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The Other Side Of The Coin

Rockets feel the sting of being on wrong end of remarkable rally

HOUSTON - It’s an NBA tradition unlike any other. The second Game 1 of a playoff series ends, the inevitable overreaction to that result begins. For the winners, they might as well start booking hotels for their likely round two destination. The losers, meanwhile, can go ahead and begin making their summer plans in earnest.

Welcome to life in the world where only the loudest, most extreme, and most emphatically expressed opinions merit much in the way of airtime. Rational, measured perspectives need not apply. 

There are sure to be plenty of those hot sports takes centered upon the plight of the Houston Rockets Monday morning in the wake of their dispiriting 122-120 overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers the night before. And to be certain, this defeat deservedly stings. Houston let a 13-point fourth quarter lead slip away and then doubled-down on heartache when it failed to hold on to a six-point advantage in overtime. On so many occasions, the Rockets appeared primed and ready to put this one to bed. And time after time, they allowed the Blazers just enough of an opening to prolong the proceedings until Houston’s players and coaches were the ones left feeling down for the count.

In many ways, Sunday’s marathon affair was a replay of the madness that took place between these same two teams March 9 – only with the Rockets and Blazers switching roles this time around. That night Houston was the club rallying back from a 13-point deficit in the final frame to force overtime and ultimately prevail while Portland was the one left to rue the myriad miscues it made down the stretch that ultimately allowed the Rockets an opportunity to oblige the more larcenous aspects of their personality. There were what-ifs galore that night, just as there were in Game 1. And there were also historic, heroic performances: while Houston needed Harden to summon the spirit of MJ in its miracle win, Aldridge ironically delivered a stat line last night that had only been produced by the likes of Olajuwon and Howard over the past three decades.

The key difference, of course, is that while Portland still had more than a month left in the regular season to get over that loss and regain its equilibrium, the Rockets have fewer than 72 hours to do so. They have precious little time to lament what transpired; instead they must rapidly refocus and resume the process of crafting – and adhering to – a game plan that can send this series back to the Pacific Northwest tied at a game apiece. Because no matter what your favorite talk show host’s jump-to-conclusions mat might say, this matchup is only getting started.

One of the more beautiful things about playoff basketball is the game-to-game adjustment that can send the pendulum of momentum swinging side to side at a dizzying rate. The Rockets very clearly have some creative problem solving to undertake as it pertains to their methods of handling Mr. Aldridge, who is now averaging 30.6 points and 16 rebounds per game against them this season. And if Patrick Beverley misses any time at all with his latest right knee injury (note: Houston’s starting point guard is scheduled to undergo an MRI Monday morning) that will obviously inhibit the club’s Plan A for slowing the similarly lethal Lillard as well. Throw Houston’s deficiencies on the defensive glass into the mix and it’s obvious the Rockets’ players and coaches are going to have their hands full while working to right the ship over the next several days.

But it’s important to remember that Portland is still searching for answers to riddles that seemingly offer little in the way of real solutions on its end as well. The Blazers are experiencing similar issues when it comes to giving up offensive boards by the bushel. Their depth (or lack thereof) looms as a very troublesome thorn in their side should foul trouble (or injury) become a persistent problem going forward. And though neither James Harden nor Dwight Howard was at his best for the full 53 minutes Sunday night, both players enjoyed significant stretches when it was readily apparent why they had been the more impactful All-Star duo in this series during the regular season.

Then there is the less tolerated but still relevant fact that this was a coin flip game that could have easily offered a different result. Contests such as these provide so many tide-turning, probability-altering plays that it’s impossible – and pointless – to start sifting through them all in an effort to decipher how the game might have unfolded differently. But that likely won’t stop the Rockets from experiencing nightmares of the overtime triple Aldridge hit from Beaumont while falling out of bounds when it appeared as if Houston was on the verge of seizing the game by the scruff of the neck once and for all.

He drained it, however, and Portland drew first blood. What’s done is done. This series, on the other hand, is just getting started. And though the Rockets most definitely didn’t enjoy being on the other end of a pinch-and-pilfer performance, they also understand that momentum and a sunnier disposition are just a bounce-back win away.

“At the end of the day it’s one loss,” said Chandler Parsons after the game. “It stings, it’s shocking, it’s at home – but it’s just one loss. They have to do that three more times. Like I said, we played awful and still had chances to win this game. We’re not going to hang our head by any means. We’ll get back to work tomorrow and be just as excited Wednesday.”