Are the Rockets for real?
The official results may not be in, but the Nuggets will probably tell you yes.
Shandon Anderson scored 17 of his 26 points in the first quarter and led the Rockets' running attack to their fifth straight win, a 122-115 victory over Denver in the Compaq Center.
The Rockets improved their record to 15-24.
In this game the Rockets ran and moved the ball around as well as they have all year. There seemed to be numerous dunks, and dunking machines Carlos Rogers and Kelvin Cato weren't even on the floor.
It also was a little Rocket future against a player who could have been in their future. Antonio McDyess, who just looked fantastic, exploded for 40 points for the Nuggets, and Nick Van Exel dropped 31 and 11 assists.
However, the Rockets got big performances as well, and none bigger than Shandon's. Not only did he bust out for the 17 in the first period, he also grabbed a career high 13 boards in the game. He hit 9-15 shots and also dished out 5 assists. He hit 4-5 from three-ball land. He played every single minute of the game.
How's that for a big night?
He played like he deserved to start alongside Steve Francis, who speaking of the which had another good game. Francis hit 8-15 shots for 22 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds ... not to mention more plays to add to the highlight reel (keep reading).
But watching the last few games you can see the tremendous development in this kid's game and realize how big he is going to be in this league.
Speaking of big... Kenny Thomas came off the bench, coming in with about 4:40 left in the first. He finished with another double-double, scoring 13 points, grabbing 10 boards and handing out 4 assists. He also nailed a three.
And due for big? Cuttino Mobley. Cat hit 7-11 shots for 17 points in just 26 minutes of action.
Walt Williams added 12 points while Pig Miller, continuing to start at center, scored 7 points and grabbed 7 boards. Hakeem Olajuwon, who is still trying to get in game shape, scored 6 points to go with 5 boards in 18 minutes.
Matt Bullard (9 points) opened up the scoring with a three. When Francis (who seemed to hang in the air forever) nailed down an alleyoop from Shandon, the Rockets had jumped out to an 11-4 lead. However, a 6-0 Nuggets run capped by a Ron Mercer jumper tied the game at 15. Francis had an amazing block on George McCloud from behind just before the quarter ended.
However, Shandon was on fire. After a fast break dunk by Anderson, the Rockets led 30-27 and Shandon had half their points at 15.
Shandon seemed to have limitless energy, running the court at every opportunity and crashing the boards. What a change in Rocket basketball. Just last year or two years ago the Rockets would get a rebound and immediately slow it up. Brent Price, Matt Maloney and the personnel around them rarely looked to push.
Thursday night the Rockets always pushed the ball... at every opportunity it seemed.
The quarter ended at 35-33 Rockets and Shandon had 17.
When Bryce Drew (10 points, 3 assists in 18 minutes) came in in the second in place of Francis, the team struggled a bit. Bryce missed his first 4 shots, but would have his redemption later.
Oh yeah, and did anyone notice when Bryce hit those two free throws in the second quarter, you could hear nothing but women screaming for him? It was like something out of a Backstreet Boys concert -- eery.
Oh and how could I forget the tip-in slam by Kenny Thomas after the Shandon miss. It looked like Kenny's knees hit the rim! Someone has put some serious enhancement drugs in Kenny's Wheaties lately.
The Rockets led 58-57 at the break, and the see-saw battle continued throughout the third. Both McDyess and Van Exel were on fire and defense was rarely seen on either side.
A wild finish to the third quarter too. Drew nailed a huge three with about 6 seconds left to give the Rockets a 1-point lead, but George McCloud scored in no time for Denver. As the Nuggets failed to get back, Mobley scored on a layup at the buzzer to give Houston a 90-89 lead heading into the fourth.
The Rockets trailed 91-90, but Cat hit two free throws, then Dream spun for a vintage fadeaway baseline jumper on Raef LaFrentz (said the Nuggets announcer: "37 years old? Hakeem could do that when he is 87 years old"), then Shandon nailed another three and just like that the Rockets busted out to a 97-91 lead. Cat added a steal and slam after a Nuggets timeout to make it a 9-0 run to break open the game.
After a three-pointer by Cat the Rockets led 106-97, and after a three-point play by Pig Miller the Rockets led 109-101. One of the plays that really summed up the great Rocket team play was an offensive board by Francis, who immediately dished it to Pig who wastes no time making the gorgeous feed to Kenny for an attacking basket down low.
When Francis nailed a huge shot off a Kenny pick, the Rocks led 113-103.
Francis followed that up with another jumper on the Rockets next possession, then hit another one - an amazing jumper with a guy flush in his face just inside the three-point line. The lead was 117-107.
It was mentioned before the game how Francis is leading all rookies in points and assists and the last rookie to do that was Michael Jordan.
We must admit... that is exactly who he reminded us of with those three straight jumpers to seal the game.
It was ... well, clutch.