I don't think Welcome Back could be shouted loud enough.
Steve Francis scored 36 points, handed out 8 assists and hit a tremendous game-winning runner with 0.2 seconds left as the Rockets beat the Pistons 99-97 Thursday night in the Compaq Center.
The win ups the Rockets mark to 10-22 on the year.
Franchise was amazing. He hit his first 7 shots, scoring 15 points in the opening period and 23 by intermission. He struggled some in the third quarter and made a bad blunder in the final minute of the game, ultimately resulting in a 24-second shot clock violation, but his 7-foot runner from the left side of the floor to break the tie in the final second more than made up for that.
The damage amounted to 36 points on 12-19 shooting. The point total is not just a season high but matches his career high set last season on December 5th in a 109-102 win against the Mavs. But it wasn't just the big numbers... the offense, for a good portion of the game, just seemed to run so much better and smoother in the hands of Stevie.
Eddie Griffin went Ironman, playing all 48 minutes and scoring 19 points, grabbing 7 boards and matching his career high with 5 blocks. He hit a clutch three to tie the game and help the Rockets catch the Pistons early in the fourth. In 6 games as a starter, Griffin is now averaging 18.7 points, 9.5 boards and 2.83 blocks. Granted it's only 6 games we're talking about, but that blocks average alone would put him in the Top 5 of the entire league.
Dude is so even-keel too ... he spoke with Lisa Malosky after the game and no matter what she said trying to pump him up about his big game, he never changed his expression and tried to say the right things.
On the same note, the 19-year old could seriously use some charisma.
Cuttino Mobley did not have a good night shooting the ball, following up his 2-17 performance in LA with a 5-18 dud against the Pistons, but he picked a season-high 5 steals and finished with 15 points.
Kevin Willis had a huge night off the bench - can't say enough good things. The 7-0 backup center hit 6-8 shots for 12 points and grabbed 11 boards. He stepped up late, scoring 10 of those 12 in the crucial fourth quarter. No player seemed to benefit more from Francis' return than Willis, who took feeds on more thano ne occasion from the Franchise for scores.
Jerry Stackhouse led Detroit with 29 while Corliss Williamson scored a season-high 25 points. The Pistons outshot the Rockets 50.6% to 47.5% and dished out 27 assists (to the Rockets 17). The Rockets beat the Pistons at the line, hitting 17-23 to Detroit's 10-15.
Steve Francis returned to the starting lineup while the Rockets, without Walt Williams and Kenny Thomas, started two rookies in Eddie Griffin and Terence Morris. As usual, the Rockets started out ice cold (in particular Griffin, who missed his first 4 shots). Detroit jumped out to a 10-3 lead and the Rockets had missed 5 of their first 6 shots.
Francis didn't start out cold though. He scored 7 of the Rockets first 9 and sparked a run. He made his first 4 shots and when Mobley started to heat up, the Rockets trailed just 17-16 (and Cuttino and Steve combined for all 16 Rocket points).
Francis continued to scorch, and after he hit two free throws, the Rockets got their first lead, which they would take in to the second quarter at 27-26.
Stevie was 6-6 from the field for 15 points in the period. Mobley added 7 points and a couple of steals. Corliss Williamson led the Pistons with 7.
Griffin hit his first two shots of the period, then Francis hit a long bomb to make it 36-33 Houston. After going 7-7, he missed his net two shots, but when he made his next one, the Rockets led 41-35 and Stevie had 21 points with over 6 minutes left in the half.
With 4:35 to go Eddie tipped in a Rocket miss and later in the half Morris slammed home one from a Francis feed. Francis scored again and at the buzzer, Mobley hit a wild three that bounced around and fell in and at half: Rockets 56, Pistons 47.
Francis was en fuego, scoring 23 at half (9-12 shooting) and Griffin bounced back with a good second quarter to have 11 points on 5-10 at intermission. Mobley added 10 points. Jerry Stackhouse led the Pistons with 12 and Williamson dropped in 9.
Detroit still shot well from the floor (50%), but the Rockets hit at an over 53% clip. The big difference was the turnovers. The Rockets committed just 3 and forced 10 Piston turnovers, with Houston holding a 13-0 points off turnovers advantage.
The Pistons jumped on the Rockets early in the third, running off 6 straight points to get within 2. Terence Morris had two nice series. He hit a long jumper, then drove and found Cato wide open underneath for a slam and the Rockets led 61-57.
But the Pistons tore off on a 7-0 run to lead 66-64 with 4:32 to go in the third. It remained close throughout the third, but Dana Barros hit a triple with 1.8 seconds left in the third and Detroit led 78-74 heading in to the fourth.
Detroit scored 31 in the third, led by Stackhouse's 13 (to give him 25). Francis added 6 more to give him 29, but he didn't play exceptionally well and looked tired. He forced some shots and didn't run the offense near as well as he did in the first half. Griffin had 16 points, 7 boards and 4 blocks through three.
Francis got the Rockets started off strong with an immediate three-point play, but Stackhouse was hot as well, responding with a jumper. Willis and Rebraca exchanged buckets, then Moochie drove for a deuce. After Stackhouse nailed another jumper, Griffin nailed a huge triple wih 8:30 to go and we were all knotted up at 84.
After Griffin blocked a shot, Willis put in a reversal and the Rockets regained the lead 86-84 with 7:11 to go, but Jon Barry countered with an immediate three to take the lead away.
After Francis made two more free throws, he had a new season high of 34 points. Corliss Williamson responded with a deuce and the Pistons had the lead again 89-88, but Mobley nailed a bomb and Willis followed that with a hook and the Pistons had to call timeout with 4:12 to go with Houston leading 93-89.
Williamson scored again out of the timeout, but Willis tipped in a missed Moochie drive and Houston led 95-91.
Ben Wallace scored and got fouled, but he missed the free throw -- and Stackhouse came flying in to get the board. But he missed a three and on the other end, Francis found Willis underneath for a 6-foot jumper and with 1:42 to go, it was 97-93 Rockets.
Williamson scored yet again with 1:25 left (giving him 25 on the night). Willis turned it over, but on the Pistons end Cliff Robinson put a three and missed and Willis snagged his 11th board. Timeout Houston with 44 ticks left.
Francis committed a blunder though, driving on two defenders and losing control .... the ball bounced back out to Moochie who had to make a quick decision with the shot clock at 5 seconds. He threw it baseline to Mobley, the D swarmed him and his shot didn't touch anything. 24-second shot clock violation - timeout Pistons with 23.9 ticks left.
The Pistons worked the ball around and Williamson drove.... he found Cliff Robinson for a mid-range jumper -- bingo. Damn. 97 all with 13.0 seconds left. Timeout Rockets.
The Rockets inbounded to the complete opposite side of the court to Francis, who had to work to get the ball up .... he did.... milked the clock and drove on the defense for a 7-foot runnerrrrrrrrrrrr.......
0.2 seconds left 99-97 Rockets.