The Rockets made a valiant, fast-charging comeback in the fourth quarter, but Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire were simply too much.
Wallace, saddled by foul trouble in the first half, exploded for 16 points in the third quarter while Damon Stoudamire scored 13 of his 31 points in the last 3-4 minutes of the game as Portland went on to beat the Rocks 96-85 in the Compaq Center.
The Rockets record falls to 9-8.
Put simply, the Rockets couldn't hold on to the ball. 20 turnovers, resulting in 27 points for Portland. On the other hand the Rockets forced 11 Blazer turnovers resulting in just 7 Rocket points. I can't focus enough on how this stat was a gamebreaker.
Props to Steve Francis however.
With the Rockets trailing by 18 points with just over a minute to go in the third, someone obviously told him to shoot the ball. He did, nailing a shot just inside the three then followed that with a legit three, and that gave the Rockets the momentum heading in to the fourth. Led by Francis (24 points, 4 boards, 6 assists), the Rockets came flying back, busting out on a 17-4 run and cutting the lead to 1. It was one hell of a game at that point.
Francis was smoking hot (11-15 from the field before fouling out with just over a minute to go), but Stoudamire and the Blazers proved to be too much.
Maurice Taylor scored 12 points, but his matchup was who killed us in the third.
Wallace was a man possessed in the third and at one point scored 12 straight Blazer points. Though Rasheed is a great player, Mo Taylor didn't exactly do much to stop him. This wasn't as obvious until Carlos Rogers finally saw some PT to start the fourth and he was the Energizer Bunny once again, scoring, rebounding and playing defense, even blocking 'Sheed flush on a turnaround to keep a Rockets rally going.
'Los was so energetic that in his paltry 14 minutes of action he grabbed nearly as many boards (5) as the Rockets team leader (Kenny Thomas with 6). Sad.
As for Mo, he is a terrific offensive talent, and that seems to be made known every first quarter we play (again Mo had 8 before you could bat an eyelash in the first frame), but defense and rebounding, two essential ingredients that make up a great power forward, continue to be big problems for the man. He's 23 with a big body and great offensive game... give him some time.
Cuttino Mobley added 12, Hakeem Olajuwon 9 and KT knocked down 7.
All in all you have to give the Rockets credit tonight for not rolling over and dying when they easily could have going in to the fourth. The Blazers are a veteran team contending for a title and loaded with stars... not to mention their strength is our big weakness: size and power in the paint.
Dale Davis added 11 points and 12 boards for the Blazers. Quitten was virtually a non-factor, as his 90 million dollar whiney ass has been all season. He missed 6 of his 8 shots.
Shandon Anderson continues to be off his game -- he missed all 6 shots he took.
There's "off his game" then there's "off his rocker": Rockets TV color man Calvin Murphy. For starters, Calvin said he didn't agree with the fans booing Scottie Pippen because Pippen "worked hard" when he was in Houston. Then he called Shawn Kemp "so cool".
I think Bill Worrell put it best, "I'm speechless, and I wish you were."
Hakeem had it going on early, hitting two jumpers and making a sweet no-look dish from behind to a streaking Steve francis, who slammed it home emphatically. After a Mo Taylor jumper from the left wing, the Rockets led 10-7.
Mark this moment down: With 4:34 to go in the first quarter, Mo Taylor went up and grabbed a rebound with authority.
Mo, who scored 8 points in the period, was feeling it offensively... so much so that when Rudy T put in Kenny Thomas he didn't take out Mo, running a double power forward combo in the paint.
The Rockets led 20-15 after a Francis floater in the paint, but Portland picked up the defensive intensity and ran off 6 straight. Francis' desperation 20-footer with 0.2 seconds left (giving him 8 in the first period) gave the Rockets the lead at the end of one, 21-20.
The Rockets were fortunate to get Rasheed Wallace out of the first half... he picked up two fouls early in the first quarter, then got his third not too far in to the second so he wasn't a factor at all in the first half. Damon Stoudamire, however, scored 4 straight early (giving him 9) and Shawn Kemp, unbelievably, had 8 points all on jumpers of 18-feet out or farther.
Moochie Norris came in and scored 7 points to spark a 12-3 Rockets run, giving Houston a 38-33 edge.
But things fell apart from there. Portland ran off 6 straight before Walt Williams nailed a three. But then Hakeem missed a wide open dunk, and Mo Taylor missed a clear dunk also and after a Stoudamire three-point play it was 46-41 Portland.
An Hakeem three-point play gave us the halftime score: Portland 46, Houston 44.
Walt Williams got the Rockets off on a bad foot in the third... he rushed two poor shots then lost the ball out of bounds on another posession. In that time span Quitten hit a three, Stoudamire a jumper and Rasheed another and it was 53-46 Portland.
One play typical of how the third quarter was going for the Rockets: After Francis blocked a Steve Smith layup, he got the ball and started to dribble upcourt -- but he got stuck between a dribble and a pass to Mobley... so he just let the ball bounce hoping a Rocket would get it.
Instead Stoudamire did. He was fouled, made both free throws and after a Shandon offensive foul, Rasheed hit a turnaround in the paint and the Blazers had their biggest lead at 60-50.
Rasheed then ran off 6 more straight after Rockets turnovers, and it was 66-50 Portland. The Rockets went over 4 minutes without scoring and had 7 turnovers in that span.
Francis finally ended the Rockets drought with a bucket, but then guess who? Rasheed ran of 4 more points, giving him 14 in the quarter and 19 for the game in just 16 minutes of play.
The Rockets had 17 turnovers through three quarters, resulting in 25 Blazer points. Ouch. But a flicker of hope was provided by Steve Francis, who nailed a 20-footer and a three, cutting the Portland lead to 72-58 heading in to the fourth.
As if on Francis' cue, the fourth was a whole 'nother story. Kenny Thomas hit a three, Cuttino Mobley hit a three then after a Bullard miss from three, Carlos Rogers grabbed the offensive board and put it back in, giving the Rockets an 8-0 run to make it 72-66.
'Los was all over the place, scoring another bucket, grabbing boards, fighting for loose balls and playing great defense on Rasheed. After a Francis left hand layup, the Rockets were within 76-72.
After Francis nailed a long bomb, the fans exploded and unbelievably the Rockets were within 1, 76-75.
But Portland was killing the Rockets on the offensive boards -- way too many second opportunities. After a Greg Anthony miss from three, Portland got the offensive board and found Rasheed for a three with 6:30 left. 79-75 Portland.
Kenny Thomas however airballed a three, then missed another turnaround on their next possession and after two Stoudamire free throws it was 81-75 Blazers.
The Rockets couldn't buy a call late, even when they made shots. Francis was hacked badly on the arm but fortunately banked in a jumper and Kenny Thomas also was raked across the eyes on a drive. Though the Rockets were hitting, so were the Blazers... Stoudamire and Augmon made it 85-79 Portland.
Both teams struggled to score, but Stoudamire nailed a back-breaking three with 1:44 to go, putting Portland up 9 and it was the Blazers' game from there.