As the final seconds ticked away in the Richmond Rockets’ first-ever playoff game against the Bay Area Matrix, guard Patrick Mitchell lost his dribble. The ball skipped toward the sidelines. Like the game itself, the ball was out of reach. But Mitchell dove headlong into the first row, scattering chairs and scrambling spectators in a failed attempt to snag the loose ball.
Mitchell, like his team, never gave up.
“We can’t hang our heads, I’m really proud of our guys and our fans for not only tonight’s effort, but the entire season,” Head Coach Phranklin McKinney said after his team’s 119-86 playoff loss to the Matrix at the Richmond PAL Center Friday. “We have something to build on here.”
The Rockets followed an 18-6 inaugural season and playoff berth with a tough loss to their archrivals, with whom they had split the regular-season series 3-3. The Matrix, last season’s conference champs, move on to the next round to play the San Francisco Rumble on Saturday. The Rockets look to next year.
The Rockets started strong, draining long jumpers and forcing turnovers in the first half to keep pace with their bigger and more experienced opponents.
Star guard Tita Davis hit a long 3-pointer – his second in the quarter – to draw within six of the Matrix, who led 41-35 with 7:10 remaining in the second quarter.
Acrobatic drives to the basket by Davis and shooting guard Allen Hester had the Rockets down 40-49 at the end of the first half.
At halftime, McKinney was optimistic. “Right now I think we got outhustled for a few loose balls, but we’re not in panic mode,” McKinney said. “If we can get hot, hit a couple quick baskets, we’ll be right there.”
But it was the Matrix that caught fire in the second half, swarming the Rockets with fierce defense and raining 3-pointers.
When Davis misfired on a 3-pointer of his own as time ran out on the third quarter, the Matrix were up 86-70.
The Matrix came out sizzling to start the fourth quarter, and soon the rout was on.
The Rockets never lacked for effort. The near-capacity crowd of more than 500 and the slapping sounds of hard fouls spoke to the game’s intensity. Guard Lindsey Hughey was relentless in driving the lane, drawing fouls and converting numerous times at the rim. All-Star big man Justin Baker brought his usual rugged rebounding, at time dominating inside despite droves of big-bodied Matrix defenders.
Davis, the team’s scoring phenom all season, went cold in the second half.
But it was the Matrix who dictated the action in the fourth quarter, at one point draining three straight long three-pointers.
When the Matrix turned a Hughey turnover into a fast break culminating in a spectacular alley-oop dunk, the score was out of reach: 94-76 with less than 9 minutes remaining.
After the game, Rockets CEO Eric Marquis stood at the exit thanking fans and promising them the Rockets would be back. “November 2012, that’s when we expect to start our next great season,” Marquis said.