HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – It seems kind of silly now, but the Rockets were able to keep their slim-to-none playoff hopes alive with Saturday night’s 99-96 win over Golden State at Toyota Center.
The good thing is the Rockets locker room is that it’s filled with level-headed thinkers like Patrick Patterson who understand these final games of the regular-season are about something much smaller yet bigger than a playoff bid that is highly unlikely to come.
“Personally for me it’s just about the win,” said Patterson, who came up with a couple huge plays down the stretch Saturday night to end the Rockets six-game losing streak. “All the other if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But personally I’m just focused on getting wins and finishing out the season on a positive note.”
The Rockets certainly took significant steps in that direction by finally ending a horrid stretch that saw them go from being in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race to being on the outside looking in during a 10-day span.
Just as had been the case in mind-blowing losses to Utah, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas and even New Orleans, the Rockets seemed bent on giving this one away to the Warriors. They blew a double-digit second-quarter lead and went into halftime clinging to a 58-55 advantage.
Then there was the dreaded third quarter, which had become the Rockets’ Achilles Heel during the six-game losing, where again things seemed to fall apart and the Warrior twice evened the score.
This time, however, the Rockets made the shots they needed to get themselves out a hole. Chase Budinger and Goran Dragic knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers in the final seconds to to break a 71-71 tie and give the Rockets a 77-71 lead going into the fourth.
With defense still continuing to be a weakness for the Rockets, the Warriors managed to keep getting too close for comfort only to see Courtney Lee, Luis Scola, Dragic and Patterson come up with enough big plays to keep the pesky Warriors at bay.
The difference for the Rockets Saturday night was when Golden State took away the inside and Dragic’s ability to penetrate, they knocked down their perimeter shots. The Rockets converted 10 of 26 from 3-point land with Lee connecting on 4 of 10.
Afterward there was a sense of relief in the Rockets locker room that they had stopped the bleeding. There also had to be sense of what this win might have meant had they figured it out a game earlier during the stunning loss to the Hornets that all but removed any realistic chance the Rockets had of making the playoffs.
“I’m glad we won,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale, whose team moved to 33-31 with two games remaining. “We needed to win badly. We’d lost a lot of games in a row and had some poor performances in there. Again, I think tonight was very indicative as to how teams defend us: They really pack the paint, leave the wings and say, ‘make shots.’ We made a few today.”
Which is great from the standpoint of a young team learning to fight through adversity. But it likely doesn’t mean much in terms of the postseason chances.
While one of the team’s the Rockets needed to lose on Saturday did so (Phoenix fell to Denver), Utah certainly didn’t uphold its end of the bargain. The Jazz (34-30) toughed out a 117-107 overtime win at home over Orlando and now needs only to beat the Suns on Tuesday night in order to lock up the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
The only way the Rockets made the playoffs is if both the Jazz and Suns go 1-1 in this final week of the regular season and they must go 2-0 the rest of the way.
The Rockets left immediately Saturday night for a trip to Miami to face a Heat team that is in contention for one of the top two spots in the Eastern Conference. They will likely take on a Miami team that now understands the dangers of greed after star guard Dwayne Wade had to leave Saturday’s win over Washington with an injured finger, while LeBron James and Chris Bosh took the night off. There is a good chance neither of the Big Three will take the floor Sunday night against the Rockets.
Still, the bottom line is that so many things have to fall right that aren’t in the Rockets control that they would be foolish to focus on anything but finishing out the season the right way.
Overcoming many of the mistakes that had dogged then and coming up with clutch win over Golden State was a big step in that direction Saturday night.
“It was huge,” said Lee, who broke from a slump to finish with a team-best 20 points. “We let six games go and some of them we were in it down the stretch and should have won them but made mistakes, so today Pat was able to make two great winning basketball plays for us.”