Same story, different night.
The Rockets played the Sonics very close... for three and a half quarters that is.
Then Gary Payton and the Sonics pulled away as Seattle beat the Rockets 103-96 in the Compaq Center.
The loss drops the Rockets record to 10-21 -- currently 6 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the 8th playoff spot. They're also 4 games away from the Western cellar.
It must be noted that Kelvin Cato sat out this game due to a sore right wrist (he fell on it in the Clippers game). His presence in the paint was missed.
Vin Baker rolled in 8 of 14 shots for 19 points and grabbed 18 rebounds (yes, Vin Baker) while Horace Grant hit 8-11 shots for 18 points and 7 boards.
But the star late for Seattle was Payton, who scored 29 points on 12-28 shooting to go with 10 assists and 5 boards. I say late because he scored 4 straight easy buckets late that proved to be the difference.
Otherwise, his matchup with Steve Francis was as advertised. Both players dished out the trash talk and both put up big numbers. Steve hit 9-14 shots and 7-8 from the free throw line to score 27 points, dish 7 assists and grab 6 boards. On one break he had a gorgeous behind-the-back pass to Carlos Rogers for a slam and on another break he did a reverse jam (pictured) that brought the crowd to its feet.
Francis did commit 4 of the team's 19 turnovers (Seattle had just 10 turnovers and the difference in points off turnovers -- 8 points -- was the difference between winning and losing), but the kid continues to show he has superstar written all over him.
Starting out hot was Matt Bullard. Bull scored the team's first 12 points and finished with 20 on 7-15 shooting (2-6 from three-point range), 4 boards, 5 assists, a steal and a block -- very good night for Bullard in the starting block at power forward (now I think you're starting to understand why Grant and Baker had field days).
Though Francis-Payton was the show, many thought two loose cannons Cuttino Mobley and Vernon Maxwell would provide a good show themselves.
If you call 3 of 26 shooting combined a good show, then you were entertained.
Mad Max was 1-11 and Mobley was 2-15 from the field, including 1-8 from long range. It was another chapter in the hot-cold shooting nights of Cat. Mobley did grab 7 boards and hand out a few assists (3), but the 2-15 shooting proved to be costly.
A frustrating night for Mobley, as "RocketsPimp" of the Clutch BBS pointed out. Near the end of the first half Mobley heaved a rushed three-pointer with the clock running out. Assistant Larry Smith shouted something at Cuttino, went over to him to talk to him and Cuttino aggressively turned away and said something back.
It might have been nothing, but it shows the kind of competitor Mobley is -- he knows he was having a rough night.
Carlos Rogers started at center in place of Cato and hit just 5-15 shots, but scored 11 to go with 14 boards (6 offensive). Shandon Anderson played just 24 minutes, scoring 10 points. Bryce Drew had a sharp game off the bench, hitting 4-6 from the field (3-5 from beyond the arc) for 13 points and 3 assists in 24 minutes.
In other news, props go out to ex-Rockets Othella Harrington and Michael Dickerson who helped spark a Vancouver Grizzlies rally from down 15 points in Miami to defeat the Heat.