Nothing takes the happy shine off this new season like an old-fashioned ass-whoopin'.
The Sonics came in to Houston and simply took them to the woodshed, leading by as many as 22 points in the fourth quarter before a Rocket comeback made the final score, 104-97, close.
The Rockets fall to 2-2 while the Sonics remain perfect at 4-0.
While it is just the 4th game of the season, it puts a sobering light on the Rockets' playoff hopes this season when a playoff fringe team like Seattle slaps the Rockets around in their own backyard.
Steve Francis, yet again, put up monster numbers: 33 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. Eddie Griffin came out charging and aggressive this game, putting up 23 points and 7 boards (10-15 shooting) while Cuttino Mobley added 22 points.
However, that was it.
The third quarter was all Seattle as a one-point Rocket lead at half turned in to a 16-point deficit heading in to the fourth. Gary Payton used and abused the Rockets, scoring 20 and putting up a career-high 18 assists. There were no answers for Desmond Mason, Brent Barry, Rashard Lewis and Predrag Drobnjak while Vladimir Radmanovic threw in threes like freebies.
In fact, the whole team did -- the Sonics were 11-18 from beyond the arc.
And when they weren't throwing in threes, Jerome James would work over the Rockets inside, particularly Yao Ming.
Ming was mostly invisible in this game. No real chances to score were given to him by his Rockets teammates, and when he did get a chance, he couldn't capitalize, missing both shots he took in 15 minutes.
He wasn't alone.
Kenny Thomas provided nothing in this game, surprisingly. 0-3 from the floor and he missed 3 of his 4 shots from the line. Terrible night for him. Ditto Glen Rice. He nailed his first three, but then proceeded to miss his last 4 shots.
Speaking as a fan, it was a terribly frustrating game to watch in the second half, and not just because NBA League Pass blessed us with the audio narration of the clown Seattle announcers (who I sincerely hope are not getting paychecks for that garbage). The Rockets offense still leaves a lot to be desired, but it was their defense that was brutally exposed tonight. The third quarter was shameful as any Sonic player got any open shot that they wanted.
One of many things Rudy T needs to help this team fix.
Someone spiked Eddie Griffin's Wheaties with ginseng or something as he came out aggressive inside, doing something we rarely see him do: post up his man. Two hoops from EG and a red-hot start from Steve Francis helped the Rockets jump out on the Sonics to an 8-0 lead.
When Glen Rice nailed a triple out on the wing, his first shot of the season, the Rockets were up 15-6. But from there the team lost momentum. Gary Payton scored 4 staight, then Rashard Lewis and Brent Barry made back-to-back triples, and it was 21-16 Houston.
Jerome James scored over Griffin and rejected Kenny Thomas on two straight plays, and through one it was 25-22 Rockets. Francis was a monster in the first, scoring 13 on 6-9 shooting to go with 4 boards and 3 assists. Eddie Griffin added 6, 3 boards and a pair of blocks.
Though Yao Ming had come in to the game late in the first quarter, he didn't do much as he stayed in to start the second. He missed a fadeaway 13-footer and grabbed a nice offensive board later, but missed the follow slam.
James, meanwhile, was eating the Rockets up still in the second half. After he got an offensive board and put it back in, Seattle had the lead at 36-34. Francis picked up his third foul late in the second quarter and had to go to the bench.
The Rockets got burned twice in a row in the final minutes when Payton passed out of double teams to a wide open Lewis for mid-range jumpers, the second of which made it 46-41 Sonics. But Eddie Griffin nailed back-to-back three points, the last coming with 1.7 seconds left in the half, and going in to the locker room it was Rockets 47, Sonics 46.
Francis had 15 points, 6 boards and 5 assists at intermission with Griffin adding 14, 4 boards and 3 blocks. Cuttino Mobley added 8. Lewis led the Sonics with 11, James had 9, 4 boards and 3 blocks while Payton had 8 and 8 dimes. Hard to believe the game was so close at half as the Rockets hit 50% of their shots to just a shade over 40% from the Sonics.
Things went south early in the third.
After Lewis hit a jumper, Payton a drive and Predrag Drobnjak hit a long jumper, the Rockets had to call timeout down 9, 64-55.
Didn't get better. A little later the Sonics took off on a 9-0 run, capped by back-to-back threes by Desmond Mason and Vladimir Radmanovic, and the Rockets called timeout again, down by 16 points, 75-59, with 1:38 left in the third.
The third (mercifully) ended with the Rockets trailing 78-62. Houston shot just over 30% for the period while Seattle simply sizzled, hitting over 70% of their shots, and Payton, through three, had 16 assists - one short of his career high.