Stephon Marbury talked that it was going to be different this time.
Yao Ming and Maurice Taylor couldn't miss as the Rockets dominated the game from the beginning of the second quarter, pummelling the Knicks for the second time in 13 days, 86-71 in Houston.
No other way to describe it other than to say Yao was en fuego. He hit 12-15 shots, many of which were 15-18 foot jumpers, and finished with a season-high 29 points -- one point shy of his career high of 30. He also added 10 boards.
In 29 minutes of action.
Yes, that's right: Yao put up a point a minute. Early foul trouble and a stiff elbow to the ribs by Marbury had Yao sitting on the pine a little longer than normal, but even with less action, this was still his best game of the season (hopefully not for long).
But without Mo Taylor, the Rockets probably would have lost this game. Houston couldn't hit a damn thing in the first period and they turned to Mo as the focal point of the offense in the second quarter, when the Rockets opened it up on a 19-1 run. He drained numerous jumpers over Michael Doleac and Kurt Thomas, finishing 10-15 from the floor for 21 points.
In short, Yao and Taylor won this game for the Rockets.
But the bench overall, which has been pretty much hideous this season with the exception of Mo, came through tonight.
Mark Jackson (2 points, 3 assists) saw his first action as a Rocket and boy did he have a couple of nice passes... the type of passes that have been, well, non-existant in Rocketland for some time. He threw a gem of a bounce pass to a cutting Yao in the second quarter and in the fourth he threw another one-hopper from the top of the key to Yao under the hoop.
Jackson doesn't have the hops, athleticism or ability to cover defensive ground like Francis, but he clearly has much better vision than Steve. What a coup to move Moochie Norris and get this guy to take the backup minutes.
Bostjan Nachbar had a couple of defensive gems, including a straight-up block of Penny Hardaway. But his best moment was a collective steal of Marbury, which he took the other way for a fast break slam.
This also may have been Nachbar's best game this season, but then again any game where makes a shot is a candidate.
I also liked the hustle of Scott Padgett tonight. He missed all his shots (0-3), but had 6 boards - including 3 offensive.
Jim Jackson had a good game, hitting 6-12 shots for 14 points and 8 boards. On the other hand, Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley did not have good shooting games.
Steve finished with just 10 points, but 9 of those came in the first half. He missed 10 of his 14 shots. The first thing the coaches need to do is tell Steve there are no points given to the team for "degree of difficulty" on his shots. I mean damn ... do you have to make the shot a fadeaway with two guys in your face every time? Or a turnaround 20-footer with Marbury draped all over him? It's no wonder Francis went 4-14 from the floor, making his stay above 40% field goal percentage for the season a short one (now shooting 39.8%).
You can tell Francis was pressing. In the fourth quarter, when Yao went out as a result of Marbury's karate elbow, Steve was trying to do way too much and the Rockets looked very sloppy. The Knicks were capitalizing, cutting the lead to 6, and that's when Van Gundy pulled Francis for Jackson.
And Francis never returned.
But he was on Marbury all game and did a good job, holding Stephon to just 8 points. Yes, Stephon Freakin' Marbury, who said before the game that it's "personal, very personal" with the Rockets after they drummed his team by 32 in his Knick home debut, is averaging 7 points a game in his last two contests against Houston. Not too shabby, Steve.
Mobley was 4-12 from the floor for just 8 points, though like Francis he did have 5 assists. I'm liking the fact that we're seeing Mobley scoop up more dimes lately -- he is averaging 5.5 assists a game in the last 6 contests. That's impressive.
This was a great win. The Knicks were trying to write their script of a complete turnaround under Isiah Thomas, with a new coach in Lenny Wilkens and a new star in Marbury, and they came in winners of 4 straight.
But the Rockets defense, which held New York to under 40% shooting, came through again, with Yao and Mo doing the rest.
Next Up: A big game in Indy.