offensively (and the game was damn fun to watch as a result), and it seemed they had progressed as a team to the point where they were going to hold on to this one.
Instead, that's the fourth incredibly tight road game the Rockets let slip through their fingers, adding Memphis to the list that already included Phoenix, Los Angeles (Clippers), New Orleans.