How fitting that against Latrell Sprewell and the Knicks, the Rockets would pull one of their biggest choke jobs.
Leading by 17 points late in the third quarter, the Rockets found a way to lose, watching as the Knicks outscored the Rockets 9-1 in the final 3:11 to pull out an 89-86 win in Madison Square Garden. Allan Houston's baseline jumper with 14.2 seconds left gave the Knicks their only lead of the second half, a lead they would finish the game with.
It's the Rockets' 6th straight loss and 10th in their last 12 games. They now have the third worst record in the Western Conference at 7-11.
What makes this loss so frustrating is how well the Rockets played before the final 16 minutes. They did something they haven't done well all season -- they got out and ran, creating some easy baskets and putting the Knicks in a hole.
But the team simply collapsed. Charlie Ward provided a key spark at the end of the third to help the Knicks trim their deficit to 10, and in the fourth quarter the Rockets could not contain Sprewell (23 points) and former Rocket Othella Harrington (7-8 shooting, 14 points, 6 boards) to save their lives. It would have been nice to see Rudy try something different and throw Eddie Griffin (3 blocks in 8 minutes) on Othella, but Rudy is Rudy, and he stuck with his main guys in the fourth.
Cuttino Mobley returned to action but committed a pretty big blunder after (Allan) Houston's jumper. He rushed a bad fadeaway shot with 10 seconds left on the clock and a man all over him. Why he shot so quickly is a mystery, since he was going for the tie and would have left plenty of time for the Knicks to set up a shot, but the miss sealed the Rockets' fate. Mobley shot 4-12 from the floor -- the rest of the team on the floor with him at the time shot 50% for the game.
Cat finished with just 8 points and 5 boards, but did play some nice defense on Sprewell earlier in the game, picking his pocket on 3 occasions.
Glen Rice had his best game of the season. He exploded out of the gate, hitting his first 5 shots for 11 points in the first, but then the Rockets pulled him and stopped getting the ball in to his hot hands. In the final 3 minutes, he missed two crucial buckets: a baseline turnaround and an open three. He finished with a season-high 20 points.
Kenny Thomas had a very strong game as well, putting in 20 points and grabbing 7 boards. Sprewell took exception to KT putting his hand in to Sprewell's midsection trying to defend his shot, so he went Carlesimo on him, sprinting down the court and bulldozing in to Kenny's back trying to floor him. How Latrell wasn't tossed is anyone's guess, but both players squared off and Latrell cocked back his fist and looked like he was going to throw with KT.
Player of the Night for the Rockets? In my opinion, Oscar Torres. He hit a clutch three in the fourth and finished with 11 points (4-5 shooting) in just 18 minutes. His defense early in the game on Sprewell drew raves from the Knicks announcers and "THE DUNK" in the second quarter is a must-see. Flying out on the break, Torres threw down a one-hand hammer just ahead of the pack. It was beautiful. The rookie brought his 'A' game tonight.
Former Rocket Shandon Anderson had an awful game against his former team, and drew some light boos as well. In just 10 minutes off the bench, Shandon was 0-4 from the field, and even missed 3 of his 4 free throws.
The Knicks came out smoking hot and stayed that way, hitting 11 of their first 14 shots, but Glen Rice was hot as well, going 5-5 from the field for 11 points in the period. The Knicks built their lead up to 10, 28-18, but Oscar Torres converted a three-point play and followed that with a triple, making it 30-24 after one.
Rice led the way with Torres adding 6. Sprewell, who was 4-4, led the Knicks with 9 points.
Eddie Griffin came in to start the second, immediately rejected a shot and finished with a dunk on the other end. After a Shandon Anderson brick, the Rockets ran and Torres finished with an insane one-handed slam dunk that brought oohs and ahhs from the Garden faithful.
Torres looks like Drexler in the face, but there he looked like Drexler in transition. Wow. Timeout Knicks. Houston trails 32-30. At this point Houstin is shooting 63% and the Knicks 61%. Talk about a change.
But it didn't last. Both teams snapped out of it and started shooting poorly. With just over 7 minutes to go, Willis finally broke the scoring drought, tying the game at 32, then he tied it a little later at 34. When Walt Williams went bingo on a jumper, the Rockets led 36-34.
Cuttino Mobley stripped Latrell Sprewell, which resulted in a Moochie Norris fast break layup, and when Kenny Thomas tipped in a Rice miss, the Knicks had to call timeout, trailing 40-36 with 2:23 left in the half.
Halftime: Rockets 42, Knicks 38.
The Rockets held the Knicks to 4-18 shooting in the period and a season-low 8 points in a period. Had the Rockets not gone ice cold themselves in the second half of the period, they would be up 15 at this stage. Rice still had 11 to lead the way. Torres added 8, KT 7 and Moochie had half a dozen.
The Rockets came out strong to start the third. After Moochie Norris drove in transition and scored, Houston led 49-42. After Kenny Thomas abused Kurt Thomas for a driving layup, then Rice hit a three, Houston led 58-45. Right after that three, Sprewell clobbered KT and both players charged each other like they were going to swing. Players and the refs got in to break it up.
They showed what happened -- the play before, Sprewell missed and KT reached out and got him under the midsection. It looked like a tap, but apparently Latrell took exception. But then Latrell steamrolled down the court and clobbered KT in the back. It's amazing he wasn't tossed from the game.
Mobley drained two straight buckets, the second a highlight reel juke and 19-footer (which blew away the crowd), and Houston was up seventeen at 64-47.
But the Rockets slipped and Charlie Ward came in to inject some life in New York. With the score 66-49, Ward hit a pair of buckets and the Knicks took off on a 9-2 run to make it 68-58. After three it was 70-60 Rockets.
Kenny Thomas led the Rockets with 16 while Rice had 14. Allan Houston was pacing the Knicks with 15 and Sprewell was right by his side with 13.
Othella Harrington scored the first 4 Knicks points and just like that the Rocket lead was down to 6. KT scored quickly, but Sprewell immediately responded with a three and the Rockets were in trouble.
Houston missed again and Sprewell nailed a 17-footer and it was down to three. When Othella scored again, it was 72-71 with 7:40 to go and the Rockets had just 2 points with 4 and a half minutes gone by in the fourth.
But Oscar Torres responded with a HUGE three (and was clobbered, no call). Othella scored yet again (he's now 6-7 from the floor), but Kenny Thomas responded with a pair of free throws to make it 77-73.
Sprewell continued to be agressive, scoring again (no one has scored in the period for the Knicks but Othella and Latrell) to cut it to 2, but Glen Rice responded with a short, soft jumper over Allan Houston and after a Sprewell offensive board and score, Rice scored again (giving him 18 points) on an 18-foot bank shot to make it 81-77 Rockets.
Then Rice went right around Houston for a layup and it was 83-77 with 4:06 left.
Charlie Ward made things tense by nailing a WIDE OPEN three (not a Rocket within 12-15 feet of him) with 3:35 left, but Kevin Willis hit an amazing running hook from the free throw line, and Sprewell missed a three on the other end.
Rice missed a baseline turnaround and Allan Houston hit two freebies on the other end to make it 85-82. Moochie then missed an open jumper with just under 2 minutes to go. Willis then fouled Camby, who was attacking the hoop from the baseline, but Camby made just 1-2 to make it 85-83 with 1:39 to go.
The Rockets set up a horrid offense, but fortunately they were bailed out by a call as KT was driving. It was called a non-shooting foul though, and after the Rockets inbounded, Rice missed a three with just under 1:10 to go.
Allan Houston then hit a foot-on-the-line two with 54.5 seconds left and the crowd was in an uproar. The game was tied at 85 and the Rockets had only themselves to blame. Timeout, Rudy.
Houston milked the shot clock and all they could get was another ugly Moochie jumper. It was no good. Knicks found Allan Houston on the other end, who hit a 16-foot baseline turnaround over Rice with 14.2 seconds left. 87-85 Knicks. UNREAL. Another Rudy timeout.
Mobley took the inbound immediately and did an unbelievably stupid thing -- he shot the ball immediately. He missed. Rebound Knicks and Willis fouled Sprewell.
Sprewell missed the first, making the second. Charlie Ward made a blunder and fouled Moochie going for a steal with 6 seconds left, but Moochie missed the first FT (making the second). The Rockets fouled Allan Houston, and HE made just 1-2, making it 89-86.
But Mobley's running three at the buzzer was way off, and that was game. A MAJOR choke job.