The Rockets were leading, but the lead never seemed built to last. They had to take care of the ball. They had not. They needed to slow the Denver Nuggets' break. They couldn't. It seemed a matter of "when" rather than "if" their borrowed time would run out.
The Rockets had played well enough most of the night to lead briefly by eight. If they were not in control, they were at least looking far better than the team the Nuggets had whipped in Houston a week before.
Then the Rockets hit one of those stretches that had marked their mid-January slide when the turnovers and a few missed shots catch up to them. The Nuggets rushed through a 20-2 run to end the third quarter and start the fourth. By the time the Rockets recovered, there was too much ground left to make up and the Nuggets held on, 118-110, Wednesday at Pepsi Center.
Jeremy Lin scored 22 points while Chandler Parson and James Harden each added 21, but the Rockets had 22 turnovers, leading to 29 points for the Nuggets.
"It was the same thing," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "Turnovers for us. Playing in a crowd. Not moving the ball enough on the offensive end. And we didn't get back and cover the paint. They just ran out on us.
With Denver turning over the ball nearly as often, however, the Rockets still led by seven in the final minute of the third quarter. Then they fell apart for nearly six minutes.
The turnaround began in the third quarter when the Rockets gave away four points, first with Toney Douglas committing a foul 75 feet from the basket and then with a bad Carlos Delfino turnover that led to a layup.
The sign of what was to come, however, came when the fourth quarter began. Danilo Gallinari twice put in off-balance jumpers he had to hoist at the rim to beat the shot clock. Before long, he was firing 3-pointers off the dribble, scoring 12 of his 27 points in the final 12 minutes.
As the Nuggets' run grew, the Rockets began rapidly giving away possessions until Denver had a 17-0 run to end the third quarter and begin the fourth, which produced a 10-point lead.
There were still 8 ½ minutes left, but after Lin knocked down a jumper, the Nuggets scored the next five points as the Rockets mixed in another turnover, and Denver had a 101-88 lead.
The Rockets did briefly cut the lead to six with five minutes left to play. But as they had so often found in the losing streak, the problem with mounting near-impossible comebacks is that the near-impossible does not happen often.
It did not happen at all on Wednesday, with a long, difficult month spent mostly on the road ending with signs of the Rockets at their best and worst.
Rockets' habits prove hard to break in the end
Houston Chronicle | Jan 31