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Thursday March 3, 2011 3:42 AM

Rockets' Rally Falls Just Short

Clippers prevail 106-103, stop Rockets' win streak at five

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

LOS ANGELES - There is no such thing as a feel-good loss in the NBA, especially this late in the season and especially when dealing with a razor-thin margin for error.

Furthermore, few fans are likely to be sympathetic to the plight of players dragging their tired, sore bodies through their fourth game in five nights.

But the effects of fatigue are very real, as evidenced by the Rockets’ road weary play right from the opening tip Wednesday night in Los Angeles. And discouraging as Houston’s 106-103 defeat at the hands of the Clippers surely was, there also existed reason for optimism that often seemed lacking in similarly-styled losses earlier this season.

This wasn’t simply a rehashing of the roller coaster ride which seemed to define the Rockets’ season for the first few months; an up and down ordeal during which every signature victory seemed to be immediately followed by a loss that stalled any and all positive momentum right in its tracks.

The Rockets showed resolve on a night when they were clearly a step slower than their bigger, more athletic opponents. They fumbled through a sloppy first quarter and the wheels almost came completely off toward the end of the third. Kevin Martin and Luis Scola shot a combined 8-for-24 from the field. Chuck Hayes found himself in early foul trouble, allowing Blake Griffin to break free and dominate down low early. And for perhaps the first time all season, the Rockets suffered through a stretch which saw them miss five straight attempts at the charity stripe.

Yet despite all those issues and more, Houston scratched, clawed and somehow found itself well within striking distance come crunch time. Kyle Lowry was the ringleader, willing his team back from the brink with his tireless effort and timely playmaking on both ends of the floor. And Courtney Lee was once again a revelation off the bench, scoring 18 points, including 8 in a row in the fourth to help Houston rally from an 11-point deficit.

No, it wasn’t enough. Just seconds after draining one clutch 3-pointer to bring his club within a single point, Chase Budinger’s bid for another bomb at the buzzer bounced off the rim, sealing the Rockets’ fate and snapping their 5-game winning streak.

But the feeling in the postgame locker room wasn’t one of crushing defeat and despair. This wasn’t a Houston team reverting back to its prior form from earlier in the season that saw it follow up a 3-game win streak with a dispiriting loss to Minnesota at home. This was simply a team that ran out of gas at the end of a whirlwind week which began with an emotional trade deadline day.

The players and coaches feel as if they tapped into something special on this road trip and one defeat was not about to undo everything gained during the club’s stirring wins over New Orleans and Portland. Yes, the Rockets’ margin for error shrinks with every setback but there now exists a confidence and belief that the sort of sustained success necessary for a playoff push is within their grasp, and no longer just a pipedream.

“I really like how the guys are playing,” said Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman. “I think we have a good idea of how we’re going to play, who’s going to play and we know what we can go to. You’re going to lose some games. We lost this one, now you have to respond against Indiana. You can’t give in to it, and I thought tonight the guys didn’t give into it.”

Added Scola: “It’s a tough loss because it was the first time we could have been above .500 all season. It was a winnable game. But they played well and we kept fighting all the way until the end. I believe we can live with this one.

“I feel better about the way the team is reacting the last couple of weeks. We’re playing better and I feel like the way we’re playing right now, we’re more prepared to win games and we’ll have more chances down the stretch to win games. It’s not like I feel well about this loss, I just feel well about the way we’re approaching games.”

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

Tough loss. We just ran into a wall there in the third quarter; we couldn’t hit a shot and they took control of the game. The guys battled back and we had opportunities we just couldn’t get over the hump.

(4 games in 5 nights): The third quarter, that really hurt us. We just couldn’t make a shot and couldn’t get anything going – that gave them some life. They got up 11 and we came right back. We had two really good opportunities to make wide-open 3s that we missed. We had the ball in the loose ball there that Griffin picked up and they scored on. It’s tough to make that comeback. I give our guys credit – they battled the whole game and battled through it. If we keep playing that way we’re going to be ok.

(so many 3s a result of low energy?): I think so, I really do. I thought we needed to attack more and have a better balance. When the energy level is not there, sometimes you take the easy road out. They had three big guys who really hurt us in the second half – they hurt us on the boards and they hurt us around the basket. You just have to regroup for Indiana.

(like where the team is?): I really like how the guys are playing. I think we have a good idea of how we’re going to play, who’s going to play and we know what we can go to. You’re going to lose some games. We lost that one, now you have to respond against Indiana. You can’t give in to it, and I thought tonight the guys didn’t give into it. We had a shot to win in the fourth quarter and that’s what you want.

KYLE LOWRY

(talk about the play where you almost had the steal on Blake Griffin): They ran that play and he dropped the pass right down to my hand and I felt like I had a piece of it. I almost got the steal but Blake made an awesome play: he dove and grabbed the ball like a vicious beast. He made a good play and saved the ball and got them a bucket.

(sort of the theme of the night?): Yeah, I think we were a little bit tired but that’s no excuse. Those guys are long and athletic but those 50-50 balls, we have to get those. It shows how big those plays are when they come down the stretch and to lose like we lost. We fought the whole time.

CHASE BUDINGER

It’s tough. You could tell a lot of our shots were short tonight because we played four games in five nights. But we battled, we fought back in the fourth quarter and gave us a shot to win the game.

(the final shot): Just looking at the ball in the air, I thought it had a shot. It looked good and I thought it had a shot to go in but it just rimmed out.

(summing up road trip): We beat some good teams on their home court, so that gives us some confidence. I wish we would have gotten this one, but going home 2-1, that’s still a good road trip for us. We just have to keep playing like we have been, protect home court and then try to sneak a couple more on the road.

LUIS SCOLA

It’s a tough loss because it was the first time we could have been above .500 all season. It was a winnable game. But they played well and we kept fighting all the way until the end. I believe we can live with this one.

I feel better about the way the team is reacting the last couple of weeks. We’re playing better and I feel like the way we’re playing right now, we’re more prepared to win games and we’ll have more chances down the stretch to win games. It’s not like I feel well about this loss, I just feel well about the way we’re approaching games.

Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro

RE: Keys to tonight’s win against the Rockets
“It’s nice to have some guys back. I thought we played really well considering we haven’t had one real practice together as a unit. It was nice to see Eric Gordon out there, it was nice to get Chris Kaman going a little bit tonight. I thought DeAndre Jordan did an excellent job controlling the paint for us with 16 rebounds. Blake Griffin was solid as usual.”

RE: Clippers bench performance
“I thought our bench picked it up in the second half. Their bench got at us a little bit at the start of the game. We need to work on controlling the three-point line a little better than we did. Their bench was hurting us a little bit in the first half and then got some in the end. It was a big win for us because Houston has been playing very well.”

RE: Clippers backcourt play
“Eric Gordon is such a tremendous athlete that attacks. Mo Williams started off a little slow shooting but he really made some nice plays. I was pleased with the way he ran the team at the end of the game. All of those things make a big difference.”

Clippers Forward Blake Griffin

RE: Chris Kaman’s performance against the Rockets
“Chris is very capable. He came in and shot the ball really well. It wasn’t only his scoring but it was also his presence. He’s a veteran, he’s played a lot of years so it’s good to have him back. It’s great for the team.”

Clippers Guard Eric Gordon

RE: His first game back from injury
“It felt good. When I had the chance to get back, I was ready to play and in shape. I just try and play basketball like the way I’ve played all year.”

Clippers Guard Mo Williams

RE: His first win as a Clipper
“I’m just trying to get a win, period. I’ve played a lot of games this season, I haven’t gotten a lot of wins so it feels really good. Our chemistry is just going to get that much better. I’m still learning all the guys’ games. It’s only my second game and I think I got better tonight with them. It’s only going to get better and better as I get more comfortable with these guys.”

 

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