You just can't believe it's happening as you watch it, but it was very much real.
Despite the best efforts of Glen Rice and Steve Francis, the Rockets gave up 7 straight points in the final 1:20 while going scoreless themselves, blowing a big game to the Clippers 90-89 in Los Angeles.
It was a Sunday killer. Left nothing but an acidic taste in your mouth.
And I have no problems pointing a finger or two: No doubt about it, Moochie Norris was a big culprit. He was not impressive before hitting a big three-pointer with under 2 minutes to go, and it seemed he would go from goat to hero.
Instead he went back to goat again.
He provided no defense on Keyon Dooling (8-10 shooting for 18 points), committed a costly travelling violation in the final minute and the worst of all sins - botched two freebies in the final minute that ultimately proved to be daggers in the heart.
Yao Ming put up a jumper with 15 seconds left attempting to give the Rockets a three-point lead, but it back-ironed. The Rockets defense forced a bad Clippers pass, but it got away from Juaquin Hawkins out of bounds with just under 6 ticks left.
The Clippers then inbounded the ball to Eric Piatkowsi, who threw up a running bank shot from about 15 feet from the wing. After bouncing around a bit on the rim, Yao Ming tried to swat it out of there and was called for goaltending with 1.4 seconds left. Replays showed it was going in anyhow.
Francis got a decent look in the final second, but it back-ironed and the Clippers had totally escaped, and the Rockets were left scratching their heads after blowing a game that was truly in the palm of their hands.
Francis and Rice were terrific in the final two periods. Francis was actually four rebounds and 2 steals away from a quadruple-double, finishing with 31 points, 10 assists, 6 boards and 8 steals (wow), but unfortunately committed 8 turnovers in the process -- those are killers.
Rice, meanwhile, scored a career Rocket high of 23 points and nailed 9-11 shots. All of those points came in the second half, with 18 of them flying in in the third period.
So how did Yao Ming do? He had just 4 points, 7 boards and 2 blocks in 28 minutes, going just 1-4 from the floor, but he did well against Michael Olowokandi, final minute notwithstanding. Olowokandi hit a tough baseline hook over Yao in the final minute, but overall Yao's defense was good, holding Olowokandi to 10 points and just 4 boards, getting him in early foul trouble.
It was obvious Olowokandi wanted to take it to Yao early also as he held, grabbed and pushed Yao constantly the first 10 minutes of the game, but Yao held his own. Unfortunately he didn't get many opportunities to score.
Kenny Thomas played pretty well off the bench, hitting his first 4 shots and finishing with 12 points and 9 boards.
The truth is the Rockets had no business being in a position to win this game. The first half in LA was the worst half of basketball the Rockets have played in a long, long time. Houston trailed by as many as 17 points and turned it over a staggering 17 times in the first two quarters alone and when they weren't turning it over, they were bricking their shots. The Rockets were 13-31 from the floor, with Eddie Griffin missing 6 of his 7 shots.
Defense, until early in the second quarter, was non-existant. Elton Brand was allowed to hit his first 8 shots, getting easy turnarounds in the paint. The Rockets stepped up the defensive intensity in the second when they switched to their zone, but they couldn't capitalize often enough.
Steve Francis had 14, 4 assists, 3 boards and 3 steals to pace the Rockets while Kenny Thomas came off the bench to hit all 4 of his shot attempts.
Then, Glen Rice happened.
He popped off for 18 points in the third period alone, including three triples, and when Francis drained a buzzer-beating three, the Rockets actually led 69-66 going in to the fourth.