There is quit in the Rockets after all.
For whatever reason, perhaps fatigue, the Rockets simply threw in the towel in the third period Friday night as the Nuggets absolutely steamrolled the Rockets 108-81 in Denver.
The loss drops the Rockets record to 5-2, with a very difficult stretch of games coming up.
It's one thing to watch the Rockets get dismantled inside, but completely another when supposedly one of the best backcourts (if not "the" best) in the league gets decimated. Nick Van Exel (28 points, 9 assists) and Isaiah Rider (28 points, 10 boards) shot over, around and through the Rockets, while Avery Johnson, an All-Star only in a league of Oompa Loompas, added 14 points and 11 assists off the bench.
Steve Francis, who shot just 5 times and scored just 7 points, had a migraine headache and twisted his knee in the third period while the rest of the Rockets didn't have such an excuse. Cuttino Mobley was 1-10 from the floor for 3 points -- Cuttino hadn't scored that few of points since he put in just 2 against the Spurs on February 18, 2000.
Moochie Norris meanwhile just looked lost running the show. And speaking of lost, don't take Glen Rice's name off that milk carton just yet. Rice managed to hit just 1-5 shots for 3 points.
In every facet the Rockets were beat and beat bad, all pointing to a lack of effort on the Rocks' part. Not only was Denver's backcourt brilliant, but they crushed the Rockets on the boards, 51-31, and outshot them 55.3% to 37.7%.
The big bright spot was the play of Kenny Thomas. KT scored 16 of his 24 points in the first quarter and connected on 7-11 from the floor. His quickness this season in getting past bigger defenders is making him a much more dangerous player -- in the past 4 games he's hit 26-41 shots (63.4%) for an average of 17 ppg.
Walt Williams added 14 off the bench.
Is it fair to rip the Rockets after a very good start to the season? Maybe not. But this was a game they couldn't afford to lose as they enter an extremely difficult part of the schedule, with games against the Spurs, Lakers and Mavs before a tough West Coast swing. The Rockets could very easily go from 5-1 to 5-7 in 7-10 days if they don't start hitting their shots.
Kenny, Kenny, Kenny.... oh my. KT put down 2 quick buckets and after Cato hit 1-2 free throws, KT hit 2 long jumpers. Then he took his man on a drive, put in a sweet layin and got fouled. He missed the free throw, but KT had hit his first 5 shots for 10 points and the Rockets were up 12-8 after the first 5 minutes.
The Rockets pulled away some, and after francis hit a pair of free throws, it was 18-10 Rockets.
But it was all Nuggets from there. Denver picked up the defensive pressure on the Rockets and they folded. The Nuggets scored 6 straight points... KT responded with a runner as the shot clock expired, but the quarter closed from there like this: Van Exel 9, Rockets 2.
The Nuggets point guard hit 3 straight jumpers, then a bomb, and the Rockets trailed after one 25-22. KT scored 16 of the Rockets 22 points while Van Exel led Denver with 13.
Van Exel scored to open the second, but Mobley hit a three and Willis hit a hook. After Big Kev hit a baseline 16-footer, the Rockets regained the lead 30-29 with 9:28 left in the half.
The next three minutes it was all Nuggets. A 9-2 run had to be stopped by a Rudy T timeout as Denver took a 38-31 lead.
Man, Isaiah Rider is such an ass. After driving, missing and getting fouled by Oscar Torres, Rider clapped in Torres' face as if to mock him and say "you can't stop me". Rider got T'ed up for it and fittingly went and bricked both FTs.
Torres hit a jumper and KT came back in to knock down a 17-footer (giving him 18 points, already breaking his season high). After Rice hit a triple, it was 43-41 Nuggets. Houston actually took the lead after KT hit 1-2 at the line and Francis a pair of freebies, but Rider and Denver responded with 7 straight points.
At halftime, Nuggets 50, Rockets 46. Rider was a major challenge for the Rockets, scoring 18 points on 8-11 shooting, but he didn't lead all scorers -- that was KT with 19.
It didn't get any better in the third... Rider scored quickly, Van Exel drained a runner and after LaFrentz took a feed underneath and scored, the Nuggets were up 59-50 and Rudy had to get a TO.
The stop in action didn't help at all. Denver scored the next 4 points and their run was 13-4 to start the quarter. Francis tweaked his right knee and had to come out a little later and the Rockets were in trouble. After Van Exel hit a jumper and Raef LaFrentz nailed a triple after Kenny threw away a pass, the game was a rout... 73-55 Denver with just over 4 minutes left in the third.
After Rider scored easily on a fast break the lead was 20 and when Ryan Bowen put in a missed Avery Johnson layup, it was 81-60 Nuggets and Rudy T called timeout again. In the quarter up to this point, the Rockets were 3-10 from the field while the Nuggets were 13-24. 14 more shots for Denver in the period... the Rocks were totally getting outworked.
At this point the Rockets had quit. Another Rider bucket worked the lead up to 87-62.
The lone bright spot of the fourth was Rudy unleashed the bench, so Terence Morris, Eddie Griffin got significant time, and it was also the first NBA action for Tierre Brown. Things didn't get any better .... Issel continued to play Van Exel and afer Nick nailed a three, the lead was 27.
The fourth was pure garbage time....