Steve Francis started out hot, Shandon Anderson was fantastic, but Vince Carter was unbelievable.
The sequel to the 'Human Highlight Film' exploded for 37 points and not a single one was bigger than the 2 he put up with 1.6 seconds remaining, a horrific slam that broke a tie and gave the Raptors the 100-98 win.
The loss is the Rockets' 7th straight and drops their record to 24-42. The loss also means after 15 straight seasons without a losing record, the Rockets will finish under .500.
Carter averaged 36 points per game against the Rockets in their two matchups, while the Raptors squeaked yet another win out against Houston -- the last one was 100-99 Raptors.
Carter and Francis were the show in the first quarter with Steve scoring 12 points and Carter 14. Problem is Francis would score just 4 more points from there on, finishing with 16 points, 7 assists and 7 boards -- still a great game, just overshadowed by Carter.
Shandon was the Rockets Ironman however, going off for 25 points on a stellar 9-13 shooting, 8 boards, 4 assists and 3 steals. Shandon is averaging nearly 18 points per game on this East Coast swing.
Ditto to Walt Williams, who quietly is putting up some points on this road trip. Walt scored 19, and is averaging nearly 16 per night in the past 4 games.
On an opponent note, Tracy McGrady was a highlight show in his own right. It wasn't his 16 points, 7 boards and 4 assists that were so amazing -- but rather his 7 blocks. His first 6 were on 6 different Rockets. Geez can this guy leap. Retro Rock Kevin Willis also played extremely well, scoring 19 points and grabbing 13 boards.
Props also to Hakeem Olajuwon, who in 27 minutes played well and nearly won the game with a huge shot with 51 seconds left that gave Houston a 1-point edge. Hakeem finished with 12 points, 3 boards and a pair of blocks.
Behind a Carter three-pointer, the Raptors ran off to a 7-0 lead, but thanks to 4 points each from Walt Williams and Shandon Anderson and 5 by Francis, the Rockets went on a 13-2 tear to take a 13-9 lead.
Francis then scored the next 7 straight in highlight reel variety -- he scored a poster style 'oop from a Shandon feed that had all of Canada speechless, then nailed a three in Doug Christie's face with the shot clock running out then got an outlet on the fast break and took the ball behind his back and slammed home a nasty one. 20-17 Rockets.
That apparently got Vince Carter mad -- he scored the next 9 Raptor points -- most on jumpers with guys right in his face. It was 28-27 Raptors after one.
The Rockets came out ice cold in the second, missing their first 7 shots and Toronto jumped out to a 36-27 lead.
With Toronto leading 40-32, Vince Carter went up for a big dunk and Francis, completely going for the ball, caught his hand which had Vinsanity floored in no time. Carter lay motionless on the court... since it was Vince, the refs got together and changed the foul call to a flagrant foul -- which was a total joke.
Ron Garretson is the one who made the terrible call -- Francis, obviously, felt terrible and immediately came to Carter to apologize. They both kind of half-hugged and understood each other -- could not believe that horrendous call. That's called "protecting the future meal ticket".
After Doug Christie (8 points) banked in a runner at the halftime buzzer, it was 52-40 Toronto at the half.
Houston erupted in the third quarter though behind Shandon Anderson.
The Rocks outscored the Raptors 36-20 and hit 14-24 from the field that quarter -- 8 points off the fast break. Hakeem scored 7 points -- 2 on a thunderous dunk off a spin. Shandon was 8-11 with 19 points at this point in the game.
The fourth quarter was a lot of knock 'em down drag it out backetball -- teams exchanging leads and plenty of fouls/free throws. The lead see-sawed back and forth the final 8 minutes.
The Rockets trailed by 1 with 1:07 left and Hakeem calmly nailed a 13-foot jumper with 51 seconds left that gave the Rockets a 96-95 lead, but then Vince Carter threw up a three that bounced on the rim 7 times before going in -- the crowd erupted. 98-96 Toronto.
But enter Cuttino Mobley. Cat cleared the far side of the court and went one on one with Carter. Mobley took it strong on Carter and put the layup in right over the NBA poster boy. 98-98 -- timeout Toronto with 12 seconds left.
That just set up Carter's heroics. Carter squared up on Shandon Anderson on the near side of the court, milked what appeared to be too much time off the clock, but then just exploded by Anderson on the left side and went up past the Dream for a vicious slam.
1.6 seconds remained in the game as the crowd noise was deafening.
After a timeout, the Rockets couldn't get the ball in close and found Walt Williams between half court and the three-point line, who threw up a desperation airball.