Jeremy Lin scores seven of the Houston Rockets 14 points in overtime, shows he can get to the rim any time he wants against a Portland team whose big men have all fouled out. Still, there's no chance Lin will touch the ball with the Rockets needing two more points to force a second overtime.
The shot's going to James Harden as it always does. The Rockets must rely on Hero Ball. Again and again and again. There's absolutely no way Harden will pass the ball. Even Michael Jordan occasionally passed the ball to the Steve Kerrs and Bill Weningtons of the world in a big moment. Not Harden.
Instead, he misses not once, not twice, but three times in the final 33.9 seconds of one of the most enthralling playoff games you'll ever see. Instead, Harden leaves the Rockets with heartache.
Trail Blazers 122, Rockets 120. So much for that home court advantage. It goes skipping into the night, along with Blazers guard Wesley Matthews, who leaves the Toyota Center court, screaming "We fucking got this!" — like he's a Toronto Raptors general manager or something. While Patrick Beverley — another one of the Rockets' fallback crutches — is helped off the court by trainers, limping on that battered and busted up right knee.
The clock reads 12:06 a.m., Monday morning having hit hard for the 18,000 Rockets fans in the building. Midnight hasn't come close to striking on the Rockets season though. This first round playoff series still has extended drama, venom and likely a future ejection or two written all over it.
But all those overconfident ones picking the Rockets to cake walk (often reality challenged 610 AM host Nick Wright among them) in five games this series and then roll by the 62-win San Antonio Spurs in the second round to make the conference finals are hit with a sudden, early rude awakening.
These Rockets aren't a super team. Not with the way they're coached by Kevin McHale. Instead, they're James Harden and Patrick Beverley's team. For better or for worse.
Jeremy Lin could have saved the day late too. He never gets the chance. He never gets a shot.
McHale's made that clear even before this season of super promise ever tipped off, yanking Jeremy Lin from the starting lineup without cause. And he drives home the point every chance he gets.
It's an approach that produces high drama and great moments, but it doesn't work as a championship formula. Not with Harden insistent on getting all the last shots even on a night when he's shooting 8 for 28. Not with Beverley determined to make his histrionics the show, one that has him putting a gutsy theater act over winning.
Beverley clearly reinjures his knee when he draws Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge's sixth foul of the game. But instead of limping to the bench and accepting well-earned congrats for getting the Blazers' unstoppable force out of the game, Beverley refuses to leave the game himself.
He'll play on — and soak up more praise — even though he can't move at all on defense. Predictably, Portland guard Damian Lillard promptly blows by Beverley on the baseline, hits a layup and draws a foul for a three point play that puts the Blazers up for good. Beverley won't leave the game, so Lillard gets to make his move on a crippled defender.
This is where a coach needs to step in. It's hard to fault Beverley for wanting to stay on the court. That's the type of warrior attitude we often demand from athletes. But McHale needs to see how much Beverley is hurting and do what's right for the overall team.
That's not how it works with this team though.
Instead, these Rockets blow a 13-point fourth quarter lead. Instead, these Rockets kick away the home court in their very first playoff game. Instead, Beverley faces a Monday MRI on a knee that probably should have been operated on already.
"We've got to be smarter," Rockets forward Chandler Parsons tells all the TV cameras in the locker room afterwards.
Houston's Championship Dreams
Former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy calls Houston his championship favorites, rightfully upping the pressure on McHale. How is a team with the best center in the league and the best shooting guard in the league satisfied with a No. 4 seed? A first round loss would be inexcusable.
There is real excitement around these Rockets. A quick exit against Portland would be just as disappointing as the Houston Texans' disastrous 2013 season in many ways. Houston rap legend Bun B puts on a free mini concert in the park right across the street from Toyota Center before Game 1 — and he even draws Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to the park. Houston's No. 1 modern day sports icon J.J. Watt takes a court side seat, right next to the TNT broadcast team. (Texans center Chris Myers comes with Watt — no one seems to care about Myers.)
These Rockets aren't a super team. Not with the way they're coached by Kevin McHale.
Then, Aldridge — the former University of Texas star — goes full beast mode, putting up a historic 46 points and 18 rebounds before that foul out. Lillard (31 points, nine rebounds five assists) takes over in the clutch. Suddenly, no one's thinking of J.J. Watt either.
"I've been telling our guys, the playoffs is like another level — a whole other season," Aldridge says in his postgame press conference, getting the SportsCenter and NBA TV moment that James Harden craved. "I wanted to lead and be the guy showing that."
Mission accomplished — and then some.
It didn't have to be this way. Not with Lin hitting two driving layups and a driving, pull-up J in overtime. With Beverley crippled by foul trouble, sometimes crippled by directionless crazed intensity — and well, just plain crippled by that knee — Lin plays 34 minutes. Given a rare, real chance by McHale, he's clearly in a rhythm.
Lin shoots 5 for 11 on a night when the Rockets struggle to 41 percent shooting as a team. He saves the day early, memorably saving the ball from going out of bounds by flying in and somehow flipping it on target to Terrence Jones for an easy dunk. He completely fakes out the Blazers on another alley-oop to Dwight Howard in the first half.
Jeremy Lin could have saved the day late too. He never gets the chance. He never gets a shot. Not on James Harden and Patrick Beverley's team. That's not how these Rockets roll.