Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 3/5/12
HOUSTON When the margin for error is as infinitesimal as it was on Sunday night, hindsight tends to lead down a spiral of abject frustration. The Rockets were an errant pass here, a blown defensive assignment there from validating an effort they so proudly claimed. Their miscues were simultaneously minor and major, seemingly benign when viewed singularly yet retrospectively malignant when considered cumulatively. The long faces following their 105-103 overtime loss to the Clippers at Toyota Center perfectly captured just how close the Rockets were to sidestepping a three-game skid in advance of their five-game road trip. "It sucks that we lost," Rockets guard Kyle Lowry said. "We can't play with better effort and better intensity. But it sucks that we lost that one. "Everything is going to stick out because this is such a close loss. It's just one of those tough games where one little thing would have turned it a different way." Three little things resonated in the extra period for the Rockets (21-17). For the balance of four quarters the Rockets had stifled Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin, allowing him as many free throws as baskets (four apiece) going into overtime. Griffin settled for perimeter jumpers early and banged his way to the charity stripe in the third quarter, but by and large the Rockets defended him so effectively that he was a non-factor. But then, with 1:22 left to play and after Courtney Lee had fortified their lead with a 22-foot pull-up jumper, the Rockets lost contain on Clippers point guard Chris Paul due to a lack of communication. With Paul loose in the lane Rockets forward Luis Scola stepped in to provide a barricade before the basket. Griffin wiggled free on the baseline, where Paul delivered a sharp pass that Griffin converted into only his second dunk. "It was a blown coverage in the pick-and-roll," Lee said. "We wanted to send him (Paul) one way and that ended up not happening. The big (Scola) had to step up and try to stop the ball, and Blake did a good job of getting low and behind the basket. "We didn't get it worked out at the top." With 49.9 seconds left, after Paul provided the Clippers (22-13) a one-point lead and following a Rockets timeout, Kevin Martin committed a turnover attempting to steer an inbounds pass to Samuel Dalembert. Lowry was the first option but Paul was denying him access, leaving Martin peering at Dalembert, who had Griffin draped on his back. Griffin anticipated the pass and stepped in to swipe the ball, tight roping the sideline fronting the Clippers' bench while walling off Dalembert. "That should never happen," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We had timeouts to burn so at that point you've just got to burn a timeout and we'll get something else set up. "We had some opportunities, we just didn't take advantage of them." That final shots, literally, came with 4.9 seconds left and after Paul missed one of two free throws, keeping the opportunity for a game-winning 3-pointer on the table. Martin had previously missed 15 of his 21 attempts but he had a clear look from just behind the arc and took it. He missed again and Dalembert, who delivered an inspired performance (17 points, 12 rebounds, three blocked shots), could not convert a desperately harried offensive board into an equalizer at the buzzer. "It was just a glimpse of how the night went for me shooting-wise," said Martin, who nonetheless finished with team highs in points (25) and assists (eight). "The shot was just off about a centimeter and resulted into a missed shot which resulted into a loss. "I just wanted to do whatever the defense gave me. I felt like dribble three was there and everything felt good about it." The Rockets had reason to puff out their chests over so much that unfolded. The lethargy that undermined their victory over the Raptors last Tuesday was replaced by pulsating vibrancy. The Clippers became the 10th consecutive opponent to outrebound the Rockets, but they didn't do so without a never-ending series of fistfights on the glass. Paul (28 points, 10 assists) tortured them throughout, but the Rockets didn't relent to his captivating brilliance. This performance in no way resembled the shellacking they took from the Jazz and the Nuggets, yet the result was the same. They will embark on their road trip through the Eastern Conference taking with them the realization that close just isn't enough. "If we want to be a playoff team and win games in the playoffs we've got to correct those little things," Lee said. "The little things are the most important in a game: loose balls, rebounds, taking care of the ball, getting stops that's what wins games. If we want to get to that level, we've got to do those things." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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