Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 4/17/12
HOUSTON The last-second shot came up short, which seemed ominously appropriate. Houston Rockets rookie Chandler Parsons put up a 30-footer off a last-ditch inbounds play that sailed soft and true and bumped the front iron. "It was deep, but it felt good and was right on line," he said. "It just fell short." So the Denver Nuggets beat the Rockets 105-102 Monday at Toyota Center in Houston. It put the Nuggets (34-27) two games ahead of Houston (33-29) in the Western Conference standings and, if the wind hadn't been knocked out of the Rockets' stomachs yet, Monday's loss had them doubled over and gasping. When the game ended Houston was still in the eight and final playoff spot with five games to play, but that was with just a half-game lead over Phoenix. After losing four straight, including back-to-back losses to the Nuggets, Houston now has to play at Dallas (34-27), at New Orleans (19-42) and at Miami (43-17). The other two games are at home against the Warriors (22-37) and the Hornets. Which is a way of saying there were some dobbers that had to be picked up off the locker room floor Monday night. "Does it hurt?" coach Kevin McHale said. "Yeah. We played hard tonight." And well, really. Houston scored 48 points in the paint and scored a season-high 32 points in the first quarter. The Rockets were quicker to the ball, aggressive on the offensive glass and had a confounding defensive force in Samuel Dalembert, who ended up with seven blocks in 24 minutes, five of them in the first half. This was the biggest game of the year and the Rockets were big enough to match it. For a while. Everything would have been fine, actually, had Denver coach George Karl not found a way to get Dalembert out of the game. He decided to play Al Harrington and Danilo Gallinari, both of whom have an offensive advantage on Dalembert. McHale countered with Patrick Patterson, who is better suited for guarding a perimeter threat like Harrington but is of little use as a rim protector. Dalembert didn't play at all in the fourth quarter, and none of Houston's big men blocked a shot in the period, either. Further, the whole thing blew up because Harrington scored nine points in the fourth quarter anyway, and swingman Corey Brewer had 11, which included a driving dunk that would have been an unlikely finish had "The Bear" been lurking. McHale said he was thinking about putting Dalembert back in, but Harrington had already made two 3s before the fourth quarter started and there wasn't any reason to believe that was going to stop. That was not Denver's only bit of strategic mastery Monday. It became obvious to the Rockets that Denver was just going to do a lot of switching on screens and sagging off and see if Houston could win the game shooting jump shots. The Rockets went 8-for-29 from the 3-point line. "I hate to say I like us shooting 29 3s," McHale said. "But they packed the paint on us." The Rockets come in fits and bursts this year. They try to play through big man Luis Scola, but you can't really say the pound it there with him. It's a lot of driving and kicking and the shots go in or they don't. You can't count on anything. With a three minutes left, the Rockets looked like they were hitting one of those bursts. Scola made two free throws that gave Houston the lead, then after a timeout Parsons answered a couple of Ty Lawson free throws with two of his own, pulling the Rockets within one. Then came the first big moment. The Rockets needed a stop, and they got it. Scola got the rebound and Houston pushed it. The crowd felt something coming and when Courtney Lee caught it in the corner with 1:38 left, the building braced for impact. Airball. Houston best chance after that was with 5.9 seconds left, when they were down two and Scola got what McHale called a good look at a bit of a fading jumper in the lane. It missed, too. And then it was down to Parsons' 30-footer. "At a certain point," McHale said, "you gotta make a few shots."
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