Hakeem Olajuwon showed us the past, then Steve Francis showed us the future.
Olajuwon returned to Houston for the first time as an opponent of the Rockets, after 17 years in the red/gold then blue jammies, but it was Francis who rose to the occasion on the floor, scoring 35 points to help the Rockets come from 17 down to beat the Raptors 112-109 Tuesday night.
The win ups the Rockets mark to 22-37 while it's hard to believe, but the Raptors have now lost 12 straight.
It was a tribute to the Dream though, who was given a long standing ovation at introductions. All the Rockets and coaches stood and cheered as well. In typical Hakeem fashion, he wanted attention off himself, but seemed happy at the response. He finished with 7 points and 7 boards on the night.
The Raptors however are reeling so bad the Rockets probably should have thrown them a bone, seeing how Houston receives Toronto's lottery-protected draft pick this summer, but the Raptors currently find themselves out of the top 8 in the East at 29-33.
Francis wasn't in a giving mood however. The Rockets trailed by 17 points late in the second and 15 at half, but Stevie exploded for 17 of his 35 in the third period and the Rockets trailed by just one going in to the fourth. He finished the night having hit 13-25 shots and also dished 7 assists, grabbed 6 boards and picked 2 steals.
The best news may have been the brilliant fourth quarter of Eddie Griffin. Griffin hit 3 three-pointers in the fourth, all of which were huge, stopping the Raptors from busting the game open in their favor. He finished with 17 points on 7-11 shooting, and rejected 4 shots.
Griffin having an impact -- that is what the Rockets should make sure happens in each of the last 23 games this season.
Cuttino Mobley, like Francis, shot very well, hitting 10-19 for 23 points, but had a tough time trying to guard Vince Carter (game-high 43 points). Kenny Thomas added 16 points, 9 boards, 4 blocks, 3 assists and 2 steals -- wow, KT. Walt Williams also got the starting nod over Griffin, and finished with 14.
Jerome Williams was en fuego early, hitting 7 of his first 8 shots for 14 points in the first period (finished with 20 points and 6 boards).
The place wasn't packed for the starting lineups, but when they announced Hakeem Olajuwon in the starting lineup, they did it just like did for so many years...
"Hakeeeeeeeeeeeeeeem, the Dreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeam, Oooooooolajuwon!"
The fans gave a loud standing ovation, but the Raptors immediately got Hakeem in the routine huddle, then gave him a brief moment to salute the crowd. As Hakeem went to the bench to get ready, the fans continued to cheer.
Hakeem didn't do anything to start the game, but Vince Carter sure did. Carter was hitting long jumpers and the Raptors hit 8 of their first 10 shots in taking the early lead.
Steve Francis was taking Alvin Williams to school though, and kept the Rockets close.
As the quarter was nearing an end, Cuttino Mobley had his pocket picked trying to make a behind the back pass, then after a Raptors score, he made another bad pass which was picked off. The Raptors scored off that, then Cuttino made another bad pass, nearly turning it over again, but mercifully the quarter ended.
The Rockets trailed 31-26 at the end of one, and Jerome Williams came off the bench and scored the final 14 Raptor points. Unreal... dude went 7-8 from the floor. Vince Carter had 11. Rockets wouldn't have even been in it if not for Steve Francis, who scored 10 to go with 3 assists and 2 offensive boards. Mobley added 7 and Kenny Thomas had 6.
Rudy had to call a timeout early in the second. Keon Clark was getting easy buckets inside on Eddie Griffin and when Antonio Davis put up a 3-foot hook over Eddie, Rudy called a timeout, trailing 42-32 with 8:04 left.
Things didn't change much. The Rockets couldn't get much going on and the Raptors ahd it all going on. At half, the Raptors led 62-47.
Toronto had shot nearly 60% from the floor through the first two periods. Williams had 16, Carter 15 and Alvin Williams had 8 points, 9 assists and 3 steals. Francis led the Rockets with 12, but didn't shoot well in the second period at all. Mobley added 10 and Walt Williams had 9.
Then came the third, and oh my, what a show Steve Francis put on.
Three-point bombs, three-point plays, drives, dishes, jumpers.... Francis did it all. He scored 17 points in the period as the Rockets outscored Toronto 35-21 in the period.
Francis capped the scoring with a tough jumper over Chris Childs, and heading in to the fourth the Raptors held just an 83-82 lead.
Francis led all scorers with 29 big points, having hit 11-20 shots and dished out 6 assists. KT had 16 and Mobley 14. Vince led Toronto with 25.
To start the fourth, Mobley tipped in a shot and the Rockets unbelievably had the lead. A little later Eddie Griffin tipped in a Mobley miss and Houston led 88-85.
Toronto ran off 7 straight points, but Eddie Griffin nailed two straight triples (as chants of "ED-DIE! ED-DIE!" rained down) to tie the game at 94-94.
The refs started to rip off the Rockets with calls, the most obvious of which was Vince Carter taking 4 steps on a fast break then getting bailed out by a call. When he made both free throws, the Raps were back up 100-94.
But Griffin responded with another bomb, his third of the quarter (giving him 17 on the night).
With 4:30 left, Francis made a layin and after Keon Clark bricked two free throws, Francis gave the Rockets the lead with his 32nd and 33rd points of the night. 101-100 Rockets with 3:53 left.
Vince Carter hit a jumper with 2:28 to go to give the Raptors the lead, but Mobley converted a three-point play, then Steve picked a Toronto pass, Mobley picked it up and they played the two man game down the court, with Francis finding Mobley for a two-hand jam.
After Carter missed a long jumper, Francis found Walt Williams for a long triple.... bullseye. 109-102 Rockets.
But though it looked like it was over.... Carter converted a three-point play, then picked Francis and ended up tipping in a Raptors miss (giving him 41 points), and just like that it was 109-107. Toronto fouled with 18.6 ticks left.
Francis made both, but Carter scored quickly. Moochie was fouled and made just 1-2, but Alvin Williams' three at the buzzer was off and the Rockets pulled out the win.