Matt Bullard is smoking.
The man they call "Air" hit three big three-pointers in the fourth quarter while Cuttino Mobley scored 16 points to help the Rockets overcome the Grizzlies and some ugly play with an 82-75 win in Vancouver Monday night.
The win is the Rockets 9th in their last 13 games and ups their record to 12-9.
The fact the Rockets won this game at all is amazing -- they just just over 40%. Then again, the fact the Grizzlies, who shot 37.5%, were close at the end, is probably even more amazing. Translation -- this was one ugly game.
Bullard, who busted open a close game with his long range marksmanship in the fourth, hit 4-6 from long range, finished with 12 points, 5 boards and a pair of blocks -- Matt has hit 8 of 11 threes in the past two games.
Mobley also was on top of his game, connecting on 6 of 9 shots to score 16 to go along with 7 boards.
But no two points had more pizazz or hidden meaning then the highlight reel slam by Steve Francis (15 points, 6 assists) with 9 seconds left in the game that ended the slim Grizzlie hopes of a comeback. Francis screamed at the top of his lungs, rubbing it in the faces of those in attendance.
Normally I'd say it was ridiculous. That the Rockets barely squeaked out a win against a team that is clearly not as good as the Rockets and Francis should just shut up and walk out with the win.
But these fans rode him all night... and even cheered when Grant Long flattened Francis out of bounds in to the press table, when it wasn't even clear yet if Steve was hurt or not.
Oh yes, these Canadian bastards deserved to have Francis dance on their heads at the end. Oh yes indeed.
Aside from Bullard's hot shooting, the other thing this road trip has taught us is Hakeem Olajuwon is all business these days. Dream, in just 24 minutes, scored 12 points, grabbed 11 boards and swatted 3 shots. The last 4 games Hakeem is averaging over 12 points, 8 boards and 3 blocks while hitting over 55% of his shots and playing just 23 minutes a game.
Then there's Kenny Thomas vs. Maurice Taylor.
Taylor had a horrendous night, clanging all 7 shots he took, and getting outhustled by Othella Harrington (8 boards). Thomas on the other hand came in and busted his tail, grabbing 12 boards (5 offensive) in virtually the same number of minutes (25) as Taylor (23).
The problem is Thomas (3-10 from the field, 7 points), can't put the ball in the hole (shooting a dismal 38.7% from the field this season), while Taylor (tonight's game notwithstanding) can score but for whatever reason, he does not rebound nor do the dirty work this team needs a power forward to do.
Interesting situation... keep your eyes on Taylor-Thomas this season.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim led the Grizzlies with 26 points while Mike Bibby added 16 and 7 assists.
What is it about the Rockets starting off games recently? It's like they need to watch the other team score several buckets before they decide to get started. Down 10-0 in Sacramento, 8-0 in Seattle and the Grizzlies ran off to a 9-0 lead before Hakeem hit a short baseline jumper.
The Rockets were still ice cold though having missed 8 of their first 10 shots and after Shareef Abdur-Rahim hit a jumper Vancouver led 17-7, and Rahim had 10 of the Grizzlies points.
But the Rockets countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two Hakeem buckets, to close within 2.
The Rockets trailed 20-15 after one and Mo Taylor had a quarter he'd like to forget -- 0-5, 0 points and 2 fouls.
Francis and Bullard each drained threes to give the Rocks their first edge at 21-20.
The quarter was unbelievably slow, but the Rockets finally woke up. After a Moochie steal and bucket, the Rockets led 37-32.
HALFTIME: Rockets 39, Grizzlies 34. Francis led the Rockets with 7 while Abdur-Rahim (14) and Mike Bibby (12) scored all but 8 of the Grizzlies points.
The Rockets came out flat to start the third, picking up 4 team fouls in less than 3 minutes, while the Grizzlies darted out on a 10-0 run, taking a 44-41 lead.
After Cuttino hit a foot-on-the-3-line jumper, he found a streaking Francis for an alleyoop (with a little sass afterwards for his Canadian friends in attendance) and the Rockets led 49-46.
If you hadn't noticed how ugly this game was, it became crystal clear apparent late in the third. The Grizzlies and Rockets exchanged miss after miss, and Mo Taylor (0-7 from the field at this point) just got his ass worked by Othella Harrington on the offensive glass.
Through three, Rockets 54, Grizzlies 52. (yeah, through three)
The brainless Canucks in Vancouver actually cheered when Grant Long clobbered Steve Francis out of bounds. Mobley paid them tribute with a jumper, and Walt Williams added to that with a three, making it 59-52 Rockets.
After a Bullard three then Francis with a follow-up bucket it was 64-54 Rockets.
Kenny Thomas kept the heat on, grabbing two offensive boards and putting in a shot in the paint to make it 69-60 Rockets.
Of all people, Bryant "Big Country" Reeves started to inflict some damage and after a deuce by Big Blob it was a 5-point Rockets edge. But Matt Bullard hit his third three-pointer of the period and Moochie followed that up with a layup and it was 74-64 Rockets with 3:01 to go.
Vancouver cut it to 74-68 before Mobley made a driving layup over Reeves boosted the Rockets lead back to 8 with 55 seconds left.
The Grizzlies had cut it down to 5 with 22 seconds left, and mugged Francis (no call) to get the ball out of bounds. The Grizzlies missed twice and Bullard found a streaking Francis who slammed home the victory something nasty...
.... and ran back up the court, bouncing and screaming at the Vancouver fans. Game Over.