The fourth quarter arrived, and the Rockets didn't give it away like the Houston Astros at budget cutting time.
Result? A big win.
The Rockets used a balanced attack and outscored the Wizards 29-17 in the fourth, taking the easy 105-89 victory over Washington in the Compaq Center.
The win ups the Rockets record to 9-18.
Cuttino Mobley, Kelvin Cato, Steve Francis and Matt Bullard combined to score 72 of the Rockets 105 points.
Starting with Francis -- the rookie point struggled bigtime from the floor, missing 8 of his first 9 shots (finished 6-18), but had a fantastic game from the point guard view. Francis handed out 11 assists and most importantly didn't turn the ball over once against Rod Strickland. Final tally for Francis was 16 points, 11 assists, 4 boards and 2 steals.
Another bright spot: Kelvin Cato.
Cato finished 8-14 from the floor for 20 points, 12 boards and 2 blocks in 39 minutes.
Cato proved one thing tonight: Rudy Tomjanovich is just flat-out wierd sometimes. You basically have to threaten the man with the promise of flat beer to get pulled from the starting lineup. He started Thomas Hamilton at the center spot again ... and played him a grand total of 4 minutes. Meanwhile, Cato logged 39 minutes from the bench.
It's just vintage Rudy. The man believes in the power of his bench I guess. All you need to know is back in 1996 when Kenny Smith clearly had lost it and was consistently putting up zeros every night in the box score, Rudy stuck with Kenny. And stuck with him. And stuck with him. He never turned it around. At the same time, Sam Cassell was having a brilliant season off the bench and it was time for him to take the reigns.
No sir -- not with Rudy. Shockingly, Rudy put in Eldridge Recasner and kept Cassell as the "spark" off the bench.
Rudy is an unusual coach in that regard -- the 5 starting the game aren't necessarily the guys he wants to get the bulk of the minutes.
Anyhow, enough of that tangent. Cato had a good game, but so did Cat Mobley. The guy just puts up scoring numbers each and every night these days -- 20 points on 4-10 shooting and 11-12 from the free throw line. He also handed out 5 assists -- two of the highlight reel variety:
On one play, Bryce Drew (4-8 from the floor, 10 points, 2 assists) found Cat on the break, who found Francis slightly up ahead and dished the perfect alleyoop feed to Francis (and you can imagine how Stevie finished that one). On another play, Cat made a gorgeous baseline pass to Cato underneath for a violent slam (face it -- Cato doesn't know any rated PG slams).
Matt Bullard started out hot, scoring 10 points in no time and finished with 16, including 4-6 from trifecta territory.
Two unheralded players from the game have got to be Carlos Rogers and Kenny Thomas. Rogers hit 4-8 from the field for 12 points and 6 boards while Thomas scored 7 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and picked 3 steals in 25 minutes of play. Slowly but surely, Thomas is making his presence felt on the boards -- and that's damn good news.
Big reason for the win -- though the Rockets shot just 43.8%, they turned the ball over "just" 13 times and made 12 more free throws than the Wizards. The Rockets could shoot well, say 50%, in other games but lose big because they turned it over 28 times.
I have to credit the Rockets on this one though ... they're working hard out on the floor and three key pieces to their future (Francis, Cato, Mobley) all had big games. I'm loving the progress Kenny Thomas is making as well.