SAN ANTONIO -- James Harden took a bad 26-foot jumper late in the third quarter and you couldn’t really blame him. With everything that was going wrong in the third quarter for the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, why wouldn’t you throw something up there to see if it fell in?
The last time the Rockets lost four consecutive games it was the end of the Kevin McHale era in Houston and now this team has lost four straight for the interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
“If we keep going this route, we’ll be the 12th seed,” Corey Brewer said.
The last time the Rockets won a game was Christmas night against the Spurs at the Toyota Center, and most of the Rockets talked then about the playoff atmosphere during that performance. Houston played so well on both ends that day and gave fans hope that maybe their underachieving season was going to turn around.
Instead, the Rockets lost on the road to New Orleans, followed that up by blowing a 19-point lead in a home loss to Atlanta and then were blown away by Golden State on New Year’s Eve, despite the Warriors missing four regulars, including two starters, one whose last name is Curry.
Now they are staring a a second four-game losing streak after falling to the Spurs. After the Rockets shot 55.3 percent from the floor in the first half, defended the basket and played a well-rounded game for 24 minutes against an elite team, you thought just maybe they would play the next 12 minutes the same way.
“I think we turned the ball over a few times during our stretch,” Bickerstaff said of the third quarter. “Their defense ramped up. They’re obviously a good defensive team, so they force you into those turnovers, but I think we just got slowed down a little bit, missed some shots.”
Houston shot 6-for-17 in the third quarter and committed seven turnovers, leading to 12 San Antonio points, and was outrebounded 11-6.
Patrick Beverley had actually tied the game with a fadeaway jumper with 8:36 remaining in third. But after that, everything fell apart. The Spurs went on a 31-7 run to close the quarter and take a commanding 96-72 lead.
It got so bad that Bickerstaff elected to keep Harden on the bench in the fourth quarter and had to sit Terrence Jones (minus-36 on plus/minus) for his failure to play a physical brand of ball against Boris Diaw, who scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
It was so ugly that Tim Duncan failed to score for the first time in his career in 14 minutes of action and the Spurs still cruised. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan, the original Big Three, didn’t score a bucket from the field until Ginobili connected in the third quarter.
“They played together on both ends of the floor and they cover for each other,” Harden said of the Spurs.
Harden also said his group plays as a team, just not consistently.
“I’m trying to figure it out,” he said. “If I knew (how to fix it), we would be doing it.”
This Houston team still has goals of fixing this season. It's set a goal of winning at least 11 games in January, which would match the number of victories it had last January when the Rockets went 11-6. If the Rockets go 11-5, they would be 27-23, which is pretty good considering the start to the season.
“It’s been getting tight since the beginning, but we can’t point our fingers or anything like that,” Beverley said. “We put ourselves in this position and we got to keep fighting and dig ourselves out of this hole, and it has to happen as soon as possible.
"I think with this group of guys it’s there, we just have to stay consistent and the effort has to stay there consistently every game. I know everybody keeps saying, its going to come, it’s going to come; and we understand it’s going to come. But we have goals set for this month, and it’s up to us and the coaching staff to reach them.”