Talk about a bad time for some extended time off.
Cuttino Mobley went nuts in the first quarter, scoring 18 of his game-high 29 points as the Rockets busted out to a 30-12 lead and never trailed the rest of the way, beating the Pistons 103-90 in the Palace of Auburn Hills Thursday night.
After losing three straight, the Rockets now head in to the All Star break at .500 (25-25) and winners of 3 in a row -- all in grand fashion. They are now 14-3 against the Eastern Conference.
What exactly happened in that locker room at halftime against the Knicks last Monday? The Rockets have been playing like a team possessed ever since.
Though it was a huge team effort, tonight it all started with Cuttino. Mobley had his best shooting game of the season, going 10-13 from the floor and tickling the twine 4 times in 5 attempts from long range. He also added 7 rebounds. He was simply en fuego.
Maurice Taylor also had his best scoring output since the Rockets beat the Raptors last month. Mo put up 22 points and showed his hometown a little bit of what they're missing. Steve Francis added 19 points (including 4 triples), 7 assists and 4 steals.
Then add the Dream, who took over the fourth quarter. Hakeem finished with 17 points, 8 rebounds and (get this) 7 blocked shots. He nailed 4 straight shots in the fourth quarter and made Mikki Moore look like he had a monogrammed "Owned by Dream" collar on. HE BLOCKED 7 SHOTS! I mean did the legend sip from the Holy Grail or something, because he suddenly has returned to being a force in the paint -- a force the Rockets have desperately needed all season.
"I think a lot of people are waking up and realizing Hakeem is still a factor," said Francis.
"I thought he was the difference in the game," said Pistons coach George Irvine.
The four (Mobley, Taylor, Francis, Olajuwon) combined to score 87 of the team's 103 points.
Can't praise these guys enough, though the box score doesn't hint at a major impact:
Walt Williams nailed two three-pointers in the critical third quarter and finished with 10 points and 7 boards. Meanwhile, Shandon Anderson went scoreless -- he never even put up a shot -- but he dished 7 assists in 22 minutes and was fantastic defensively: he made one gorgeous defensive play that stuck out on a 2-on-1 Pistons fast break, picking the pass.
Stackhouse led the Pistons with 26 points, but he was held to 8-26 shooting. The Rockets in fact shot just under 53% from the field while holding Detroit to under 38% shooting.
The Rockets got off on a great foot, thanks to Cuttino Mobley. Mobley nailed his first 4 shots, including a pair of three-pointers, the second of which put Houston up 14-4 and forced Detroit in to using an early timeout.
Another Mobley jumper, this one over Stackhouse, put the Rockets up 22-12 and after Mo Taylor made a gorgeous Drexler-esque outstretched arm double-pump layup, and got the foul, the Rockets led 25-12.
It was unbelievable... Taylor scored again, then Dream's defense made Stackjhouse change and miss a shot, and Mobley responded with a 3 (giving him 15 in the first period) and Detroit was stunned: Another timeout for the Pistons -- Rockets up 30-12.
The Pistons went on a 6-1 mini-burst, but when Mobley nailed another three-pointer, the Rockets led 34-18 after one.
Mobley was a machine in the first quarter: He had 18 points, was 7-8 from the field and was 4-5 from long range. Mo Taylor added 9 and Hakeem 7 in the period.
After a Pistons' three, Francis bingoed a bomb, then KT dropped in a baby hook and the Rockets were up 39-21. After Walt Williams broke free for a slam off an under-the-hoop inbounds, the Rockets led 42-21, but he got called for a tech for a little too much flashiness on the dunk.
As it always seems to happen, that turned everything around.
That technical sparked a 10-2 Pistons run that got the crowd back in to it. An illegal defense technical followed by a Francis three temporarily put the lead back to 17 for Houston, but the Pistons raced off to a 12-0 run to get within 50-45... the last point came off a technical by Francis for complaining about being absolutely clobbered by Jerome Williams on a moving pick.
Steve nailed a three then Mo a deuce to build the lead back to 55-45.
The once 21-point lead was only 10 at half, 57-47. The Rockets shot 58% in the half compared to 38% for Detroit. Mobley had 21 while Francis and Mo each had 11. Stackhouse led the Pistons with 18 points.
The Pistons scored 4 quick points to cut to within 6, but the Rockets built the lead back up and after Mobley hit a long jumper over Stackhouse, it was 69-58 Rockets.
A three by Walt made it 72-59, and another trifecta by the Wizard a little later gave the Rockets a 77-61 edge.
The Rockets built it back up to 17, but the Pistons cut it to 11 at the buzzer of the third. Mobley lost the ball when the Rockets were playing for the final shot and Dana Barros put up a three at the horn, cutting the Rockets lead to 79-68 heading in to the fourth.
Mobley had 27 after three with Mo and Francis each knocking down 16. Stackhouse led the Pistons with 21.
The lead see-sawed back and forth between 9 and 11 for literally the first 5 minutes of the fourth before a Mateen Cleaves drive with 6:33 left made it an 85-78 game.
With the Rockets up 87-80, Hakeem took over.
Dream spun down low, shook off his defender and naied a short bank shot, then on the next possession he did a patented baseline turnaroudn from 15-feet out over Mikki Moore, and the Pistons were forced to call timeout, down 91-80 with 4:52 left.
After Stackhouse hit a three, Hakeem put on another Dream Shake for two, putting Houston up 93-83 with just over 3 and a half minutes to go.
Up 95-83, Dream blocked two Pistons shots, giving him 6 blocks, and Mo Taylor hit a jumper on the other end putting the Rockets back up 14.
Olajuwon added yet another block shortly thereafter. Down the stretch, he was the Man.