I had to watch most of the Rockets-Mavs game from an airport sports bar TV Thursday night. Because my flight was late in departing, I got to see most of the game until about the 6:16 mark in the fourth quarter when Dirk Nowitzki hit a three-pointer to put the Mavericks ahead 72-69. That was his second three-pointer in a row, and leading up to that point, Dallas had made a furious 12-0 run in the third quarter to take away the Rockets’ hope that they could coast to a victory against their arch rivals.
It was sickening how the Rockets could hardly hit a bucket in that third quarter (only 3-of-13!), very reminiscent of their game in Dallas last week when the Mavs went on a 16-0 run to suck the life out of the Rockets on their way to a blowout victory.
Also sickening was how the Rockets squandered opportunities before those two Nowitzki three-pointers, missing 5 free throws in the 4th quarter alone before those buckets. Juwan Howard missed two free throws after a great hustle play by Chuck Hayes where he sprinted from behind to catch Jason Terry, knock the ball away, leading to a Houston fast break where Howard got fouled in the act of shooting.
T-Mac had missed 3 free throws at that point, precious points the Rockets couldn’t afford to squander when you have to play almost perfectly to beat a 43-9 team like Dallas.
Like I mentioned earlier, after Dirk hit his second trey and the Mavericks had all the momentum now leading 72-69, I had to stop watching the game and jump on my plane. It was an interesting position for me because I cannot ever remember NOT watching a game when it comes down to the wire. So I thought it would be interesting to predict what would happen. Since I was on the plane to the point I’m writing this, I don’t know what the outcome of the game is, so here’s my prediction.
“I predict the Rockets will continue to fall behind after having their ego crushed yet again by another Maverick comeback. They will make a valiant effort to stay in the game, but will continue to miss big shots down the stretch, including more missed free throws, while the Mavericks continue to make theirs and show why they have the league’s best record. The Rockets will lose and will be lamenting all the blown opportunities, including those huge missed free throws in the fourth.”
After I got home and watched the recording, I was able to see if my prediction was correct. I was partly correct. Here’s what happened:
The Rockets really didn’t fall behind too much after Nowitzki’s second three-pointer. T-Mac hit a three-pointer himself to tie it at 72-72, Jerry Stackhouse made two free throws, then T-Mac missed 1-of-2 free throws (making him 3-of-7 from the line in the fourth!). But then T-Mac came back and hit a three-pointer to give them a 77-74 lead, and then Shane Battier missed 1-of-2 free throws (my prediction about missed free throws was very accurate). But at least they still had a lead, which I can guess can qualify for my “valiant effort” prognostication.
Then Jason Terry helped the Mavericks make their move to take the lead. He hit two free throws after a foul on Rafer Alston, who protested vigorously.
Then Bonzi Wells missed an easy chip shot near the basket. Terry responded by coming around a pick and getting a wide open look at the bucket for an jump shot. How the defense let him get such an open look is beyond me.
Rafer Alston came down on the other end and ended up taking an off-balance three-pointer (is that the best they could get?).
Then with T-Mac double-teamed because of all the damage he had done in the fourth quarter, Alston drove to the basket and dumped off a risky pass to Juwan Howard, who put up a tough hook shot with three Mavs between him and the basket, and missed.
The Rockets’ defense held strong on the next Mavericks possession, but with no timeouts and T-Mac being double-teamed, the Rocket offense looked completely lost and unsure of itself. But with a few seconds remaining on the shot clock, T-Mac drove to the basket and dumped off a nice past to Luther Head in the corner, who jacked up a three and missed badly.
Luckily Erick Dampier couldn’t hold on to the rebound and knocked the ball out of bounds. That gave the Rockets one last chance with 11.1 seconds remaining and down 78-77. So what happened?
Luther drove from the three-point line, jumped into the air, and put up the ugliest shot I have ever seen with plenty of time remaining on the clock (8.2 seconds) while T-Mac was on the opposite side wide open with his hands in the air calling for the ball.
After Luther’s shot missed, T-Mac threw a punch into the air, frustrated that he – a franchise player and their best shooter – didn’t have a chance to shoot it to win the game.
The rebound came down to the Mavericks and Jason Terry was intentionally fouled. Terry made both free throws, and the Rockets weakly inbounded the ball to T-Mac with 4 seconds remaining with no chance of getting a decent shot (how about a half-court pass to someone closer to the basket?).
It was a total brain fart for the Rockets down the stretch. After the game, Van Gundy blamed himself that he didn’t have his players prepared to get better shots when the Mavericks were determined to double-team T-Mac.
What’s ironic is that I wrote on the plane before finding out what happened in the final 6 minutes that Luther has to have a good game, just like T-Mac and Alston, if the Rockets are going to have a chance at beating the Mavericks.
So now the Rockets head into the All-Star break that even when they come close in an 80-77 defeat, they still don’t have the same talent or perfection to keep up with the Mavs, especially without Yao.