The Detroit Pistons came in to the Toyota Center with a 14-6 record, one of the best teams in the East, and figured to be a big challenge for the Rockets.
They were, and the Rockets rose to the challenge. Yao Ming and the Rockets controlled the paint, played terrific defense and displayed solid team ball on the offensive side to take an 86-80 win over the Pistons Saturday night.
Despite a fourth quarter mental lapse, the Rockets just flat out played terrific ball in upping their record to 12-7.
Yao Ming hit 9-18 shots for 22 points and tore down a career-high 20 rebounds to go with 4 blocks. He, Kelvin Cato and Maurice Taylor rendered Ben Wallace and Elden Campbell as pretty much non-factors in this game.
What I really liked seeing out of Yao tonight was not only the rebounds and the blocked shots, but defensively how many shots he changed from the Pistons. That won't show up in the box score outside of missed Detroit field goals, but Yao had a tremendous impact inside tonight.
While Yao was brilliant, the Rockets started out hot thanks to Steve Francis. No, he's not shooting the ball much better (4-13 shooting, 9 points), but Steve had 4 quick assists before the halfway mark of the first quarter and finished with a season-high 11 dimes.
He was throwing 'oops to Cato, whipping the ball outside to Jim Jackson and even making plays happen off penetration. Keep in mind, coming in to this game, Francis was averaging less than 5 assists per contest and only once had he dished more than 7 assists in a game this season. The team has got to have Francis playing more like he did tonight -- as a strong distributor and leader. It rubbed off on the team in a big way.
Props to Cuttino Mobley also. He was strong tonight. He didn't have the 3-stroke working (1-6 from downtown), but Cat hit a few big shots just the same, finishing with 14 points, 3 steals and one beautiful give-and-go assist to Mo (if I recall correctly) for a slam.
While we're still just 19 games in to the season, Mobley is shooting career-high percentages from the field (44.8%) and three-point line (43.3%).
Cato also was a presence inside offensively, hitting all 6 of his shots -- several off alleyoop slams -- for 13 points and 7 rebounds. Taylor as well was very effective with the ball, scoring 14 points on 7-13 shooting.
It wasn't all shiny, happy bliss... the Rockets had some flaws in there, like their mental lapse in the fourth quarter. Francis (moronically) picked up a technical with the Rockets up 14, and Detroit proceeded to seize momentum from there, going on a 10-2 run to spark a big scare, but I thought Houston regained its composure fairly well late.
All in all, a great win tonight for the Rocks.