Yao Ming tumbled to the floor late in Friday's 108-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and came up limping.
The diagnosis a few hours later was an ankle sprain that left him questionable for Sunday's pivotal contest.
Everyone in Houston knew it was more than that. Deep down, there was no way this latest setback could be so mild.
The Rockets and misfortune have a thing for one another.
Gimpy, non-explosive knees. Bad shoulders and ankles. A gunshot wound. Dikembe Mutombo's disheartening end. Now, a broken leg. Another one.
The idea that the fifth-seeded Rockets could send the Lakers home was tantalizing and spectacular.
Houston stunned Los Angeles in game one 100-92 and memories of the 1990s Clutch City years returned.
An upset seemed as destined as it was probable.
Then, the Rockets blew it with consecutive second-half stinkers. They had chances, offense willing, to win both games two and three.
A pair of fourth quarter clunkers may be the beginning of this season's Last Rites. With Yao sidelined again, there will be no shortage of people willing to read them.
This resilient team will compete. If the Lakers expect to trample the Rockets after such misery, they should think again. That is certain.
However, can this already undermanned Houston bunch win three more games without its best player?
With this latest kick to the groin, the Rockets should turn from thoughts of an upset over the Lakers to just being upset.
Yao has shown the heart of a championship-level center in many postseason games. He finally won a first round series.
Just when things looked rosy, those glass feet brought down the mood again.
How many times will these gigantic, but fragile legs shatter?
The bone fracture in his left foot will keep him out 8-12 weeks. Team Physician Tom Clanton said the injury should heal 100 percent before next season.
Yao missed an average of 25 games in three of the last four seasons. A stress fracture in his other foot ended his season in 2008.
He watched the Rockets drop another first round series to the Utah Jazz in street clothes.
No one questions Yao's attitude. He wants to win. He cares more than most.
Does any of that matter if he can't stay on the floor for 82 games?
Even if the Rockets somehow oust the Lakers, this bummer injury leaves a question mark hanging over the franchise's building block.
Myself and other writers would suggest trading him; if only it were that easy.
The Rockets would never get back equal value for an injured 7-6 center.
Anyone they could net would surely not give them nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds a night. He wouldn't care as much, either.
Yet, how much longer can the Rockets make every personnel decision based on a supposed "Great Wall" with so many design flaws?
His skill set makes them a championship contender. The reality of his troubled foot history leaves them vulnerable to repeated heartbreak.
This season. Next season. When will the madness end?
The Rockets can still make this semifinal against the Lakers interesting with more than just elbows and fouls. They could win three more games if they play perfectly and Kobe Bryant stinks up the joint three more times.
Maybe they can call up some alien friends to abduct Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Training camp in Houston began with visions of Yao, Tracy McGrady, and Ron Artest hoisting the franchise's first Larry O' Brien trophy since 1995.
The biggest and tallest part of that title equation will now join McGrady and Dikembe Mutombo on the bench.
Maybe Deke can tell them a few jokes to lighten the sorrow-filled mood.
Even if the Rockets still shock the world and win this match, the celebratory snapshot General Manager Daryl Morey and Owner Leslie Alexander envisioned will be incomplete.
That dream is over. Again.
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