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Rockets Toppled Despite Yao's 34
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This time, there was no Baron Davis heave to break their hearts, no Kobe Bryant magnificence to overcome.

This time, the Rockets pushed a game to its final seconds and then lamented the worst of could-have-beens. This time, they blamed themselves.

They took blame for everything from the way they started to the breakdown at the finish, when Portland rookie Brandon Roy was allowed to go all the way to the rim for the decisive late drive on Wednesday night, lifting the Trail Blazers to an 89-87 victory that left the Rockets with three losses, all in the final seconds, in the first four games of the road trip.

"We killed ourselves," guard Rafer Alston said. "That's the bottom line. This road trip, we killed ourselves. We should be 4-0 without a doubt. Lack of concentration. Lack of defense. And tonight, we didn't play a 48-minute game. We waited until the final quarter to come out and start being intense and aggressive."

If that sounds as if the Rockets did not give Portland appropriate respect, the Rockets blamed themselves for that, too.

"We came out like we could beat this team on natural talent," said Alston, who had 20 points and eight assists. "This team is on a roll. They had won four in a row. We should have come out with an unbelievable effort from start to the finish and come out and won this game."

The Rockets did lead early, but when they went to their bench, they collapsed again.

"We were up when we broke the lineup with about 3:30 to go in the first quarter," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "From that point on, we got dominated up until halftime, and that's been a recurring theme."

That was enough for the Rockets to lean heavily on Yao Ming and shorten the bench to Juwan Howard and Bonzi Wells.

Yao missed his first three and last three shots of the first half but slowly returned to dominate.

With a stretch to end the third quarter and begin the fourth, Yao made seven consecutive shots and seven consecutive free throws to help drive the Rockets back to their late chance. He finished with 34 points, giving him five 30-point games in his past six. He added nine rebounds and five blocked shots. Even when he took a brief rest (he played 40 minutes) with 6:15 left, the Rockets closed to within three.

The Rockets did manage to rally from a 12-point deficit early in the fourth quarter, but could never completely dig out of their early hole and catch Portland in the final minute.

Roy made a driving left-handed layup over Shane Battier with 19.9 seconds left to push Portland's lead to 86-82.

After Alston sank a runner for the Rockets at the other end, Portland point guard Jarrett Jack swished a pair of free throws with 10.1 seconds left to seal the win.

The Rockets outscored Portland in the final period 27-19 and held Randolph, the Blazers' leading scorer, to just three points in the final 12 minutes.

Houston's poor shooting in the first half, however, simply proved to be just too much to overcome.

The Rockets were 11-of-37 (29.7 percent) from the field in the opening 24 minutes and scored only 14 points in the second quarter. The result: Houston trailed by as many as 14 points thanks to the slow start.

By the time things did start clicking, it was too late.

"When you are behind the whole game and you come back in the fourth this close and do not win - it is not good enough," Yao said.

(China Daily December 22, 2006)

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