Beautiful ball movement.
Timely production from the bench.
Passion. Relentlessness. Hustle. Heart.
For 22 glorious games, the Houston Rockets incorporated each of those elements into a magical mixture, resulting in the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. Whatever they may have lacked in the talent department, they more than made up for with superior teamwork. It was thrilling, inexplicable, goosebump-inducing stuff. The team ascended. A city rallied. And a building awoke.
For nearly seven weeks, the Rockets’ formula trumped everything in its path. But on Tuesday night, that formula trumped them. The scoreboard read: Boston 94 - Houston 74. The Streak stopped cold. But that's not even the most painful part.
The Boston Celtics do everything the Rockets do, they just do it better. They're healthier, of course, which helps. A lot. It begs the question: What heights could these Rockets reach with a healthy Yao Ming and Carl Landry? At least with regards to Yao, they'll never know. Not this season, anyway.
But that question is only for the fans and media. It’s not in the Rockets' DNA to ask, "What if?" They've gotten this far by instead asking, "What's next?" And with a three-games-in-four-nights road trip from hell beginning this evening in New Orleans, the team's focus will quickly shift from remorse to resilience.
"You gotta respond," said coach Rick Adelman after the game. "It's not going to be easy. We've got three games in four nights against three very good teams and you find out what you're made of.
"You forget about it. You really do. We've got a one-game losing streak and that's the way you have to approach it."
A similar sentiment was echoed in the club's locker room.
Said Shane Battier: "I feel worse for the fans than I do us. We'll be all right. We've got a game in 20 hours. We’ll be out there trying to win another game. But the fans, they were really captivated by the streak and we hope they still get behind us and cheer us on."
"We can take a deep breath," said Rafer Alston. "I think that's a good thing. Now we just have to continue to get ready for the rest of the season and what lies ahead. But it was fun. It was a sight to see. It was something that started real quiet, then got a lot of attention and it was beautiful… They might not remember our names like Chamberlin, Goodrich and West, but they'll remember us."
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Of that there is no doubt. Regardless of what happens next, whether this season ends in yet another first-round flameout or a deep playoff run, the Rockets took their fans and this city on an amazing ride. They taught us about passion and belief. Confidence and chemistry. Redemption and resolve.
But most of all, they taught us the meaning of team.
The Streak is dead.
Long live The Streak. - Jason Friedman