Moral victories have sucked this year, but honestly? This comeback was impressive.
The Rockets tightened up their defense and used a barrage of three-pointers to whittle down an 18-point fourth quarter deficit to just one with under 2 minutes to go, but they couldn't overtake the Raptors, who held on for the 109-103 win in the Air Canada Centre Wednesday night.
The Rockets played the game without Steve Francis, who didn't make the trip to Toronto due to severe migraine headaches, an issue that is really starting to worry the team.
So how were the Rockets in this game at all? They hit 12-19 bombs from beyond the arc.... an impressive feat. They hit over half of those in the fourth quarter.
This was also the first Rocket game ever against Rocket legend Hakeem Olajuwon, who was all smiles at center court for tipoff, hugging and greeting his former 'mates. But wow.... has Hakeem become just a wallflower. It would be interesting to see the Rockets face Hakeem when he's a factor, but tonight he had absolutely no impact. Just 2-7 for 6 points and 5 boards.
In Francis' absence, Moochie Norris put up beefy numbers, even if he couldn't run the offense exceptionally well. Moochie scored a career high 28 points on 11-21 shooting, handed out 9 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds. Those are Francis-like numbers. Moochie also hit some big shots, including a jumper with just under 2 minutes to go that made it 100-99, the closest the Rockets would get in the fourth.
Also stepping up big was Kenny Thomas. He's hot lately, and tonight he hit 9-13 shots and I'll be damned if he didn't own Antonio Davis tonight, or atleast rent to own. Used and abused him. Any highlight reel from this game will include "the dunk"... a running slam that KT had over Antonio that was dinosaur fierce. A one hand power jam that KT converted in to a three-point play.
And when the Raptors started to get fancy, thinking the game was in hand, KT unloaded a hard foul on Davis when he went up for an "easy layup". Almost like he sent a message -- "Don't disrespect us". From there, the Rockets took off.
Eddie Griffin had a pretty bad game early on. As has become the norm lately, Rudy T doesn't use him until the second quarter starts or just before. He was 0-4 in the first half. If he played in the third quarter, it was the final minute only. In the fourth, he awoke. He nailed three three-pointers, and all three were in the final 3 minutes. Had Moochie dished out to a wide open Eddie with under a minute to go, it would have been fascinating to see if he could have tied it. Instead Moochie's short running jumper was no good.
Cuttino Mobley shot well, going 8-16 from the floor, and did very well from three-point range (3-5). He finished with 22 points and 3 assists, but committed 4 turnovers. At times he played absolutely terrific, but it's amazing how a few boneheaded plays can overshadow some things. One in particular saw Mobley try to dribble between two opponents and one of his own teammates. It just made zero sense, resulted in a turnover and easy transition bucket for the Raps.
Hopefully the injury bug has not bitten too badly once again as Walt Williams went down in the third quarter with an ankle sprain. He scored 10 and grabbed 5 boards before being helped off the court.
The Rockets shot well, hitting just under 50% of their shots, but had no answer for the Raptors, who sizzled to the tune of 56% shooting. Vince Carter led the Raps with 29 on 12-19 from the floor. The Williams Boys, Jerome Williams and Alvin Williams, had big games, with Jerome scoring 18 points and 8 boards and Alvin had 21 points and 6 assists. Keon Clark (12 points) was big off the bench.
It was while seeing Hakeem out there against the Rockets. It was huge all around to start the game, and he won the tip against Kelvin Cato.
But boy did Hakeem look slow. Kenny Thomas worked him, and on one play KT drove right on Hakeem for a layup, and another he put in a high-arcing layin right over the outstretched arm of Dream. Sad really.
Vince Carter was hot, but the Rockets stayed close. When Moochie Norris hit a 16-footer at the first quarter buzzer, the game was knotted up at 28 after one.
Mobley led the Rockets with 9 points, while Moochie and KT each scored 8. Vince Carter led the Raptors with 12 points.
The second quarter started out bad. Off the bench, Keon Clark and Jerome Williams were killing the Rockets. Toronto took off on a 19-4 run, taking a 15-point lead. It seemed the Rockets would waste the entire shot clock before attempting any shot, and when Tierre Brown came in .... damn he looked bad.
But the Rockets came back. When Moochie banked in a 26-foot bomb as the shot clock sounded (the 4th "buzzer-beating" shot of the night for the Rockets, considering the shot clock), the Rockets were within 9. They had a chance to get within 7 in the final seconds, but Mobley committed a turnover on the pass and the refs handed a gimme to Chris Childs, who was fouled on the break with 0.8 seconds left (wasn't in the act of shooting, but got the free throws anyway).
At halftime, Raptors 55, Rockets 44.
Eddie Griffin struggled. Just before the end of the first quarter he airballed a three-point attempt, and the fans razzed him. He ended up missing his next 3 shots (0-4 at half) and had just one board in 8 minutes of action.
Mobley led the Rockets with 12 while Moochie had 11. Carter had 14 to lead all scorers, Jerome Williams had 12 and Keon Clark added 10.
Same story in the third. The Raptors kept the Rockets at bay and Houston couldn't make any headway.
To make matters worse, with just under 8 minutes left, Walt Williams drove and came down on Jerome Williams' foot, with Walt twisting his ankle badly. He left the game with help from trainer Keith Jones and Oscar Torres, and it was announced later he would not return due to an anke sprain.
The highlight of the third though? Kenny Thomas' wham-bam slam over Antonio Davis. OH MY. Kenny was on the left wing, used a quick first step to blow by Davis to his right.... Davis sprinted after him and KT got to the rack ahead and threw down a jam that redefined the term "NASTY".
After three: Raptors 80, Rockets 68. KT had 18 through three while Moochie and Mobley each added 15. Carter led the Raptors with 20.
Alvin Williams scored again (smoking hot). Hakeem spun down low on Griffin for two, then Mobley tried to drive right in between two defenders. He lost it and Carter scored on a fast break, and just like that the Rockets trailed by 18.
Then a little later it got interesting. Mobley got jack-happy (Bill Worrell actually said "Mobley jacks another one"), but he made a few. He hit a long two, then a three-pointer. Then Moochie hit a three, then Oscar Torres did the same (team is now 9-15 from long range) and the Rockets were within nine.
Moochie made two free throws and the Toronto lead was just 93-86.
Chris Childs nailed a long jumper, but KT went right by Antonio Davis for a tough layin and the Rockets were back within 7. KT then forced Davis in to an offensive foul, and the Rockets went the other way... but Mobley missed an open baseline three.
But after a Raptors miss, Moochie Norris drove, made a sweet layin and got fouled. He made the free throw and with 3:20 left the Rockets were down just 4.
But Vince Carter scored immediately.
Then Eddie Griffin hit an incredibly clutch three-pointer with 2:52 left to make it a 3-point game. Alvin Williams scored quickly, then Griffin nailed another bomb! Unbelievable.
The Raptors were fouled, and made just 1-2 free throws. Then Moochie Norris hit a jumper and just like that it was 100-99 Raptors with just under 2 minutes left.
The Raptors missed, but the Rockets touched the ball out of bounds. Timeout Raptors with 1:36 to go. KT fouled Antonio Davis, and made two free throws, giving Toronto a 102-99 edge.
The Rockets set up their offense, and Griffin broke to the basket on a give and go.... but he was blocked by Davis at the hoop with just over a minute left. After some tough 'D', Jerome Williams missed a shot and Mobley got the board. Moochie set up the offense, and started to penetrate. He didn't dish to a wide open Griffin top of the key for three.... instead he missed the layin and the Rockets were forced to foul.
Jerome Williams made both at the line, putting Toronto up 5 with 28.7 seconds left.
Out of the timeout, Griffin nailed another three (with Jerome Williams draped all over him) with 207 ticks left and the Rockets immediately fouled Alvin Williams. He made both.
Cuttino quickly ran up and missed a three, but Torres got the board and was fouled trying to put it back up. He could make just 1-2 at the line with 12 seconds left.
The Rockets fouled Vince Carter. He missed the first, but made the second. Moochie missed a three and that was it.