Yes, it's early, and yes it's only one game, but boy does the Rockets offense look as inept as ever.
The Rockets looked good early, but relied too heavily on Steve Francis and couldn't put the ball in the hole, falling 91-82 in the 2002-2003 season opener in Indiana against the Pacers.
The game was hyped as "Yao Ming's Debut", but it clearly revealed that Yao has a long ways to go before being considered one of the elite players in the game, while Steve Francis, on the other hand, is already there.
Francis finished with a career-high 39 points, hitting 13-28 shots, and grabbed 8 boards. It seems on the offensive end he can get by his man at will this year, using crossovers, spins and jukes to dizzy his defenders - he scored 14 of his 39 in the third quarter alone.
At the same time however, he had just 4 assists to go with 5 turnovers, and while he was in fact playing two-guard (Moochie Norris started at point, with Cuttino Mobley playing the wing), it's illustrating more and more that Francis is an extremely gifted player who could be more the high-powered scoring guard than the playmaking point guard.
Ming, on the other hand, was simply a non-factor. 11 minutes and a goose egg on points. No reason for panic mind you - he'll have his growing pains, but this was the worst he's looked in the three games he's played. The Pacers seemed to score on him easily and the big man couldn't score on the other end either.
Mobley finished with 22 points while Kelvin Cato had a great night on the glass, snaring 17 boards in 32 minutes, including 7 on the offensive end.
Eddie Griffin though? Whole 'nother ballgame. Terrible night. Hideous. With both Maurice Taylor and Kenny Thomas out, Eddie started and missed 10 of his 11 shots for 2 points and 8 boards. It didn't help that Jermaine O'Neal on the other side finished with 24 and 10.
Bostjan Nachbar put up two shots, nailing one of them (a sweet 18-foot jumper top of the key). He didn't look terrible... he just didn't get the ball. In fact the Rockets put up 81 shots, and 49 of them were put up by Francis and Mobley.
Ron Artest is a player, that's for sure. He finished with 18 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, 4 steals and a back-breaking jumper to end the third. That's a guy I wish would put on the pinstripes right now. Best in-your-face one-on-one defender in the game in my opinion, and it would do the Rockets a world of good to have a player who brings that kind of intensity night in and night out.
So now the team regroups. We stay on the road, but Denver isn't any kind of contender, so the Rockets need to avoid the 0-2 hole with a win in the Rocky Mountains.
The Rockets looked strong early behind Francis, taking a 10-6 lead, but the defense slacked, giving up a pair of wide open threes and the Rockets trailed 12-10. Indiana kept the lead and led 26-22 after one. Mobley led the Rockets with 10 points while Francis added 6 and 3 boards.
Yao Ming came in to the game 30 seconds in to the second quarter, but he wasn't the first rookie to make waves. Juaquin Hawkins drew a charge from Al Harrington as he tried to bring the ball up full court. Very sweet play that forced Harrington to the bench.
Francis hit a triple then a pair of free throws to pull Houston within one, but a little later went up high for a dunk, missed and landed hard on his side. Scary moment, but Steve was fine.
The intro for the big fella was not the best early on. Erick Strickland put in a reverse layin past Yao, then after Jermaine O'Neal hit a turnaround jumper over him, the Rockets had to call timeout down 36-31.
After Francis hit a soft running toss in the lane and then found Moochie for an open triple, the Rockets had tied the game at 39 and Indiana had to call timeout with 2:04 left in the half.
At half, Indiana led 44-43. Francis led all scorers with 15 points (5-11 shooting) while Mobley had the same 10 he scored in the first. Kelvin Cato had 6 points and 7 boards.
The Rockets regained the lead early, 49-46, but then the game broke open as the Rockets couldn't stop Jermaine O'Neal nor stop being stopped by Ron Artest. The Pacers took off on a 13-0 run and the game had changed.
Francis kept the Rockets within 7-8 most of the third as he didn't look like a point guard at all. He was a dribbling and driving machine, finishing with 14 points in the period. But the third ended on a sour note. Francis missed a pair of free throws with just over 14 seconds left, then Ron Artest nailed a long jumper and it was 71-62 Indiana going in to the fourth.
Through three, Francis had 29, 6 boards and 4 assists while Mobley had 15. Jermaine O'Neal scored 10 of his 20 in the third while Artest had 18.
The fourth quarter never really saw the Rockets make any headway. Ming came back in to the game, but did nothing to speak of as Indiana kept the lead throughout.