Growth and development.
And at Scottie Pippen's expense.
What's not to love?
The Rockets, led again by fantastic performances by their rookies, got their biggest win of the season Tuesday night, breaking the national TV jinx in grand fashion with a stunning 90-89 upset of Sir Quitten and the Portland Trailblazers on TNT.
It's the Rockets' fourth straight win and improves their record to 14-24.
The Rookies shall lead them, and lead them they did. Again.
Steve Francis and Kenny Thomas -- what can you say... here they are doing the bulk of the damage for the Rockets and they're first year players.
Kenny Thomas was brilliant, scoring a career high 22 points (back to back nights of career highs) and grabbing a career high 14 boards. He was putting on spin moves on Detlef Schrempf or on one play he spun baseline and nailed a Dream-esque fadeaway. His boardwork tonight was fantastic. What a change from the three-point chucking Thomas we saw earlier in the season, but the biggest change is the PT he's seeing (38 minutes). I'm just hoping this kid can bring this type of game night in and night out.
As for Steve Francis... this kid is just scary. He finished with 26 points, 12 assists, 5 boards and turned it over just once. He won this game down the stretch ... took over late. He scored 6 straight points down the stretch turning a 2-point deficit into a 4-point lead, but it was how he did it. Two free throws, a sweet reverse layup then a sick crossover that I think broke Greg Anthony's mama's ankles. It set up a 16-footer that was nothing but net.
The game breakers were great, but did you see the alleyoop in the first half? Oh goodness.... Francis fed Shandon Anderson then immediately took the 'oop feed back, which came from the baseline while he ran dead on to the face of the basket. He got way up, dunked cold on Arvydas Sabonis, hung on the rim then rode on Sabonis' back like a Rent-A-Mule.
Pop on Sportscenter. Flip on CNNSI -- something. He absolutely postered the big man.
At halftime, TNT announcer and Retro Rock Kenny Smith called Francis the "Real Deal" and labeled him one of the top players in the league rookie or not (hot damn!). Also said he was one of the Top 5 point guards in the league.
I can't rave enough about the play of Francis and Thomas in this game. Good signs indeed.
Shandon also played extremely well, hitting 7-11 shots for 14 points and 5 boards while Walt Williams added 11 points. Hakeem Olajuwon again played limited minutes, but was a factor, hitting 3-8 shots, including a late jump hook in the paint that was key, and rejected 4 Blazer shots to go with 3 steals in 19 minutes.
Quitten? Sure he came close to a triple double (12 points, 9 boards, 8 assists), but he bricked 10 of his 15 shots (including a drive with 5 seconds left that would have won the game) and turned the ball over 6 times.
The Rockets trailed 47-43 at halftime. Shandon led the team at half with 10 points while Francis had 9 and 6 assists. Thomas had 7 points and 6 boards. Steve Smith led the Blazers with 13 (finished with 21). The Rockets had forced 12 Blazers turnovers.
When Francis nailed a three then found Shandon on the break for a layup, the Rockets led 50-47. However, the mini-rally ended when Shandon missed 2 free throws, then Pig got the offensive board, got fouled and missed both free throws as well. Portland went on a 13-2 run to regain control 60-52.
Game of runs though as Walt nailed a three, Francis a 2, Thomas a gorgeous reverse layup on Sabonis (got fouled and missed the free throw) and then Francis a baseline one-handed 4-footer (got fouled and missed the free throw) to cap a 9-0 run.
The play of the third? We loved Kenny Thomas' hustling offensive board and reverse tip-in and foul late in the quarter. The Rockets led 73-71 after three and the team got a standing ovation for the effort.
That set up the fourth quarter as Thomas and Francis continued their heroics. And as Greg Anthony's shot rimmed out as time expired, the Rockets had a big win.
... and something to build on.