"Calm down! You need to calm down!" the gray-haired security guard pleads and screams. He's urging two Houston Rockets fans who knock into each other in the rush to flee the nightmare to stop pushing and sending killer glares one another's way as a small testosterone-heavy group of onlookers quickly gathers around to watch.
"Fight! Fight!" one college-aged kid gleefully yells. "It's not worth it," the guard argues. He could just as easily be talking about the Rockets season.
Down on the floor, Dwight Howard is walking toward the locker room with Hakeem Olajuwon talking in his ear. The Dream is still trying to whisper sweet championship lessons to the Rockets big man. It's hard to comprehend any of it now though.
The Portland Trail Blazers have just followed up that Game 1 epic overtime thriller with an emphatic Game 2 brush back of a Rockets team that viewed them as nothing more than a first round speed bump. Well, the speed bump's turned into a potentially season-swallowing crater. LaMarcus Alridge and Co. almost make it look too easy.
McHale never calls Harden out the way Scott Brooks held The Beard accountable in OKC. After two seasons of enabling, is it any wonder it's come to this?
It's all falling apart around Kevin McHale now. With eight minutes left in the fourth quarter of this lost Wednesday night, the murmur of discontent rippling through the crowd becomes downright vocal. Fans are screaming at James Harden, suddenly convinced they're watching an incredible shrinking superstar. They're screaming at the refs. They're screaming at each other.
They should be yelling at McHale.
He's been setting up this 112-105 Game 2 home loss, this shocking 0-2 series hole with a weekend in Portland beckoning, for months, unwittingly laying the foundation for disaster all along. Anyone who bothered to look closer could have seen this coming. Few wanted to acknowledge the hard truths shadowing these Rockets all season though. It was such a fun team to watch — no team proved to be more entertaining than the Rockets during the regular season — that many willingly, almost eagerly, blinded themselves.
McHale's marginalizing of the one true point guard on his roster — Jeremy Lin — from day one doomed the Rockets to failure once the playoffs hit, the games became tight, and ball movement and precise spacing started trumping all. The false-ringing, supposed reasoning behind benching Lin for Patrick Beverley from the the first game of the season — the desire to create a powerhouse bench — is exposed (again) in a Game 2 that McHale and the Rockets absolutely needed to win.
Coaching to have anything more than a long shot, wild puncher's chance in this series, perhaps coaching for his Rockets career, McHale completely abandons that bench principle.
He only plays eight guys. Lin gets a mere 24 minutes of court time after his stand-out Game 1 finish. Omer Asik is also given 24 minutes. And Francisco Garica . . . he's on the court for all of four minutes and 19 seconds.
McHale manages to let a Blazers team that's widely regarded to have the worst second unit among all 16 playoff teams dominate in bench production. Portland blitzes Houston 30-13 in bench points. That as much as Aldridge's supernatural star turn (43 points in Game 2 after 46 points and 18 rebounds in his epic Game 1) seals the Rockets doom.
What happens to that deep bench that Daryl Morey built? What happens to Jordan Hamilton, Omri Casspi, Donatas Motiejunas and even late-season, feel-good sharp-shooter Troy Daniels?
Kevin McHale happens. By panicking under playoff pressure, McHale manages to turn a Rockets strength into a glaring weakness. If the first commandment of coaching is Do No Harm, the Rockets head man broke it long ago.
McHale is forever marginalizing players, heaping more and more pressure on his favored few.
Terry Stotts Schools McHale
Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts is perfectly suited to take advantage of McHale's bench blunders too. He served as Rick Carlisle's lead assistant on that flawed Dallas Mavericks team that somehow toppled LeBron James and the South Beach Big Three in the 2011 NBA Finals. In charge of Dallas' offense, Stotts coaxed career runs out of limited players like Jason Terry, Jose Barea and Deshawn Stevenson.
Now, he's getting something out of even less against the Rockets — with forgotten vets Mo Williams and Dorell Wright combining for 28 points and even Thomas Robinson, the quick Daryl Morey Rockets discard and re-trade, contributing two big blocks inside.
By panicking under pressure, McHale manages to turn a Rockets strength into a glaring weakness.
"We can't get no stops," Harden says during the televised part of his interesting postgame. ". . . We've got to figure something out soon."
Harden seems to be figuring out the frustration of being on an out coached team. He gets into a silly argument with NBA.com reporter Fran Blinebury in the non televised portion of his postgame, punctuating it by calling Blinebury "a weirdo."
It's an unbecoming moment for a would-be NBA superstar, but it's much too easy to blame Harden for everything on a night when he shoots 6 for 19. Just like LeBron took some unwarranted blame for Erik Spoelstra's early failings. Harden has little choice but to dominate the ball in the limited offense McHale's set up for him.
McHale never calls Harden out the way Scott Brooks held The Beard accountable in Oklahoma City. After two seasons of enabling, is it any wonder it's come to this?
The Rockets don't have a superstar problem as much as a coaching problem. Jeremy Lin — the team's third-most talented player — is reduced to standing around in the corner, waiting for the rare, fleeting chances he gets to flash his gifts (like the two near half court alley-oops he throws on a dime to Howard this night). Howard comes out breathing fire, starts the game with three straight dunks, sets a Rockets all-time franchise record with 19 points in the first quarter.
But McHale cannot figure out a way to ensure Howard keeps getting the ball the way Stotts makes certain Aldridge gets good shot after good shot after good shot, quarter after quarter after quarter.
"God blessed me with some skill because last game it was all inside and this game it was all outside," Aldridge says in his postgame dais moment.
Portland's owner also blessed LaMarcus Aldridge with a great coach. That's something Lin, Harden and Howard don't have.
"There'd better be," McHale shoots back in his postgame press conference when someone asks if there is still belief in the Rockets locker room.
It's hard to imagine there being belief now. How could there be?
Everyone's rushing out of Toyota Center. You have to wonder if this team will even make it back for another game next week. The empire's falling all around Kevin McHale, the foundation he cluelessly cracked finally crumbling in his very dirty hands.