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Francis Returns, Seals Stunning Win
Stevie nails shot, picks steal in final seconds as Yao, Rockets stun Suns 100-94
By Clutch

Steve Francis played with a lot of passion Wednesday night in Phoenix
Phoenix' fronting defense usually gives Yao fits, and early on it did (6 turnovers for Yao on the night), but the Rockets were ready for it this time and Yao made better kickouts out of the double teams. 12-19 shooting for 31 points and 13 boards for the big fella.
This guy usually torches the Rockets, but Houston limited Barbosa to 2-11 shooting in 34 minutes.
Yao Ming scored 31 points and grabbed 13 boards, Tracy McGrady had 18 points, 8 boards and 6 assists and Rafer Alston had his second straight good game, adding 15.

So how did a guy who scored 9 get all the press?

Steve Francis may have cemented his spot in Rick Adelman's rotation as he made a tough, spinning bank shot with 30 seconds left (and the shot clock running down), putting the Rockets up four, then sealed the deal by slapping the ball out of the hands of Amare Stoudemire as the Rockets stunned the Phoenix Suns 100-94.

"It's a great win on the road," said Francis. "I can't tell you the last time I felt this good as far as winning on the road, especially against a great team like Phoenix."

It was the Rockets first win in Phoenix since the 2004-05 season, when they won both road games against the Suns.

It also may be the first time someone on the Rockets played with 10-ton brass nuts since that season as well.

Francis finished with 9 points, 7 assists (to just 1 turnover), 3 boards, 2 steals, 2 blocks and a truckload of energy on both ends.

I have to confess -- I have not been a big advocate of playing Francis. He came into camp out of shape and didn't look like a guy who knew how to fit into the team. I rolled my eyes at the "WE WANT STEVE" chanters. Sure, I wanted to see him get some time because Rafer and Mike James had struggled so much, but I didn't think he was the answer (and still have some doubts).

But tonight? Steve put some passion back into the Rockets (and into me as a fan), and it was crystal clear obvious.

When he blocked Steve Nash, took it the length of the court and threw a backwards pass to Luis Scola for the deuce, I was up off my feet.

When he faked a three, got his man to bite and took it to the rack for an easy two, I wasn't sure I was watching the Rockets ("Years ago I would have dunked that, but hey ... two points is two points," said Francis).

When he blocked Shawn Marion from behind with 6 minutes left in the game, then did that shimmy dance because he was so pumped up, my jaw hit the floor.

When he dished out two hard fouls to Stoudemire trying to take it into the lane I knew that finally the Rockets had someone who wasn't going to curl up into a ball when a pencil-necked point like Devin Harris takes out your 7-foot-6 franchise player.

I don't want to romanticize or simplify this too much -- there were other reasons as well that the Rockets won this game and we all know there will be games where Stevie's faults surface -- but without a strong third scorer, this team is scaring no one. The Mavs, Suns, Spurs and Jazz each have 3-4 guys who can burn you badly on any given night and the Rockets simply don't have that when they're giving Rafer, Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes heavy minutes.

Anyhow, enough rambling -- major props to you Yao for being the big star of the game. 31 points on 12-19 shooting to go with 13 boards (and one dagger of a hook shot with 1:08 left that put Houston up 96-92), and he did it against a team that rendered Yao useless in their last matchup.

Rafer Alston hit threes for the second straight game, going 3-5 from long range, finishing with 15 points while Tracy McGrady added 18 points, 6 assists and 8 boards.

Speaking of boards, the Rockets controlled them, outrebounding Phoenix by 13 (47-34). The Rockets also shot nearly 52% from the floor, including 50% from long range, and still barely edged out the Suns. The Rockets have to shoot like this every time to beat a fun-and-gun team like Phoenix.

They will get another test against a runner tonight in California against the Warriors.

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