The Rockets sure like to make games interesting this season.
Leading by 16 points just before the half, the Rockets collapsed in the third quarter and lost the lead in the fourth, but Steve Francis and Kevin Willis fueled a rally as the Rockets cruised late in the fourth to the 99-93 win over the Nuggets Tuesday.
The win improves the Rockets record to 4-1.
Francis was 2 assists shy of a triple double -- he scored 22 points, grabbed 10 boards and dished out 8 dimes. After Kenny Thomas snared a critical offensive board, Francis hit a back-breaking 19-footer with 1:07 to put the Rockets up 10 and ice the game.
As for Willis, it's not too late to add him to those fantasy rosters -- his numbers are for real. The T-Rex hit 5-11 shots for 12 points and snared 11 boards to boot. He's now averaging 10.6 points and nearly 11 boards through the first 5 games.
Cuttino Mobley also played well, scoring 17 and 6 boards on 7-18 shooting, though he killed his supernatural 80% three-point shooting for the season. 0-6 from the perimeter for Cuttino. But he had 3 rejections, including one on a baseline turnaround that will probably leave Isaiah Rider seeking counseling.
Props also to Kenny Thomas. That's now back-to-back games where Thomas shot over 50% (7-11 in both games) and is at 50% for the year. His 14 points and 7 rebounds helped expose the Antonio McDyess-less Nuggets inside.
Moochie Norris and Glen Rice each added 9 points (with Rice hitting a pair of threes, which is twice as many as he had for the year previous) while Kelvin Cato grabbed 6 boards and scored 7 points -- 2 of which came on a jumper from the top of the key.
The Rockets (45.8%) were outshot by the Nuggets (48.2%), but enjoyed a big advantage on the boards 46-35.
The Francis-to-Cato-for-a-slam connection got the Rockets off on to an early start and after Glen Rice scored 6 straight points (three free throws and a triple), the Rockets took a 12-6 lead. Didn't last long -- Raef LaFrentz got hot and the Rockets had to call timeout, up just 14-13.
KT stepped up from there. Thomas hit two long jumpers and a baseline hook, then found Steve Francis for a reverse layin on the break as the Rockets were off on an 8-0 run and the Nuggets had to call timeout, down 23-15. After one, the Rockets led 28-24.
The Rockets took off early in the second behind Walt Williams and Kevin Willis. Big Kev scored 2 points and grabbed 4 boards in his first minute and a half on the floor, and Walt hit a big three. The Rockets jumped out to a 42-30 lead.
Willis scored 2 more consecutive buckets and the Rockets led 50-36. After Francis made back to back (gorgeous) floaters in the lane sandwiched around an awesome block of Isaiah Rider by Mobley, the Rockets were up 56-40.
After Willis hit a baby hook to make it 58-42, the Rockets couldn't finish the half strong. Denver closed on a 6-0 run, making it 58-48 heading to the locker room. Willis led the Rockets with 10 points and 7 boards while Cuttino Mobley also added 10. Steve Francis scored 9, KT (4-5 shooting) with 8 and Walt had 7. Nick Van Exel led Denver with 10.
Did you see Kelvin Cato bury that 19-footer early in the third? Mercy. After Glen Rice followed that up with a triple, the Rockets led 63-52.
But the Rockets got a little sloppy and their offense became stagnant. After Van Exel converted a three-point play, the lead was down to 64-59. A little later LaFrents hit another three and McCloud a deuce and the lead was whittled down to just one, 69-68.
The Rockets finished the quarter strong though, going on an 8-2 run from there and after Mobley hit a jumper just before the quarter was over, Houston led 77-70. Francis and KT led the Rockets with 14 each.
Avery Johnson came out hot to start the fourth. After he hit a jumper and converted a three-point play, the Rockets were up just 77-75. Rider then hit a jumper to tie, and Scott Williams a deuce and just like that Denver led 79-77. Rudy had to call timeout with 9:32 to go.
Oscar Torres came off the bench and hit a big 20-footer to calm things down and end the 9-0 Nuggets run, then Moochie scored on a penetration after a crossover and the Rockets regained the lead. When Francis found Willis for a bucket, Denver had to call timeout down 83-79.
After Mobley made a beautiful rebound and putback over LaFrentz, Francis hit a jumper and the Rockets led 89-81. After he made 1-2 at the line the Rockets were up 9 with 3:47 to go.
Francis then stuck a dagger in Denver, hitting a trifecta with 3:10 to go, forcing Dan Issel to stop the action and putting Houston up 93-83.
Avery Johnson scored quickly for the Nuggets, but then scoring stopped for both teams. Torres missed a long jumper with 1:22 to go, but Kenny Thomas snared the huge offensive board and got it out to Francis, who hit a clutch 19-footer, putting the Rockets up 95-85 with 1:07 left.
Timeout Denver, but the shot had sealed it.