Sign me up. I'm ready for some more playoff basketball atmosphere.
In one of the more intense and emotional games of the season, the Rockets and Mavericks exchanged leads all night, but Dallas took control late and finally beat Houston this season 100-95 in Reunion Arena.
Cuttino Mobley again sat out the action with a sprained ankle. The loss drops the Rockets to 32-28. It snaps a 5-game Rockets winning streak against the Mavericks dating back to early last season.
My goodness what a game. Drama, emotion, intensity, temper flare-ups... the Rockets and Mavs went toe-to-toe Texas style and the Rockets should have won this game.
Hakeem Olajuwon scored 27 points and grabbed 13 boards and was a one-man wrecking crew in the third period when he helped put the Rockets up 7 with a minute left in the period. It wasn't until he returned to action in the fourth quarter, with 6 minutes left, that the Rockets really started to score again.
He missed just 6 shots from the field, going 10-16, but strangely enough he missed that many free throws in less attempts (7-13 from the line).
I give Cuttino his props. Against the Bucks Shandon Anderson stepped up big as did Steve Francis, but the importance of Cuttino's role with the team may never be more evident than it was in this game. The Rockets were forced to let Francis create offensively and he missed far too many shots in the fourth. Though Francis put up big numbers (21 points, 10 boards, 4 assists, 4 steals) he was just 8-21 from the field and a guy like Cuttino could have given the Rockets another option.
Shandon (3-12, 8 points) simply had too small an impact offensively.
Moochie Norris played great off the bench, scoring 15 points and hitting 6-7 shots.
Again Rudy T played Walt Williams down the stretch and it cost the Rockets defensively. Michael Finley, who led the Mavs with 27 points, scored far too easily on Walt.
Speaking of Finley, with 52 seconds left in the game and the Mavs up just one, he drove on Shandon (who in my opinion played great defense) and missed a short one-handed jumper. AFTER the Rockets got the rebound the ref came in and blew the whistle. Horrific call, Finley made both freebies and the Rockets couldn't get over that hump.
The refs did not have a good game: Mo Taylor (15 points, 5 boards) had to be restrained by coaches in the fourth quarter and picked up a technical after he was called for travelling on a play where he was basically pushed down. Mo looked like he re-injured his leg on the play and he did not return to action.
Here's a player I'd love to have on the Rockets -- Dirk Nowitzki. Guy had 26 points and nailed two huge back-to-back threes late in the fourth quarter that turned a 3-point Rockets lead in to a 3-point edge for Dallas. My gosh Mark Cuban should give that guy a blank check right now. Screw Finley, Juwan Howard (19 points) and pansy ass Nash (17 points, 7 assists), Nowitzki is the real deal. A 7-footer who drives, rebounds, scores in the paint and has a touch from the outside as smooth as silk.
Finley, Nash, Nowitzki and Howard combined to score 89 of the Mavericks' 100 points.
Free throws were a big factor in the game also... the Rockets could make just 61% of theirs, missing 10 of their 26 freebies, while the Mavs made a cool 88%. Difference in the game.
Mo Taylor got the Rockets off on the right foot, scoring 8 points in the first period, while Steve Francis and Walt Williams each added 5, helping the Rockets take a 27-20 lead after one. Juwan Howard led the Mavs with 8.
The Mavs came out strong in the second period though. After Howard and Vernon Maxwell each scored, the Mavs capped an 8-1 run to tie the game at 28. However Moochie Norris immediately responded with a tough 13-footer and a triple, then Mo Taylor scored and before the fans could stop cheering the Mavs' 8-1 run, the Rockets ran off 7 straight to make it 35-28 Houston.
The Mavs came right back. Down 38-31, Finley hit a turnaround, then Nowitzki and Finley each got fast break slams and Rudy stepped in to stop the action leading by just one, 38-37.
From there Finley and Hakeem traded baskets often. Dream scored 7 straight points for the Rockets, turning Shawn Bradley every which way with fakes, turns, and 17-foot jumpers.
When Kenny Thomas drove past Nowitzki, the Rockets led 47-43, but Howard Eisley nailed a jumper then Nowitzki hit a three and the Mavericks took the lead, 48-47 with 32 seconds left in the half, and it stayed that way at intermission.
Both teams shot an even 50% from the field in the first half. Taylor had 11 for the Rockets while Olajuwon had 10 (9 in the second period). Moochie Norris was 3-3 from the field for 8 points. But Howard (13), Nowitzki (11) and Finley (10) were doing the damage for Dallas.
After Shandon found Moochie back door for an easy layup, Steve Francis nailed a three and the Rockets regained the lead 52-50.
Both teams exchanged baskets and after Mo got a hoop on a drive, the Rockets led 62-60.
Interesting play what came next. Steve Nash drove to the hoop, Moochie tied him up and forced a jump ball. Nash didn't like it and forcefully took the ball out of Moochie's hands. Moochie yelled something at him and the refs T'ed up Moochie.
I swear Nash is now on my pansy-ass bitch list. Dude looks like he belongs in one of those FOX Sports Allan & Jerome commercials.
The game was emotional and the Rockets didn't back down. After Francis scored and Hakeem nailed a 17-footer, giving him 16 points, the Rockets led 66-63.
After Moochie burned Nash by taking it to the rack, making the bucket and getting fouled, the Rockets led 71-67.
Hakeem hit a pair of free throws then Walt found Dream for an alleyoop slam -- Hakeem had a new season-high of 20 points and the Rockets led 75-69 with just over 2 minutes to go.
Hakeem was officially en fuego -- he nailed an 18-footer to put the Rockets up 8, 77-69. The quarter ended with the Rockets leading 77-71 and they can thank Olajuwon for that. The man scored 12 in the period and was 9-14 from the field for 22 points and 11 rebounds in just 28 minutes of play.
Mo Taylor had 15 and Moochie 13. Howard led the Mavs with 19 and Finley knocked down 18 through three.
Hakeem was on the bench to start the fourth.
Mo Taylor got mugged on a drive early in the fourth and the refs called travelling... that pissed Mo off -- he got in a shouting match with a ref and was called for a tech after the Mavs had turned the ball over on a fast break. The free throw cut the Rockets lead to 77-74 with 10 minutes to go.
Francis ended a nearly 4-minute Rocket scoreless drought by nailing 1-2 free throws after getting fouled on a drive, then he responded with a huge three to put the Rockets up 7 at the 9:20 mark, but Vernon Maxwell countered with a drive then Finley a three and it was just 81-79 Rockets.
Francis scored on a tip-in in mid-air after Nowitzki blocked a Moochie fast break layup, but Steve played too much one-on-one basketball against Vernon Maxwell and couldn't knock the shots down. After Steve Nash scored on a drive, the game was knotted up at 83 with 6:03 left and the Rockets were forced to call timeout.
FINALLY Hakeem returns to the game. Right out of the timeout Walt took a bad shot and was rejected badly by Finley, but after a three-miss by Nash, Hakeem made a baseline drive and was fouled, putting the Rockets up 3.
It all went south from there.
Nowitzki nailed a three in response to tie it at 86, and the Rockets responded with horrible shot after horrible shot. Fortunately the Mavs couldn't take advantage.... until Nowitzki again nailed a three with 3:32 to go, putting the Mavs up 89-86.
Hakeem came out and made things happen. He made a power move in the paint, getting fouled and making both free throws, then he found Shandon on a drive who was fouled and made 1-2 to tie it at 89 with 2:51 to go.
After Vernon Maxwell hit 1-2 from the line, Dream was again fouled on a move but he missed both free throws.
Nowitzki scored, but Moochie hit a jumper with 1:38 to go to trim Dallas' lead to 92-91. Finley countered by burning Walt Williams for a baby hook, and the Rockets used their last timeout, down 94-91 with 1:19 to go.
Francis scored on a beautiful reverse out of the timeout, but Finley responded by driving on Shandon Andersdon who played perfect defense but the refs made a horrendous late-whistle call with 52 seconds left.
Finley made both free throws, and the Rockets on the other end lost the ball out of bounds.
With 17 seconds left Nowitzki missed a jumper and the Rockets ran, but Francis' long three was too hard and Dallas made their free throws to put it away.