The Rockets took a couple of losses Tuesday night -- one much bigger than the other.
Brandon Roy popped off for 42 points and LaMarcus Aldridge threw in 27 and 12 boards as the Blazers edged out the Rockets 107-103 to even the series at 1-1 heading back to Houston.
The worst loss came in injury form as Dikembe Mutombo went down late in the first quarter with a career-ending knee injury.
It has to be encouraging for the Rockets to see how they matched up with the Blazers at the Rose Garden, a place where Portland usually dominates. The Rockets blew them out of the building in Game 1 and in Game 2 lost a close one when Portland's stars had career games and Yao Ming got off just 6 shots for the Rockets.
BUT, why did Yao take just 6 shots? This is issue one, two and three the Rockets will focus on from this game.
Yao was in some foul trouble for starters, but the bigger factor was Portland, as expected, adjusted their defense -- throwing double teams and fronts at him -- and Yao struggled to get the ball.
This is probably the one thing that keeps Yao from being a Top 3-5 player in the league -- he is just not as good as he needs to be in sealing off his man and commanding the ball. When you have this super hero-like offensive post player that practically can't be stopped, then all the defense needs to do is move the defender from behind to out front of him to render him a borderline non-factor... well, not even Marvel Comics would buy that simple of a weakness. You can point fingers at Ron Artest or Aaron Brooks for their high volume of shot attempts or Rick Adelman for his coaching, but this is not new -- it's Yao that must make it happen.
And it has to happen for the Rockets. Artest, Brooks and Von Wafer (who had a great game with 21 points on 7-13 shooting) are all nice players, but Yao is the only shot the Rockets have of being "special" and making real noise in the postseason.
Adelman said Yao has to do a better job, but so do his teammates.
"It is a combination," said the Rockets head coach. "He has got to find a way to get position better. He's got to find a way to hold their people off [but] we have to have the patience to look for him. I thought we ran some stuff and he came to the middle with a guy on his back and we chucked it up there. We weren't looking. We didn’t have the patience to look inside."
So on deck for the Rockets: Adjustments to free up Yao.
It's great to see Brooks have a big impact in a playoff series. He's using his one strength (speed) and stroking the long ball -- he scored 11 points in the final 27 seconds, including a 33-foot three-point bomb on a dead sprint with a few ticks left. However, he had a couple of turnovers in the final minutes that cost the Rockets a more realistic chance at a comeback.
Brooks is a confidence guy though and right now his spirits have to be high seeing how he's performing offensively.
Missed free throws were another kick to the gut for the Rockets. They missed 10 gimmes, with Luis Scola (2-6) and Kyle Lowry (5-8) the biggest culprits.
One other thing you can't forget about this game was the Blazers defensive combination of center Joel Przybilla and official Joey Crawford midway through the third quarter.
The Rockets had just missed an opportunity to go up 8 when Scola missed a freebie, then Portland hit a deuce to trim the lead to 5. With the Rockets getting the ball back on a defensive rebound, Przybilla saw opportunity, launching himself to the floor like he was Dave Cowens getting shot out of a Civil War cannon.
Crawford immediately took the bait, whistled the foul and Yao had his fourth, sending him to the bench early. You knew right then it was going to have an impact.
With Yao out and Mutombo badly injured in the first quarter, the Rockets were, as Adelman called it, "small" at this point and had no defensive presence inside. Not surprisingly, Portland ran off on a 14-2 run over the next 4-5 minutes, turning the Rockets advantage into a 7-point deficit.
Would Houston have won if not for that call? Who knows... that's whining to say that definitively. There were several calls on both sides that were bad -- however, none were bigger. To say this one didn't significantly impact the flow of the game would be completely dishonest.