As Charles Barkley would say, "Jeff Van Gundy has to be turning over in his grave about this."
No, the Rockets coach is not dead, but he may have felt like he died Sunday night watching the Rockets fourth quarter defense.
While their offense started to come alive in the final period, they could do nothing to stop the Celtics from draining their shots as Boston stunned Houston 97-93 in the Toyota Center.
The loss is costly, dropping the Rockets to 20-16 on the year. A win would have put the Rockets in to a tie for 5th in the west with Denver.
The Rockets really had no business losing to a mediocre Eastern Conference team in their own crib, but sure enough, there they were doing just that. It continues to hammer home the point that this team just refuses to take the next step or is simply incapable of doing so with this current cast.
Worst of all, Jeff Van Gundy may have lost confidence in Yao Ming. Yao had one of those "complete non-factor" outings. He played just 23 minutes for 6 points and 9 boards, but most notably he didn't play at all in the final 10 minutes of the fourth.
There was no injury and no foul trouble that kept Yao pinned to the bench. Shortly after Chris Mihm posterized Yao with a dunk in the fourth he was sat and never returned. He was just shut down by Boston, and Van Gundy felt he had a better chance without the 7-foot-5 giant.
They probably could have used his defense in the fourth. It seemed like in the final 4-5 minutes, every time the Rockets needed a big stop, they failed. Jiri Welsch, Walter McCarty, Paul Pierce ... even Mike James -- they all stuck daggers in the Rockets late. But the defensive breakdown was evident, particularly on one inbounds play from underneath the basket where no Rocket covered the lane and the Celts got an easy-as-pie layup.
Jim Jackson really had it going on for the Rockets. He tied a career high with 6 triples, and scored a season-high 26 points. He added 8 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block. If there's one bright spot lately, it's the way Jackson has been playing.
I didn't like how Steve Francis (19 points, 7 assists, 6 turnovers) played, particularly late. In one stretch, Francis missed a bad jumper, the Celts scored on the other end, then Steve missed a short jumper, Boston got the board and Steve fouled him. Then he picked up a technical for arguing.
Very quickly, a 4-point deficit and possession of the ball turned in to a 7-point disadvantage and loss of possesion.
Cuttino Mobley also did not shoot particularly well (7-17 for 15 points), but he did dish 8 assists and had a very big (and tough) left-handed layin with 42 seconds left that brought the Rockets to within 2, but Jackson fouled Pierce with 22 seconds left, he made both freebies and that was pretty much the game.
Props to Scott Padgett though, who made two ballsy three-pointers late to give the Rockets that final minute chance.