Rockets left picking up pieces again

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lillard’s buzzer-beater sends Rockets home, Blazers to next round

PORTLAND, Ore.Damian Lillard’s “Rip Ciiiitttyyy!” shout was still bouncing off the walls and his dagger remained stuck right in their gut when Rockets team owner Leslie Alexander and club president Tad Brown stood in a back hallway of the Moda Center, heads down, eyes searching.

For what? For whom? Carmelo Anthony? Chris Bosh? LeBron James?

Will a few more high-dollar free agents finally get the Rockets out of the first round of the playoffs for only the second time since 1997? Is the idea to buy up every available big name in the NBA so there will be nobody left to do what the Blazers consistently did in the fourth quarter?

That is, perform down the stretch.

Clutch City, indeed. The Rockets routinely treated the fourth quarters like a wad of cash in the pocket of a drunken sailor and wound up with the same kind of what-happened hangover.

“This is the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Chandler Parsons said after he watched Lilllard run away from him in the last 0.9 seconds and into NBA lore.

Parsons, of course, is just 25 and quite likely too young yet to comprehend that if a basketball game is the worst loss you’ve ever suffered, then life has been pretty darned good.

Dwight Howard, on the other hand, just finished his 10th NBA season no closer to a championship than when he left Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy.

“It hurts,” Howard said. “We can’t grow anymore. We go home.”

The Rockets go home to an offseason of having to wonder if the combination of Howard and James Harden will ever enough to take the franchise back to the glory years of truly contending — and winning — or if they are simply pair of celebrities in search of a lead dog who can pull their wagon to a championship.

Harden is now working on three straight years and three straight series of shrinking in the playoffs. His 34 points in Game 6 was the first time he came close to looking like a front-line star. In his last three playoff series — vs. Miami in 2012, OKC in 2013 and now Portland — the only thing more bedraggled than his beard has been his shooting percentage. Is the playoff air, when teams can scheme against him for seven games and employ elite level defenders, too thin for Harden? He hardly ever shoulders the burden of responsibility or the mantle of leadership.

Howard has worked diligently with Hakeem Olajuwon, with the coaching staff, with anybody offering help, to improve his game and yet the coin toss odds on having him at the free-throw line and his happy-go-lucky persona will always leave questions until or unless he gets it all done.

“We didn’t win, so in my mind having a good regular season is nothing,” Howard said. “You’re sitting at home watching another team hold up a trophy. That’s what we all play for. So it hurts too be going home early. It’s hurts to be watching somebody [else] holding up the trophy. We wanted a chance to get it this season. This should just push us next season.

“I know it’s going to make me continue in the gym, continue to get better and also push these young guys so they can understand that you can’t take these moments for granted. Nothing’s promised. The playoffs aren’t promised. Rings aren’t promised. You gotta go out there and earn it.”

The bashing of coach Kevin McHale will sound like a bass drum throughout the summer and maybe it will be proven that he is not the one to guide them down the championship path. But McHale did not lose Game 6. He did not fail to tell his players not to give up anything but a 3-point shot in the last 0.9 seconds. He cannot turn back the clock and play like the Hall of Famer he was during all those years in Boston.

Sweeping McHale out of the door is not the answer. The team responds to him. They play for him. He has a year left on his contract at the team’s option and so you give it to him with a last chance.

The championing of Jeremy Lin as a creative cross between Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and Leonardo Da Vinci by his cult following will persist. Lin is a capable, hard-working player who has proven he belongs in the league. But he is not transcendent and, if the Rockets are going to make a big play in free agency this summer, he and Omer Asik will both be gone to make room under the salary cap.

“It’s a tough loss, but something we’ve got to learn from,” said Howard. “Like I said the whole series, we can’t take any possessions off. We can’t relax. Every bucket counts. Portland came in and played with a lot of confidence.

“We’ve got a great nucleus of guys. Everybody has to come back next season and see the mistakes we made this year as a team and try to learn from them so next year we don’t have situations like this.

“You’ve got to play with confidence. You can’t relax. Some of the guys on our team, including myself at times, we relaxed on the floor. Nothing is easy. I’ve been to the Finals. I’ve been to the Eastern Conference finals. I’ve been to the top and it’s not easy getting there.

“You’ve got to make everything count. I think that’s a big lesson for us all. No matter who we play, no matter what happens in the regular season, you can’t take any team for granted.

“Portland came out and played from the first game. … Those guys played together. Just watching their mentality on the floor, it was good. It was a seasoned team. So there’s a lot of things we can learn from this series and hopefully come back next year and be a lot better.”

30 Comments

  1. lakers says:

    u cant win playoff bball with that type of d…..D12 played really good in that series….he needs to play like that every game…harden cant defend…they have no leader ….

  2. Sport Junky says:

    It’s that easy, whenever Harden has the ball then there ain’t any ball movement. It makes it so predictable to defend and Harden ain’t Kobe or Camelo. Rocket could have won the Game 6 if they spread the ball around, yet they let Harden dominate the ball. I wasn’t surprise at all that lost and go home.

  3. Coach says:

    I was not a McHale fan considering what he did in Minnesota. But, this exit I can’t blame it all on him. 1) We have to start off with James Harden having to understand in order to be a “super star” you have to play both ends of the court EVERY game. He’s one of the worst defenders I’ve ever seen. 2) We need better offensive/defensive scheme’s, There is not enough man movement and ball movement on this team … I guess you can blame McHale for that one. When we Iso I see no cutting through the lanes every one is stagnant. Harden is a ball stopper.3) Dwight needs a bigger and a more athletic partner on side of him. One that will rebound offensively, a rim protector as well as play with heart. It also would help if he could shoot a 10 or 15 footer now and then… Akeem had Otis Thorpe. Someone the other teams 4 can’t just push around.
    4) We need more mentally tough players on our team like Beverly who’s not afraid to go at anyone but, with a little more athleticism and scoring ability. 5) We also need a stronger bench. Why do we have all those players on the team and McHale barely used any of them,

    Until our teams defensive intensity picks up you can expect the Rockets to be watching the championship game for a long time.

  4. Jao says:

    Google “Harden defensive juggernaut” and you will know why Houston lost this series.

    then combine that with an inept coach and it’s a wonder the Rockets did not get swept.

    anytime you have a roster with that talent not even getting out of 1st round, you have to look at the coach.

  5. OKC says:

    Mmmm your tears are so delicious Fran.

  6. Zacula says:

    Dwight, just because you’ve been in the league for 10 years doesn’t mean you actually have anything of substance to add to the young guys on your team!… except jokes and pranks.
    Your persona is well-documented everywhere. You are not a leader, you will never be one. You are a strong horse that needs an intelligent master to steer it… say like Kobe… that’s how the Rockets can get any ROI on your $80mil price tag.
    Parson has a leader’s persona… in a couple of years of development I see him as the leader of the team. Parson is a better investment of Hakeem’s time and mentorship.
    Houston, you don’t have a slight problem, you have a Dwight problem!
    Go Clippers!

  7. King says:

    Holy typos

  8. Darius says:

    Dwight kept them in this series averaging 26 pts and 13 rebs with 2.8 blocks. so how did he not dominate, Harden didnt show up which is a big reason for the rockets losing, that and their defense

  9. okc2014 says:

    In my opinion, it’s not Howard’s fault. He did what he was supposed to do. Maybe he is a good fit for the Rockets, maybe Harden isn’t. Harden should have never been traded from OKC. He still plays better to me, as the 6th man off OKC bench. Let’s get him back. Linsanity gets too much flack in Houston. He deserves better and I would like to see him play somewhere next season where he can actually shine. He’s a good overall player, no fancy stuff required. Asik needs to go somewhere, he’s a cry baby. Maybe Melo to Houston. I don’t know. Houston has too many issues. Kevin McHale should not be fired, I agree w/ that decision. See ya next season!

  10. Pooda says:

    Dwight Howard- how is it that you say you’ve been to the finals and you know what it takes, but then you say, you and your team “took possessions off”!! That’s contradicting the hell outta yourself.. Bottom line “Dwight Howard is not as good as he thinks”!!

  11. jdub455 says:

    Rockets are already a solid team, its just that Portland outplayed them… but I think they should get a pure point guard… Lin and Beverly are more of combo guards… and of course, d12 must improve his postups (ridiculously overdue based on his potential) and harden must pick his shots… we all know beard can score against anyone (I mean even against the best defenders cause he is that talented offensively), but it takes away the rotation from teammates and the defense reacts easily (position for the rebound)… talented young team definitely, and will make headways in the future but lacks the grit… Lillard’s played like an experienced all-star level PG for a sophomore… just imagine what he would be in years to come…

  12. BBallfan NYC says:

    A: McHale should be fired. He cannot coach in do or die situations, mainly, because he is foolish. Lin held DL scoreless for the entire 4th quarter, yet he decides the final defensive stand goes to Parsons. result? POR moves on.

    B: I think Lin has a bit more than a “cult following”. Most Lin fans realize he is not BBall perfection, but he is a leader, and is a better player than his teams, or the NBA, give him credit for. The only time he gets credit by the NBA is for promotional purposes, otherwise, he’s portrayed as a flash in the pan, which is far from true.

    C: I agree that Lin and Asik should be traded, so they can do what over former HOU players who McHale overlooked can do: shine on another team that will actually UTILIZE them.

  13. Miami Heat Fan says:

    BLAZERS vs HEAT in the Finals

  14. iamironman says:

    C’mon! Howard is the one who kept the Rockets late in Game 6 thanks to that demand-the-ball-monster attitude. He almost scored all of their points late in the 4th with Parsons providing the last 2points. And FYI, Lilliard made a fool out of Lin with in-your-face 3pointers/jumpshots. Lilliard just broke out of this game and Aldridge broke out of this series.

  15. 31for3 says:

    You guys are missing the point. The “poison pill” in Asik and Lin’s contract gets activated for next yr so if they stick around the Rockets won’t be able to afford any high-caliber free agent. No where in the article does it say either of those guys are to blame…

  16. Tom says:

    Being clutch… Kobe > Lebron

  17. Mike says:

    Howard is always a no show when it counts the most. Such as playing against an inferior center, Lopes and getting his shots blocked while committing silly fouls and missing 4 straight free throws could have won the game for Rockets.

  18. Jack says:

    This team is young and put together this season.Last years team was different. a lot of missed free throws and lay ups and turnovers cost them this series. The players caused them to lose this series.If Howard makes two more free throws in game 6 they win game.Two overtime games losses in those games a turnover or two less a made free throw or 2 that was missed or a missed lay up or 2 made changes the outcome to where the Houston wins. He has one more chance to chance to win, cause if the team fails again hes gone. I thought he would be fired, but this will show if he can really coach or not.

  19. lakerslakerslakers says:

    when you are a true dominant big like shaq, then you can miss all the free throws you want. when you’re a mouse in a giant’s body, well you better be able to convert the easy shots. thanks for leaving the lakers.

  20. Marie Pardo says:

    RIP CITY……. Trailblazers played with Heart and were ready for this….they are what you call playing as a Team. Lillard, Aldridge, Batum, Lopez the whole team and Coach are AWESOME.

  21. J4CK Nicholson says:

    HOU was beaten by a very good team, fair and square. No one’s fault with HOU, POR just played a little bit better ans wanted it a bit more.

  22. Unkle Daddy says:

    First off Lin and Asik aren’t your problem, because they aren’t your “leaders” on this team. Your supposed leaders Harden and Howard. If the leader of your team fades in the playoffs maybe you should start there. There are three elements (players) you need to win a championship, A. a work horse B. a real leader C. a killer (mentally) sometimes this can be one player, but I’ve seen only 4 of those in my life Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Lebron James. It pains me to put James among those other men, but truth is truth.

    • ben says:

      uhh – KOBE!!!

    • kashae says:

      Lebron? I remember him shrinking for the majority of his career in clutch situations. Lebron DID not have the “clutch gene”.

      Take out Lebron and add Kobe Bryant. You know, the guy with 5 rings, 30K+ points, 81 point game, MVP etc… Check out his highlight film and compare that to James’. No comparison. NONE.

      • Pooda says:

        But Lebron is clutch, he’s past that stage, so when ppl say he’s not this and that, they are just hating on the man… He’s the best n the game without a doubt!! He’s proven himself not once but twice and about to be thrice lol!!! He has buzzer beaters under his belt, you can’t take that away from him…. No just buzzer beaters but playoff buzzer beaters and rings!!! It speaks for itself..✌️

    • Rva says:

      James before Kobe? Really?

    • boots says:

      yeah Howard played well, but Harden just disappeared. Lin and Asik did what they were supposed to do for the most part. They’re not to blame.

    • Pooda says:

      You forgot Kobe Bryant