Where do you possibly begin?
The Rockets were dead. Fresh off the devastating news that Hakeem Olajuwon would not be returning this season and not playing ball for a good 6 months, the Rockets played decent, but fizzled in the fourth and trailed by 10 with just over 3 minutes to go.
They were done. Dead and buried. Playoff hopes growing dimmer.
But along came three heroes, led by the smallest of all, as the Rockets pulled off one of the most incredible wins in franchise history with a 127-118 triple overtime thriller over the Pacers.
The incredibly emotional win puts the Rockets at 36-29, 2.5 games back of the Timberwolves for the 8th and final playoff spot (see Standings)
After beating the Pacers, the Rockets are now 15-0 against the Central Division and with a win April 7th over the Hawks, the Rockets will become only the second team in NBA history to sweep an entire division (the Lakers did it in 1982-83).
How did we win this game? In a nutshell: The man's name was Moochie Norris.
"Afro Thunder" put up a Herculean performance. He scored a career-high 28 points. He nailed a ballsy three with 3.6 seconds left in regulation that tied it up and forced overtime. And he dominated the third overtime like we've seen no one dominate in some time. He scored 11 points in the final 5 minutes of action.
The crowd was his in the final minutes as "MOOOOOOO"s filled the arena. He completely won over the fans.
"It was Moochie's night," said Rudy T.
Chimed in Maurice Taylor: "He dominated the overtime. I've never seen a guy that small dominate a game like that. Words can't really describe it. He had steals, rebounds, everything."
While Norris took care of the final OT, it was Taylor who was a monster in the first extended period. He scored 8 of his 27 in the first overtime, and could have possibly averted a second overtime had he not missed 1-2 free throws in the final minute.
No matter -- his presence was huge. 27 to go with 13 boards and he played 51 minutes without fouling out. That's huge.
Do you realize Cuttino Mobley played 58 minutes in this game? 58 minutes! If I played 58 minutes of NBA basketball and somehow managed to avoid a coronary, I'd be passed out with only IV's keeping me alive (please, if this ever happens... pull the plug). Mobley did not have a good shooting night, hitting just 10-29 shots, but he hit a three-pointer with 9.9 seconds left in the second overtime that forced the third extra session.
Not to mention his 27 points and 10 boards were pretty nice.
It was purely MO night. MO Taylor, MOochie Norris and Cuttino MObley. The three led the team in the three overtimes.
Speaking of poor shooting nights, Steve Francis was just 6-20 from the floor, but he still managed his third career triple-double with 16 points, 11 assists and 10 boards.
Kelvin Cato also played a big role in Dream's absence. He crashed the glass, grabbing 11 boards, and scored 8 points. Shandon Anderson also was big with 14 points.
Jalen Rose led all scorers with 39 points while Jermaine O'Neal was a crazy man out there -- 28 points, 18 boards and 8 blocked shots.
The Rockets did not come out particularly sharp, though after Francis found Cato underneath for two, they took an 8-7 lead. But 5 straight points, capped by a Reggie Miller three, gave Indiana a 12-8 lead.
Mobley got hot, and after he hit two long jumpers, the Rockets led 22-20 and Cuttino had 11 points.
It was all knotted up at 25 through one, and Mobley led the Rockets with 13 points.
The second quarter was a see-saw affair before Moochie Norris started to take over. After Moochie scored on a fast break drive, then Walt nailed a baseline triple, the Rockets led 38-35. Walt fell hard on his wrist shortly thereafter, left the game and did not return.
Moochie however was hot, and helped the Rockets build up their lead before the half. He had 12 points in the second period alone as the Rockets took a 54-48 lead at intermission.
The Rockets came out hot in the third, building the lead up to 10, but from there the Pacers came back strong, and Jermaine O'Neal was doing the damage.
Mobley meanwhile went ice cold. Mobley kept missing and O'Neal kept hitting.
When O'Neal hit a 17-footer, the Pacers took the lead 74-72 with 1:12 left in the period. Jalen Rose hit another shot to put Indiana up 4.
After three, Indiana led 76-74 thanks to 12 points and 5 boards from O'Neal in that period alone.
Mobley missed another shot to start the fourth and it was his 8th straight miss. It wasn't just Mobley as the entire Rockets offense went cold. Through the first three minutes of the fourth they had no points and Indiana led 80-74.
When Moochie passed up a wide open three and started to drive, he lost the ball and it ended up in Al Harrington's hands for an easy fast break dunk. 84-74 Pacers with 7:50 to go. Timeout Rockets.
The Rockets still couldn't score. Mo with a miss, Moochie misses a tough layup... when Jermaine O'Neal hit 1-2 free throws the lead was 11 with half the period gone by and the Rockets still hadn't put up an offensive digit in the period.
With 5:22 left in the fourth, the Rockets put up their first points in the period when Mo Taylor drove to the hoop.
With 3:45 left, Cato came flying in and slammed home a vicious dunk, which absolutely floored Jermaine O'Neal who tried to block it. That got the fans totally pumped up, but Jalen Rose nailed a 16-footer, giving him 24 points, and it took some of the wind out of the sails.
When Cato hit 2 free throws, the Rockets trailed 90-85 with 2:04 to go.
After a Jalen Rose miss, Mobley was blocked but Francis got an offensive board and put it back in and with 1:33 to go the crowd was roaring, the Pacers were calling timeout and the Rockets were within three at 90-87.
The Rockets "D" forced Rose to airball an 8-footer, but Francis missed a triple that would have tied it. Cato with a huge heads up defensive play however -- he took one for the team. O'Neal threw an elbow on the board in Cato's face and they called an offensive foul on O'Neal.
Rockets ball with 53 ticks left. 90-87 Pacers.
Francis nailed a huge bank shot just off the baseline, and on the other end Harrington missed a jumper, but DAMMIT Jeff Foster got the loose ball and knocked it to Reggie Miller with 21 seconds left. The Rockets were forced to foul with 15 seconds left.
Miller made both free throws. Timeout Rockets.
After the timeout, the Rockets worked the ball around the arc, trying to set up Francis. 7-footer Jeff Foster switched out on him and Steve couldn't get it up. So Stevie tossed it to Moochie who had Jalen Rose all over him.
Moochie stepped back, tossed up the left-handed bomb and drained it.
Francis is jumping up and down, fans going gonzo... 3.6 seconds left and the game is all knotted up at 90.
Very scary final play: Reggie Miller took the pass, turned to fire the three but faked. It drew almost the entire Rockets defense as he passed to a wide open Jermaine O'Neal who fired from 10-feet out just off the baseline.
He missed. OVERTIME.
What a comeback for the Rockets. This thing was dead and buried. They couldn't score anything for the first 6 and a half minutes of the period and trailed by 10 with 3:20 to go. They closed on a 12-2 run and and here they are forcing OT.
The Rockets gave up 2 offensive boards early and it cost them. Jermaine O'Neal dunked and after a Francis miss, Miller hit a long shot to make it 96-92 Pacers with 3:48 to go in overtime.
With 3:02 left the Rockets got on the board in OT when Mo scored on a spin move. After the Rocks forced a 24-second violation, Francis found Mo Taylor underneath who scored and got the hoop. His free throw gave the Rockets the lead at 97-96 with 2:24 to go.
Mo then hit an 18-footer with 1:51 to go to increase the lead to 3, but Jalen Rose countered with a jumper and after Moochie made a bad decision on a drive, Jermaine O'Neal was fouled and went to the line with 1:00 left.
He made both, giving the Pacers the 100-99 lead.
Mo put up a long jumper and missed, but Moochie came flying in baseline, got the board and was fouled (fouling out Travis Best). Mooch went to the line and made both. 101-100 Rockets, 46.8 seconds left. Timeout Pacers.
The Rockets double-teamed Jalen Rose on the baseline, but he turned and fired anyhow. He missed. Mo got the board and Rose immediately fouled him with 34.9 seconds left.
Mo could make just 1-2 free throws however.
Sure enough, it hurt. Rose drove quickly, stopped and popped in a 12-footer and the game was tied at 102 with 25 seconds left. Timeout Rockets with 16.6 left.
Francis took the inbounds and sat on it for about 8 seconds. When Croshere came to double he made his move.... he drew the defense on a penetration and then found Mo Taylor open outside.
His 19-foot shot was just long. Ball went over the backboard with 1.1 seconds left and the Pacers, after a timeout, couldn't get a shot off for the win.
Rose attacked Francis, who had 5 fouls, early, hitting a jumper. But Mobley responded with a drive, score and foul. His free throw put Houston up 105-104.
With 3:34 to go a late whistle on Cato (his 5th foul) put Jermaine O'Neal on the line. He made both free throws, but Mobley responded with a wild shot that amazingly went in.
The Rockets couldn't take advantage though. It was all Cuttino -- he missed and Croshere slammed with 2:04 left and the Pacers reclaimed the lead. After another Mobley miss, Jalen Rose was fouled and sent to the line.
He made just 1-2 free throws with 1:30 to go. 109-107 Indiana. Mo Taylor tied it up at 109 with 1:13 to go with a turnaround, but Jalen Rose countered with a back-breaking three.
Francis tried to counter with a three and missed. Rose got the board.
After running down the clock, Croshere put up a three with 20 seconds left and missed. Timeout Rockets.
Francis worked it around and found Mobley who put up a long three. BULLSEYE!!.
112-112 with 9.9 seconds left. What a game! The assist by Francis gave him his third career triple-double.
After the Pacers timeout, Reggie Miller dribbled down the clock then swung it to Austin Croshere for the basleine three at the buzzer...
No good! We are going to TRIPLE OVERTIME. I mean good gosh I have to work tomorrow... this is the first triple overtime game in the history of the Rockets.
Moochie was a massive hero to start triple OT... he saved a ball from out of bounds, then got the pass back and nailed a baseline three. Carlos Rogers then picked a pass and Moochie pulled up from 16 feet out and nailed it.
117-112! Rose responded with a near impossible double-pump bank shot, but Mo Taylor tipped in a miss LITERALLY out of the hands of Jermaine O'Neal.
When Moochie nailed a 20-footer with a man in his face, the Rockets led 121-114 with 2:40 to go and the place was in an absolute uproar.
Francis fouled out on a lame call next, but Rose blew a layup and with the crowd chanting "MOOOOOCHIE", Mooch isolated, broke free and drained a 17-footer and the place was absolutely berzerk. Francis was screaming and hopping up and down on the sideline -- it was surreal.
Moochie got boards off misses and even stole the ball from behind on Jonathan Bender with 30 seconds to seal it.
With the clock winding down, the crowd kept chanting...
He sealed one of the most incredible wins in franchise history.