HOUSTON — The end of the season for the Houston Rockets was in Dale Ellis' sights. This wasn't a very good place for it to be, thought Rocket forward Cedric Maxwell.
Trailing 108-107, all the Seattle SuperSonics had to do was get one more smooth jumper from Ellis to go through, carrying the Rockets down with it. But Ellis missed a soft 18-footer with 26 seconds to go, a shot that would have given Seattle a lead and possibly a victory that would have eliminated the Rockets from the playoffs.
Once the shot went long, Maxwell allowed himself a sigh of relief.
So how did you feel, Max?
"I guess it was kind of like the guy who pulls the switch on the electric chair and nothing happens," he said.
What happened instead is that the Rockets are still alive. Not by very much, but their 112-107 win over Seattle Tuesday night narrowed the SuperSonics' lead to 3-2 and forces a sixth game Thursday night at Seattle.
Ellis hasn't been missing much around here, not even since he was arrested last week after a skirmish with some off-duty policemen at a local bar.
"I just wanted to shoot it good," he said. "I should have made it. I'd like to shoot it over."
Sorry, but rules are rules and you can't do that. The Rockets, who survived even though they blew a 21-point lead, got two free throws from Robert Reid with nine seconds left and two more from Allen Leavell with no time left to keep the Rockets going in a series in which their prospects still don't look very good.
"They have to feel some confidence with the victory, but how much, well, I really don't know," Ellis said.
Neither do the Rockets, who were once in command with a 59-38 lead late in the first half, yet were staggering to the finish line.
"We're still one game back," Reid said. "We're still alive. As long as we're alive, we've still got a chance and that's all you can ask for."
Rocket center Akeem Olajuwon worked 44 minutes and put his time to good use. Olajuwon scored 26 points and blocked 7 shots, but forward Rodney McCray played even longer, 47 minutes, and came up with his first playoff triple-double: 24 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
Ellis once again led the SuperSonics with 27 points, but forward Tom Chambers finished with only 15 points and just one of them was in the first half, which ended with the Rockets ahead, 66-56.
Ralph Sampson, scoring 10 of Houston's first 15 points, got the Rockets off to a quick start, but he got into foul trouble again and wound up with just 13 points. He played only 23 minutes and was scoreless in the second half.
Even at halftime, Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff wasn't worried, basically because Ellis had played only nine minutes because he had three fouls.
"I think they (the Rockets) did a good job on him holding Dale to nine minutes," Bickerstaff said and laughed.
Ellis got loose in the second half for 16 points, and the SuperSonics moved back into the game. By the end of the third quarter, the Rocket lead was only 89-86. By the time Chambers coaxed a three-pointer to fall with 7:08 to go, Seattle had moved ahead for the first time, 97-96.
Leavell, who had nine points in the fourth quarter, kept the Rockets from fading and when Olajuwon made two free throws with 2:21 to play, Houston led, 108-105. Ellis' 20-footer cut the lead to one, but Seattle never got any closer.
Ellis missed his next jumper and after Reid's free throws put the Houston lead back to three, the SuperSonics were down to their last shot, which turned out to be a three-point attempt by Maurice Lucas.
"There were five guys out there for us," Lucas said. "I was the seventh option."
For the Rockets, though, they're nearly out of options.
"They can still have a bad game and come back," Leavell said. "We can't do either one."