Steve Francis is rising. Hakeem Olajuwon is slipping.
It was a little of the old and a lot of the new Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden as the New York Knicks staged off a Rocket comeback, winning 91-85.
The loss is the Rockets' fourth straight, and drops their record to 24-39.
Latrell Sprewell led the Knicks with 27 points while John Wallace came off the bench to score 17.
The Rockets trailed by as many as seventeen points midway through the third quarter, but came flying back to trail by just 3 heading into the fourth, but could never get the lead.
It was Francis who led all scorers, tying his career high with 32 points on a beautiful 12-17 shooting.
Before the game Francis said he played his best game ever here in the Garden ... he put another one up there in the same building.
Franchise also added 5 boards, 4 assists and 4 steals, connecting on 3-7 from long distance.
His starting backcourt partner, Shandon Anderson, had a solid game as well. Anderson hit 7-10 shots for 17 points, knocking down a pair of trifectas also.
After the big games from the backcourt duo, there wasn't much from the Rockets' end.
The sad part was watching Hakeem hit a new low. Dream was 0-9 from the field in 28 minutes, scoring just 4 points. He even missed a pair of dunks. Long time rival Patrick Ewing, a player Hakeem always seemed to get the better of and on some nights just destroyed, took advantage of Dream's slippage, scoring 16 points on 5-11 shooting and grabbing 7 boards.
Hakeem sat out almost the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter and during one timeout late in the game was clipping his fingernails.
I have the utmost respect for Hakeem... truly one of my heroes, but this is just painful. It's hard to believe he'll be playing another season.
Walt Williams added 9 points and Cuttino Mobley 8 (though he turned the ball over 7 times -- ouch). Kenny Thomas, who scored 7 points, left the game in the fourth quarter with a strained left knee -- hopefully the good word will come down that he's alright.
The Rockets as a team missed too many free throws, especially down the stretch. 20-30 from the charity stripe, while the Knicks knocked down 22-25.
The game started out a battle between Olajuwon and Ewing. A battle as in who could miss the most shots.
In the first 4 minutes Hakeem was 0-4 and Ewing 0-3.
The Knicks led 15-13, then used a 12-2 run, capped by a Latrell Sprewell drive, to up their lead to 27-15. However, after a crossover and 17-foot baseline jumper by Francis and a driving bank shot by Mobley, the lead was cut to 39-34 Knicks.
But the Knicks closed the game on a 6-0 flurry, upping their lead to 45-34 at half.
Francis and Shandon shined. Francis hit 5-6 shots for 11 points, while Shandon knocked down 4-5 for 10 points. Hakeem struggled, going 0-6.
The Knicks poured it on early in the third behind Sprewell, going up 17 points with about 8:30 left.
The Rockets came roaring back.
Big rally got the Rocks back into it. Shandon and Francis were huge. Kenny Thomas hit a big shot, and after a Shandon Anderson three, the lead was down to two points. It was 62-59 New York through three.
The Rockets outscored the Knicks 25-17 in the third. Anderson was 7-9 at the end of three with 17 points while Francis was 8-12 with 19 points. Dunk of the night -- Kenny Thomas forced a Knick turnover on the break, found Francis in transition who one hand-hammered it home (adding the yell for style).
Early in the fourth Francis threw a lob 'oop on the fast break which Cato just sent down like a missile, and it was 64-63 Knicks.
When Steve Francis nailed a huge three with 2:30 left, it was 79-76 Knicks, but Ewing hit two big buckets down the stretch (sandwhiched with 3 missed Rocket free throws), and when Kurt Thomas hit a driving layup, the Knicks led by 7 with a minute and a half to go.
The Rockets never could get in threatening range after that.