by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Houston Rockets players (from left) Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley get ready to leave the court at Moda Center as fans celebrate the Trail Blazers' victory that closed out the NBA first-round series in Portland's favor, 4-2.Just a few minutes after Damian Lillard shot an arrow through the jugular of the Houston Rockets and ended their season, several Rockets players gathered around a laptop in the locker room to watch the last play of the game.

The play began with 0.9 seconds remaining in Game 6 of the first round of the NBA Western Conference playoffs. Houston had a 98-96 lead. The Rockets were a breath away taking the series back to Texas for Game 7.

The players saw Nicolas Batum take the ball out of bounds. They saw Lillard break away from Chandler Parsons. They saw the Blazers' All- Star point guard catch the inbound pass from Batum and shoot just before the clock expired. They saw the ball go into the hoop.        “They matched up over there, and he (Lillard) just took off running and got some separation on his first step,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “No picks, he (Lilard) just took off running and caught it and shot it. He came running out from the weak side, and we didn’t execute very well on that one. We had to play defense for 0.9 seconds. We said no 3s, and we were trying to make the guys go back into the two-point line and catch it. He made a hell of a shot.”

Parsons described the play like this: “They had a play into the post on LaMarcus (Aldridge), but they couldn’t throw it there. (Lillard) just got a step on me off the stagger. Right from the start I got caught chasing him. I tried to contest him late, and he hit a big shot. With .9, you can’t give up the 3. That’s the only way you can lose. Looking back on it, you question, ‘What if I did this? What if I did this?’ But it just comes down to executing the play.”

Said Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin: “He (Lillard) got open, and he took a tough shot and that was the game. He got a clear look. I’ve watched the play a million times and I can go back and say, ‘We should’ve done this, we should’ve done this, we should’ve done this.’ But … I don’t know.”

Houston guard James Harden added: “He (Lillard) got an open shot, and he’s been making shots all night. We let the best shooter on their team get loose. It’s tough to end our season like that. We fought so hard and had an opportunity to win the game.”

After watching the replay of the shot, the Houston players that had gathered there let out a groan of disbelief and shouted out four-letter words.

A few minutes later, a man wearing a suit and tie came into the locker room, grimacing as he wrapped an ice bag on his hand.

“I punched the wall,” he said, when a Houston player asked him why he had the ice bag.

The loss was hard on the Rockets.

“It’s just numbing right now,” Lin said. “It doesn’t even feel real.”

Parsons was particularly dejected. Just a few minutes before Lillard drilled the shot, it appeared as if Parsons was going to be the hero.

With the game tied at 96-96 and 28 seconds remaining, the officials ruled that Lillard had caught a ball out of bounds, and they gave possession to Houston. The Blazers argued the call and the play was reviewed, but the call stood.

The Rockets inbounded the ball to Harden. The Rockets guard went one-on-one with Blazers guard Wesley Matthews. With the shot clock running down, Harden had to settle for a jumper. The shot hit iron. It was tipped by several Rockets and Blazers players before finally coming to Parsons. From point-blank range, Parsons banked in a shot on the back side that put Houston up 98-96.

“I tried to stay in the play, kept hustling, got the rebound and made the layup,” Parsons said.

In the blink of an eye, though, Parsons' play was almost forgotten. And Houston’s season was over.

“There’s no reason this shouldn’t be going to Game 7,” Parsons said. “This is the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”

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