Rockets-Jazz: Different Game, Same Results For Houston

Jeffrey StephensContributor IApril 21, 2008

That might just about do it for the Houston Rockets.

"Thanks for visiting the NBA Western Conference Playoffs. We hope you enjoyed your stay. Here are some lovely parting gifts."

It may not be officially over, but the Rockets, for all intensive purposes, are done. They're halfway to yet another first-round playoff exit, as they fell to the Utah Jazz in Game 2 of the first-round series 90-84 on Monday at Toyota Center.

Utah takes a 2-0 series lead as they head back home to EnergySolutions Arena, a place where they were an NBA-best 37-4 this season.

Early, it appeared it would be a promising night for the Rockets, who looked helpless down the stretch in a 93-82 Game 1 loss on Saturday. They came out with energy, aggressiveness and star guard Tracy McGrady appeared to be on a mission.

Unfortunately for Houston, some of the same problems that plagued them in Game 1 popped up again in Game 2. Missed free throws? Check (They were 16-of-26 from the line, 61.5 percent). Missed layups? Check (After missing 19 on Saturday, the Rockets missed 17 more on Monday). Tracy McGrady disappearing in the fourth quarter? Check and check (He scored 1 point in the final 12 minutes).

In McGrady's defense, he was one of the main reasons the Rockets were even in the game when the fourth quarter came around. He was active, he was aggressive and he did all the things you want a superstar to do (something Magic Johnson eloquently pointed out during the halftime show of the broadcast). He took the ball to the basket, he created opportunities for teammates and dished when necessary, he defended, blocked shots, rebounded and hit some big shots.

But when the fourth quarter came, McGrady couldn't answer the bell. He looked and played like a tired human being. The Jazz constantly ran fresh bodies at him all night in an effort to wear him down and it worked. Unlike Game 1, in which it appeared he simply chose not to take over, in Game 2, he tried, but failed.

Still, his fourth quarter was a big reason the Rockets came up short. He's a star on a team filled with role players - some of which played their roles well on Monday.

But more often than not, it was the stronger, deeper Jazz that made plays when they had to.

For the second straight game, Deron Williams (22 points, five assists) was brilliant. He set the tone early by hitting three 3-pointers in the first quarter and stayed aggressive from tip to buzzer.

And while Carlos Boozer was limited to 13 points and seven rebounds because of foul trouble, Mehmet Okur more than picked up the slack, with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Who knew he stayed around the basket long enough to grab that many boards?

The Jazz took a 47-41 lead into the break and the Rockets, much like they did in Game 1, made an impressive run in the third quarter to tie the game and a few times, take the lead.

Utah backup point guard Ronnie Price, who was filling in for Williams who injured his tailbone in the third, gave the Jazz a 69-67 lead heading into the fourth quarter by knocking down a 3-pointer at the end of the third.

The Rockets bounced back and were able to take as much as a three-point lead, 74-71, with 8:48 remaining. Then, getting buckets became an issue. The Rockets went without a field goal for the next 5:08 before Luis Scola ended the drought with a layup to cut the Jazz's lead to 81-80.

The Jazz were able to build the lead to 85-80 and setting off the key sequence to decide the game. The Rockets cut it to 85-82 after a pair of Scola free throws with 1:21 left. Then, after the Rockets got a stop, they got the ball back and McGrady found Bobby Jackson for an open 3-pointer to tie the game, but Scola was charged with an offensive foul for shoving Kirilenko in the corner.

On the next possession, the Rockets' stout defense forced a fallaway shot by Kyle Korver which hit the side of the backboard, but Andrei Kirilenko showed up to get the crucial rebound, save it from going out of bounds and dish it to Korver who basically lobbed it up from 15 feet away with one second on the shot clock, draining it for the five-point lead with 20 seconds left. Ballgame. And possibly, series.