Rockets

Rockets Solve Toughness Issue, Then Falter Down Stretch To Clippers

By TERRANCE HARRIS, SportsRadio 610
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Courtney Lee shoots the ball against the Clippers. (credit: Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

Courtney Lee shoots the ball against the Clippers. (credit: Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) — As many expectations as there might be on the Rockets making the playoffs this season, the reality is this is a team that is still learning to win.

One night they are the lethargic and lack toughness. Get that corrected and another deficiency becomes more glaring.

It’s the proverbial leaking dam. Rockets coach Kevin McHale would need 10 pair of his lengthy arms and legs plug every leak that pops up.

That’s certainly how the first-year Rockets coach had to feel during Sunday night’s 105-103 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers when finishing became the glaring problem after back-to-back games when toughness and desire were the issues.

In a game where there was little margin for error, the Rockets made a couple critical ones that led to their unraveling down the stretch in front the home crowd at Toyota Center.

“We had some opportunities,” said McHale, whose team heads out on a five-game road trip with a three-game losing streak. “We just didn’t advantage of them.”

The ones that will be remembered are Kevin Martin’s inexplicable turnover on the inbounds pass that ended up in the hands of Clippers forward Blake Griffin with the Rockets trailing 104-103 with 49.9 seconds remaining in overtime. And then there was Martin’s missed 3-point attempt with 1.1 seconds remaining that would have given the Rockets the win when closer in shot for the tie might have netted a better result.

Fair or unfair, those two missed opportunities standout in a game in which in which the lead changed 24 times and neither team ever led by more than seven points.

We will forget about the second quarter when had the Rockets shot better than 35 percent they could have turned a five-point lead into  bigger lead instead of coming out the quarter ahead just 47-45. A little separation there might have the difference where overtime wouldn’t have been necessary.

“Both teams were playing good, that’s why it hurts the most,” said Martin, who finished with 25 points, but was just 6 of 22 from the field and 3 of 9 from 3-point range. “We’ve been harping on coming out setting the tone effort-wise yesterday in practice. We did everything right tonight except for one thing.”

And that the only thing that count, win.

The Rockets have been far from perfect finishers throughout the season. The flaw has been masked because either the Rockets are far enough ahead or behind in the waning moments that the mistakes down the stretch become minor details.

But Sunday we had a chance to see the difference between how a good team finishes and a team on the bubble closes out. With all the talent the Clippers have, they have struggled a little as of late but against the Rockets they seemed to make all the right moves.

Vinny Del Negro made sure the ball stayed in the hands of the best point guard in the game, Chris Paul, and CP3 certainly didn’t disappoint whether it was penetrating for the key shot or making sure the ball got into the hands of dunkmaster Griffin.

Paul, who finished with a game-high 28 points and 10 assists, knocked down the pull up jumper in the lane that rallied the Clippers to 104-103 with :50.6 remaining and then with :04.9 remaining he gave his team some cushion by converting 1 of 2 free throws.

The Rockets, meanwhile, went scoreless in the final 94 seconds after Courtney Lee’s jumper gave them a 103-100 lead. They went 0 for 4 and had a turnover from there.

This one was particularly frustrating because one play here or there could have made the difference and perhaps changed the outlook as the Rockets head out on the road with their playoff hopes dangling.

“Every little thing is going to stick out,” said Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry. “I missed free throws, Kevin missed the last 3. Everything is going to stick out because it was one of those close games. It was a tough loss. One little thing would have turned it a different way.”

Martin agrees.

“It seemed like everything was there tonight,” he said, “but there are probably a couple tweaks that cost us the game. We will look at it, learn, grow up and go on the road.”

Contact Terrance Harris at terrancefharris@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @Terranceharris

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