Saturday, November 15, 2008

Houston Chronicle: Victory slips out of hand

Duncan’s block preserves San Antonio’s comeback

SAN ANTONIO — Aaron Brooks saw a clear path to the rim and took off with the go-ahead basket and the rim in his sights.

The Rockets had blown every bit of a 14-point fourth- quarter lead with a dramatic collapse in the final minutes against a San Antonio Spurs team playing without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But in the final seconds, Brooks — playing with Rafer Alston serving the first game of his two-game suspension — had one more chance to save the Rockets before their collapse was complete.

There is, however, one Spur with all those championship rings still around. So with Brooks in full flight, Tim Duncan, whose drive had put the Spurs in front for their first lead of the second half, swatted away Brooks’ last-gasp layup with 1.9 seconds remaining, nailing down a 77-75 Spurs win Friday night to complete the Rockets’ longest road trip of the season with the worst of their three losses.

The Rockets had led by 10 with 4½ minutes left. They did not score again, missing all seven of their remaining shots in the Spurs’ 12-0 run to the win.

“We did not do anything in the fourth quarter offensively,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “We turned it over. We got drives to the basket we missed. They tightened their defense. We just didn’t execute.”

The Rockets did get one more shot at the win. After Spurs guard Roger Mason made one free throw with 1.8 seconds left, the Rockets set up Ron Artest a few feet beyond the 3-point arc. Artest had come back from his shooting slump, scoring 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting.

His line drive clanged away at the buzzer, but even with the Rockets going scoreless for nearly five minutes and coming seven points shy of the fewest they had scored in the season’s first eight games, their defense down the stretch might have been worse than their offense.

On the offensive end, they at least had a chance. Defensively, they broke down completely.

“We didn’t play any defense,” said Tracy McGrady, who made just two of 12 shots. “We were struggling offensively. One thing you can’t do is struggle defensively. They got to the basket a couple times, got easy layups, got a wide-open 3. We just broke down defensively.”

In the final 4:20, Rockets forward Carl Landry twice left Matt Bonner open for 3-pointers.

Point guard George Hill put in a layup. Duncan hit his runner over Yao Ming to give the Spurs their first lead since the first half with 59.7 seconds left, completing an 11-0 run in which the Spurs scored on five consecutive possessions, never taking anything but a layup, a free throw or wide-open 3-pointers.

“That’s what I told them afterwards,” Adelman said. “No matter what we’re doing offensively, you’ve got to continue to make stops. If you keep defending, it’s hard for them to catch up.”

Bonner hit his two 3-pointers when Landry stepped away from him to follow the point guard, rather than cut off the ball-handler and return to his man.

“If he makes the point guard veer out, he’s only two or three steps away from his guy,” Adelman said. “He showed flat both times and couldn’t get back in time.”

The Rockets, however, had their chances on the other end.

With the Spurs within 75-74 after Bonner’s second 3-pointer of the run, the Rockets stood around until McGrady clanged a jumper from 19 feet.

Duncan put the Spurs in front, and again, the Rockets did little until McGrady put up a shot, this time missing a runner in the lane with 46.8 seconds left.

The Rockets finally got a stop when Duncan, who had 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, went back to the same drive with which he put San Antonio in front, but missed with 20.9 seconds left.

Hill fouled Brooks to stop the clock, but the Rockets set up a play in which Brooks was open in the corner and took off for the rim.

“I saw him (Duncan), but I didn’t think he was going to get there,” Brooks, who had 14 points and eight rebounds, said. “He made a great play and blocked the shot.

“They came down and made some big 3s and got some big layups. Offensively, we didn’t answer. It was a bad loss.”

With the Brandon Roy game-winner in Portland to start the trip and with a blowout loss to the Lakers in the middle, there were other tough losses. This “bad loss,” however, was the worst, taking a solid win and turning it into a failure.

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