I haven't been that into a Rocket game since the playoffs.
The Rockets, playing some seriously inspired basketball, woulda, coulda, shoulda beat the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night, but ultimately fell 128-122 in double overtime of an incredible, gut-wrenching game in America West Arena.
The loss drops the Rockets' record to 4-12.
Where to begin with this game? An incredible game. The game was loaded with bright spots, but yet the Rockets shouldn't have lost it (they led by 16 in the third quarter).
With the exception of free throw shooting and turnovers, the Rockets played fabulous, inspired basketball. Steve Francis had to leave the game just before overtime with a twisted ankle and didn't return (he may not be back for the Clipper game).
Nonetheless, he's still improving with every game and on this night he outplayed Jason Kidd (when was the last time a Rocket point guard even came close to Jason Kidd?).
In 42 minutes, Francis hit 10-20 shots, including 3-4 from long range, to tally 24 points, 10 assists and 7 boards. He also turned the ball over 6 times (22 TOs for Rocks), but got the better of his Phoenix counterpart (Kidd: 5-19 in 53 minutes, 17 points, 11 assists, 8 boards). You just hope Stevie is OK.
He wasn't the only one who came to play this night. Kelvin Cato was amazing in the paint and ran the break like a sprinter. He finished with 23 points on 9-14 shooting and 6 boards. None of his points were bigger then the bucket and foul with 3.7 seconds left in overtime that put the Rockets up 1. Unfortunately, Cato missed the free throw and Charles Barkley was called for a questionable foul that put Luc Longley at the line (made 1-2 to force double OT... that is after Cuttino Mobley was held trying to get a final shot up for the win - no call).
Speaking of Barkley and Mobley, both spilled their guts out going for the win. Barkley finished with 22 points, 13 boards and 3 assists -- he had like 9 points in the overtime frames. During one stretch of the first OT he was unstoppable.
Mobley hit 7-16 shots, but 2 or 3 of those misses were desperation heaves as time expired. He played gutsy ball and was all over the court, finishing with 18 points, 3 assists and 2 steals. He also got Rodney Rogers kicked out of the game late in regulation. Rogers and Mobley each grabbed a loose ball, forcing a jump, but instead Rogers got frustrated and tossed Mobley in a vicious manner after the whistle blew. Mobley put in a little acting, and Mr. Rogers was ejected.
Shandon Anderson will probably take the blame for the loss because with 31 seconds left in double overtime and the Rockets down 2, he drove the length of the court and foolishly threw an errant pass to Mobley that was tipped up, intercepted and immediately converted to two points on the other end for Phoenix. Game all but over.
But that would be a bum rap. Anderson played gorgeous defense on Penny Hardaway (8-19 shooting) most of the night.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the team and proud of their efforts. Mobley and Francis are turning into a young, energetic backcourt and growing with each game, and Cato is going to command playing time by the time Hakeem Olajuwon returns from injury.
Why they lost? Simple: Free throw shooting. The Rockets hit just 21-33 (63.6%), and seemed to miss 1 of 2 each time they got to the line at a critical time. The Suns meanwhile calmly knocked down 33-39 from the line. That's the difference in he ballgame. The Rockets also turned the ball over 22 times -- and forced just 10 Suns turnovers.
No rest for the weary (and after this game, trust me... they're weary) as the Rockets face the Clippers in the Clip Joint tonight.