Tough one to swallow.
Not for Jermaine O'Neal. The Indiana Pacers' center gobbled up the Rockets, scoring 28 points, grabbing 15 boards, blocking 3 shots and hitting what amounted to the game-winning jumper as the Pacers beat the Rockets 81-79 in the Compaq Center Saturday night.
The Rockets fall to 10-23.
Jermaine looked more like Shaq as O'Neal hurt Kenny Thomas and the Rockets inside, and the team never adjusted to do anything with him. His hook/jumper over KT with 39 seconds left gave the Pacers an 80-79 edge.
But it's hard (make that near impossible) to win a tight game when you go scoreless for the final 3 and a half minutes. The final 3:23 went as follows: Eddie Griffin missed three, Steve Francis offensive foul, Moochie Norris missed three, another Griffin miss, another Francis miss, Cuttino Mobley miss on a bad shot in the final seconds and a desperation miss by Francis at the buzzer.
Not going to win any ballgames with that kind of play in the clutch.
But it wasn't just the final minutes... the Rockets scored 29 points in the second quarter. That's how much they put up total in the second half.
What was surprising was the guard play -- Francis and Mobley combined for just 25 points, and shot just 8-21 from the field. Francis, in particular, took just 8 shots, and though he did grab 9 boards and hand out 6 assists, how can this guy get just 8 shots?
I mean Walt Williams for crying out loud took ten of them.... and he missed all ten!
KT came back from injury to score 13 points and block 3 shots, getting the starting nod over Griffin, but Eddie came out red hot when he played, hitting 6 of his first 8 shots, but he missed his final five, finishing with 13 points, 8 boards and just 1 block.
Moochie scored 10 of his 12 points in the final period while Kelvin Cato added 8 points, 6 boards and 2 blocks in 25 minutes. Reggie Miller and Jamaal Tinsley each added 11 for the Pacers, while Tinsley played some tough defense on Francis late, blocking one of his attempts, and also added 9 assists and 3 steals.
Again, the Rockets couldn't put the ball in the hole, shooting 39.7% and were close only because they held the Pacers to 41.5% shooting. The team-oriented offense concept also continues to elude the Rockets, who were outassisted 26-15.
Cuttino Mobley came out hot, scoring 9 points in the first quarter, but thanks to Jermaine O'Neal and Jalen Rose (7 points each), Indiana led 26-21 after one.
Houston exploded though in the second quarter, thanks to Eddie Griffin. The Rockets rookie scored all 11 of his first half points in the period, helping the Rockets outscore the Pacers 29-15 in the period. At half, the Rocks took a 50-41 advantage in to the locker room.
The Rockets led 59-49 midway through the third before they started to come apart at the seams. Cato and Francis each picked up technical fouls and Indiana ran off 8 straight points. But KT hit a hook in the lane, Griffin a 16-footer and KT a drive (and foul, but he missed the free throw) and the Rockets led 65-59.
Through three: Houston 65, Indiana 61.
Griffin led the Rockets through three with 13 points on 6-8 shooting while Mobley and Francis each had 12. Walt Williams was 0-10 from the floor. O'Neal was the big guy for Indiana with 17 points, 11 boards and 3 blocks.
KT got the scoring started to open the fourth, but O'Neal responded right back with a slam. When Moochie scored, then had another shot goaltended, the Pacers had to call timeout with 7:35 to go -- the Rockets led 71-64.
O'Neal was en fuego though, and two more buckets (including an ungodly reverse alleyoop slam) brought the Pacers within three. But Moochie made a pair of free throws, then Francis made 1 of 2 to make it 75-68 Rockets with 5:25 left.
The Rockets led 77-71 when O'Neal hit a banker turnaround, and after Griffin was blocked trying to drive, Reggie Miller pulled up for three and nailed it. Just like that, 77-76 Rockets.
While the crowd was silenced, Moochie put up a tough, 12-foot high-arcing floater and nailed it. After KT stripped O'Neal trying to turn around for a shot, the Rockets worked it around to a wide open Eddie Griffin for three.... he missed it.
The Pacers ran the other way and Harrington was fouled. He made both free throws. 79-78 Houston with 2:27 left.
O'Neal swatted Francis trying to drive (his 5th block), but Miller missed a three on the other end and Jeff Foster fouled on the loose ball. The Rockets got another wide open three-point attempt, this one by Moochie off the baseline, and he missed.
But no one seemed to want it -- Foster missed a 17-footer for the Pacers and the Rockets had the ball back. But Griffin missed a 17-foot jumper of his own. Timeout Indiana with 54.3 ticks left. Still 79-78 Rockets.
O'Neal then threw in a dagger.... a 10-foot baseline hook over KT with just over 39 seconds left. 80-79 Indiana.
The Pacers had a foul to give and did so with 28 ticks left. Then Francis got stuck off the wing and foolishly tried to take it on Tinsley after he had lost his dribble. Tinsley, a good defender, knocked the ball out of his hands on the shot.
The Rockets fouled (one to give), but the Pacers didn't do the smart thing on the inbound, dishing it to O'Neal (rather than Reggie Miller), who the Rockets fouled immediately. He missed the first free throw, made the second.
81-79 Pacers. Timeout Rockets with 7.9 seconds left.
The Rockets inbounded to Mobley, who drove and threw up a bad shot falling away (well defended)... it missed badly. Francis and O'Neal both grabbed the board and a jump ball was called with just under 2 seconds left.
After a failed attempt at the jump, they tried again .... it bounced back to Francis, who turned and was clearly fouled (no call) by O'Neal... his jumper was an airball as time expired.
The Rockets complained, but the game was over.