After digging themselves a sizable hole in the Western Conference playoff chase by going 6-14 to open the season, the Houston Rockets have come charging back in recent weeks. They'd won eight of their last 10 heading into Tuesday night, getting on the right side of .500 and putting themselves within hailing distance of the Memphis Grizzlies, who are presently in line for the conference's eighth and final postseason slot.
The Rockets had a chance to get even closer with a win on Tuesday over the Phoenix Suns, who also find themselves on the outside looking in. Unfortunately, Rockets center, Trey Kerby favorite and eternal artistic inspiration Brad Miller(notes) picked a pretty bad time to come unglued.
And when I say "a pretty bad time," I mean "30 seconds left in a game that you're trailing by three points when you have the ball and a chance to tie." I guess you could call it a really bad time.
Take it away, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
[Kyle Lowry(notes)] drained a 3-pointer with 54.2 seconds remaining, keeping the Rockets within three. Finally, [Marcin] Gortat missed from 15 feet and the Rockets had the stop they desperately needed.
Miller, however, tried to fire a pass to Kevin Martin(notes) at midcourt. Grant Hill(notes) stepped in front, kept his momentum from taking the ball into the backcourt and got it to [Steve] Nash. With just 29.4 seconds left, the Rockets were forced to foul through the rest of the game.
"I was trying to hit Kevin," Miller said. "Kyle was over there. I picked up my dribble and was kind of screwed. I was trying to get it to somebody, basically."
Even after the costly turnover and subsequent free throws, though, the Rockets weren't dead, thanks to the continued hot play of Lowry, who finished with 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting, including seven 3-pointers in 11 tries.
But Brad's malfunction continued. More from Feigen:
With 13.6 seconds left, Nash made a fifth-consecutive free throw, pushing the lead back to three, but he missed the second.
With a time out remaining, Miller tried to catch the Suns with a fast break. [...]
Miller took two dribbles and then stopped to pass to Lowry, nearly losing the ball in the backcourt again. Nash, however, could only deflect it. Miller recovered, and got it to Lowry who raced up the floor for a last look. He never found it.
Instead, he found Miller — although I feel like that pass might have been intended for Courtney Lee(notes), only to be intercepted by Brad — who launched a leaning, last-second long ball. In a fitting end to the quicksand half-minute, the heave missed everything, sealing a 113-110 Suns win.
In the interest of fairness, it's not like Miller single-handedly lost the game for Houston — if you're seeking a culprit, you'd be better served looking at the Rockets allowing Phoenix to shoot 54.3 percent from the floor while only hitting 45.9 percent of their own field goals. (Not having top rebounder and second-leading scorer Luis Scola(notes), who was inactive after leaving Monday's win over the Sacramento Kings with a sore left knee, didn't do the Rockets any favors, either.) In fact, outside of that last 30 seconds, Miller provided good bench production, providing five points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in less than a half of floor time.
Still, late-game situations tend to stick in your mind, so the Rockets and their fans are probably kicking themselves about missing this opportunity. That said, the loss just proves the age-old adage: If you live by the sword, you die by the sword. If you live by Brad Miller-led fast breaks and desperation heaves, as Houston partisans (and all people who enjoy fun) have all season, then occasionally you're going to have to suffer through one that doesn't bounce your way. It's the circle of life.
On the plus side, this all but clinches Brad going coast-to-coast, Vlade-style, in the next game. Something to look forward to for us all.