The Rockets went down in dramatic fashion Friday night, losing on a Damian Lillard three-point shot with 0.9 left on the clock. The shot happened because the Rockets played bad defense in the clutch, just as they did through most of the series. They also lost because Portland did something the Rockets have trouble doing, running a play that was drawn up by a head coach during a timeout.
But as painful as the loss was, it's just another of the memorable losses in the history of Houston professional sports. There's the Oilers losing to the Broncos behind one of John Elways patented last minute drives. There's the Oilers blowing a 35-3 second half lead to the Buffalo Bills and a second-string quarterback.
The 1980 Astros blew a two games to one lead to the Philadelphia Phillies in a best-of-five series that would have sent the team to its first ever World Series. The 1986 Astros were up by 3 runs in the ninth inning of game six to the New York Mets with Mike Scott waiting in the wings for game seven. And lets not forget John Stockton's dagger to doom the Rockets in the 1997 Conference Finals.
The Rockets dominated the Trail Blazers for most of the series, spurting out to big lead in game after game. But superstar James Harden disappeared time and time again. Jeremy Lin was useless in the clutch. Dwight Howard's inability to hit free throws further doomed the team, and Kevin McHale was once again at a strategic disadvantage as his opposing coach did the unthinkable by making in-game adjustments and drawing up game-ending plays that involved more than just giving the ball to James Harden and watching him dribble the ball with no clear objective before attempting a bad shot.
This must all be part of the DNA of Houston sports. Favored teams suffering major upsets. Lovable underdogs coming up just shy. There's the Mike Renfro reception in the end zone being ruled an incomplete pass. There was 7'4" Ralph Sampson throwing a punch at 6'1" Celtic guard Jerry Sichting. There was the Atlanta Braves serving as a constant roadblock to the Astros and Jim Edmonds throwing himself all over centerfield to rob the Astros in 2004. And the one time the Astros actually made the World Series, the team was embarrassed.
It's been a pretty dismal sports history for Houston. Things could be worse. Houston could be San Diego, a city with no major sports titles -- the Chargers won a few times back in the AFL days. Despite its destruction of the Oilers, the Bills won zero Super Bowls and the Sabres have accomplished nothing. That great Braves run of playoff appearances netted the city of Atlanta only one World Series victory, and the Falcons and Hawks are accomplished as the Texans/Oilers/Rockets while the city has run off two NHL teams.
But damn, it's still a pretty miserable time to be a Houston sports fan. The Astros are awful. The Texans look like they're positioning themselves to try and copy Kevin Costner's actions in Draft Day without realizing that was all fiction. And then there's the Rockets who can't make it out of the first round of the playoffs despite signing Dwight Howard to a huge contract. And of course, thanks to media rights being sold to CSN Houston, most of Houston can't even watch the Astros, Rockets, or Dynamo.
The good news, if any, is that the people of Houston don't have to worry about the Astros destroying the city due to a heartbreaking playoff loss for the next century or so. Nobody who watched the Texans last year believes this team is anywhere near close to returning to the postseason for a few years. And the Rockets won't be able to destroy any hopes for another year.
Still, at least we don't live in Dallas, and don't have to deal with Cowboys fans. It could be worse in that we could all be Cubs fans, and no matter how incompetent Texans management appears to be, the Texans are still better run than the Raiders. Les Alexander's not perfect, but at least he's not Donald Sterling. And no matter how bad and embarrassing the Astros are, at least we're not actually able to watch the games thanks to the debacle that is CSN Houston. So in that case, just be thankful for small favors.
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