With just over a minute and a half left in Tuesday night's season opener, the Rockets led the Lakers 92-80. Many L.A. fans headed for the exit. The national TV crew congratulated new Rockets coach Rick Adelman on a great win.
That's when all hell broke loose.
The Rockets couldn't score -- or for that matter hold on to the ball -- and the Lakers couldn't miss. When Derek Fisher nailed a long jumper with 13 seconds left, the Lakers had capped a 12-0 run, the game was tied and the Staples Center was bananas.
Fortunately for the Rockets, Shane Battier stepped up. Battier took a Tracy McGrady feed and with Luke Walton in his face, drained a three that gave the Rockets a 95-93 win.
McGrady shook off an ice cold start by hitting 9 of his final 14 shots, finishing with a team-high 30 points to go with 6 boards and 4 assists. Yao Ming hit 9-16 shots for 25 points and also grabbed a game-high 12 boards to go with 3 blocks.
The duo had it going on, but if not for the new bench, the Rockets likely would have come away with a loss to start 2007-08.
The Rockets didn't score their first point until nearly 5 minutes had gone by, and Adelman had seen enough from his starting lineup 8 minutes in when Houston trailed 15-5.
Bonzi Wells (7 points, 6 boards, 3 steals) was key, but Mike James (13 points, 3 steals) provided the big spark. After James nailed a long three in transition, the Rockets were all knotted up at 29 just over 4 minutes into the second quarter. He hit his first three triples and scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half.
The Rockets needed that this game because Rafer Alston was not pretty in this one. Just one turnover throughout the preseason was hard to remember as Skip made two bad passes late, including a near fatal one with 22 seconds left and the Rockets up two. He shot 1-6 from the floor, managing 8 assists (4 turnovers).
As much as I've seen Rafer's game look flawed, he'll have better nights than this one -- and the collapse wasn't all Rafer. T-Mac had the ball just taken out of his hands by Walton. James, a career 80% free throw shooter, missed two critical free throws (and was 0-4 from the line for the night).
As for Kobe Bryant, much is being made about his 45 points in the game, but the Rockets really shut him down for most of the night. Battier and T-Mac forced Kobe into 13-32 shooting, yet somehow the guy still got 27 free throws ... twenty-seven! You can see how it happens though -- Kobe drives, lets out a huge groan and then screams if he doesn't get a foul call. This was fairly routine.
Overall, the Rockets won and that's what matters as Adelman will take the 1-0 anyway he can get it, but there were concerns. This looked a lot like Adelman just standing on the sidelines for Jeff Van Gundy's Rockets. It took hot nights from T-Mac, Yao and James just to hit 95 points (the Rockets averaged 97 last season).
No time to rest -- the Rockets head to Utah to face the Jazz on Thursday.