Greatest Rocket Of Them All ...
Hakeem Olajuwon salutes the Rocket crowd Saturday night
It doesn't get much better than this.
Not only did the Rockets pick up their third win of the season 111-104 over the Golden State Warriros, but they got a chance to re-live a happy Dream.
The Rockets raised the jersey of Hakeem Olajuwon to the rafters in a stirring halftime ceremony that included wonderful commentary from Rudy T, Carroll Dawson, Clyde Drexler and Les Alexander.
A moving video tribute to the Dream was shown to the crowd and the Rockets gave the former Rocket a pair of championship banners matching those hanging in the Compaq Center as well as a platinum watch. The stunner came when Alexander announced the Rockets would place a statue of the Dream in front of the new arena. Les wasn't even able to get the words out of his mouth before the crowd errupted in applause.
With all the fanfare of the retirement ceremony, however, there was still a game to be played.
Despite a few rocky moments, the Rocks did themselves and the former Rockets in attendance proud by shutting down the Warriros.
Steve Francis had another monster night with 31 points on 11 of 19 shooting, 5 assists and only 1 turnover. Francis also looked like the team leader out there preferring to set up his teammates in the first half and then blowing up for 15 straight points in the third quarter.
Houston welcomed Kenny Thomas back to the starting lineup and he did not disappoint going off for 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Eddie Griffin added 13 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks while Cuttino Mobley pitched in 25 points. Kelvin Cato was also a factor, particularly on defense, turning in what is shockingly becoming his usual - 9 points and 12 rebounds.
The Warriors were led by Gilber Arenas (28 points, 10 assists) who just blew up in the first and fourth quarters, Jason Richardson (28 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals) and Eric Dampier (23 points, 9 rebounds, 7 blocks). Antwan Jamison also had a quiet 21 points.
The Rockets ran hot and cold alternating between giving up runs to the Warriors and running rough-shod over them. Houston outscored Golden State on fast breaks 13-0 in the first half and dominated the running game. Despite a tough loss to New Orleans last night, the Warriors barely played their bench and, as a result, were outgunned by the Rockets bench.
Early in the game, it appeared the Rockets would play matador defense as Golden State shot a ridiculous 67 percent from the floor, but the normally 41-percent-shooting-team fell back to earth clanging some really awful-looking shots in the third quarter.
Overall, the Rockets moved the ball better racking up 20 assists and generally finding the open man. When they did bog down, it was because they fell into their familiar one-on-one playing scheme. The good news was that it was not nearly as prevalent as it has been this season.
Despite the Rockets essential dominace over the Warriors, however, the game was in doubt with a little over a minute to play as Arenas and Dampier pulled them within 2 with 1:15 left in the game. But, Francis came through with some big plays and free throws down the stretch while Cato played very solid defense to finish out the game.
But the star of the night was Olajuwon. Getting the victory was just icing on the cake.
The night started with a big introduction of Hakeem Olajuwon, the man of the night, from Calvin Murphy. Dream entered to a big standing ovation from the crowd.
The Rockets looked good early, particularly Kenny Thomas, who got his first start of the season and opened up with 7 early points.
After a solid start, the Warriors ran off 7 straight points to tie the game at 13 lead by Gilbert Arenas with 5.
The Rocks struggled in the first quarter when they went to the one-on-one game and got lax on defense allowing Golden State to shoot 67 percent from the floor.
Cuttino Mobley started quickly in the second with five straight points including a layup and a foul on a fast break.
Arenas continued his torrid shooting going 5-6 from the floor for 11 points as the Warriors continued to punish the Rockets with 67 percent shooting and 11 assists on their 15 field goals.
Houston came back with a 14-2 run to take the lead by six including a number of fast breaks led by Mobley and Steve Francis. In fact, the Rockets led Golden State 13-0 in fast break points at the half and led in the scoring column 50-48.
The halftime ceremony for Olajuwon was moving with Gene Peterson doing the announcing and a video tribute to the song Unforgettable. Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, former teammate Clyde Drexler, GM Carroll Dawson, owner Les Alexander and Dream all spoke.
The appearance of former UH Cougar coach Guy V. Lewis was particularly moving.
Dream was presented with a pair of championship banners, a platinum watch and, most shockingly, an announcement from Alexander that a life-size statue of Olajuwon will be erected in front of the new arena. Before Alexander could even get the whole sentence announcing it out of his mouth, the crowd went ballistic and drowned him out.
The second half had the Rockets out gunning with Thomas and Eddie Griffin doing damage early giving them an 11 point lead. Griffin had 7 straight at one point.
The Rockets went back to one-on-one play and the Warriors climbed back into the game down 72-69 with three minutes left in the third.
Eric Dampier hurt the Rockets on both ends of the floor by blocking shots and pounding the Houston small lineup on the offensive end.
Francis single-handedly kept the Rockets ahead scoring 15 straight in the quarter.
Kelvin Cato returned to guard Dampier in the fourth with much better results including a block resulting in a fast break three pointer for Mobley and a big dunk on a nifty pass from Francis.
Golden State continued to hang on as Arenas kept pouring in buckets, but the Rockets responded with two three's from Griffin.
Mobley caused two straight turnovers on dumb plays leading to another Arenas three and the Warriors were down 3, 100-97, with two minutes left.
After one free throw from Thomas, Jason Richardson hit a pair to pull the Warriors within two, but Francis hit a big three on some great ball movement and the Warriors couldn't hit enough shots or stop the Rocks down the stretch.
Jeff can be reached at email@example.com